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The Basics


Composer, conductor, music consultant, public speaker. Nkeiru writes contemporary concert music and helps organizations create artistic events that reach and attract diverse audiences.


Musical Style

While best known for writing accessible “classical” music with pop and West African/African American flavor, Nkeiru actually composes all styles of music.

Early Life

Born in New York, NY to African American mother and Nigerian father. Spent early childhood traveling between Nigeria and the US. Raised primarily on Long Island.Began writing music at age 13.


Formal Education

Studied piano at Manhattan School of Music, Preparatory Division.Majored in composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Completed additional studies in piano and West African culture.Master’s and Ph.D. from Rutgers University, studying with composer Noel DaCosta.


How did you get your name, how is it pronounced and what does it mean?

My name is pronounced [in KIR roo    oh KOY yeh].It comes from the Nigerian language Igbo [EE bo], which is my father’s native language.“Nkeiru” means “The future is great,”or “the future is greater than the past.”“Okoye,” my surname, is a popular Nigerian name that could be claimed traditionally to a man born on “Oye” market day - one of four days in an Igbo native week.


What is it like to be an African American composer?

Composing is an expression of music in my soul. I do not set out to make my works ‘sound’ like “Black composer music,” if such a thing can be defined, but rather to create a work that satisfies my ears and will hopefully touch an audience.At the same time, if by my doing so, people are educated about African American culture, and people who usually do not come to the concert hall will give “classical music” a chance, then a good thing has been accomplished.


What type of music do you write? Is it classical only?

I write whatever music comes into my head.I think a lot of people were surprised to hear the gospel aria and the jazz aria in HARRIET TUBMAN. It’s all music. There’s a pop song in the middle of VOICES SHOUTING OUT, too, along with some funk and a tone row - and it’s my most performed piece. Over the years, I've found myself using techniques I thought were so ‘avant garde’ to me when first receiving training in composition. At the time, I could not imagine putting those elements into practice. Now that I’ve learned the techniques, I use them in ways that work for me. It’s surprising to see how well Schoenberg and funk can sit side by side at the symphony.


Do you only compose music about Black people?

The subjects of my compositions are most often determined by the person(s) commissioning them. Like many other composers, creatively, I do gravitate towards subjects and sounds that reflect my heritage, and have many other interests. One of my recent theatrical works, a comedy called WE'VE GOT OUR EYE ON YOU.  It's about the Ancient Greeks, with an anti "hooking-up" themed message.


What is your music writing process?

This varies according to the composition.When a work is commissioned, I begin by researching my subject. For historical pieces, in order to captivate a musical time period, I saturate myself with writings written about and during an era before writing a note.The actual composition process begins as musical ideas form in my mind. When writing them down, I use pencil and paper, as well as my computer.    

Media Questions

General Questions that people ask


  1. What made you start writing music?

  2. What influences your music?

  3. How would you describe your compositional style?

  4. What, if anything, are you trying to say through your music?

  5. How do people respond to your music?

  6. How have race and gender impacted your career?




  1. What made you pick Harriet Tubman?

  2. How did you get information about her?

  3. Why is it called a folk opera?

  4. I’ve heard this piece has an educational focus.How true is the story line?

  5. What makes this different from other works on Tubman?

  6. Who is the audience for this piece? Is it for kids only?




  1. How did you get the title?

  2. What was it like collaborating with David Cote, your librettist?

  3. Who are the Graeae and where do they fit into the Perseus myth?

  4. Is an anti "hooking-up" stance, by definition, anti feminist?

  5. How do you write about 'anti hooking-up' without being explicit?

  6. Is this a message piece only, or does it stand alone as a comedy?


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