Roger H. Wesby was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. From age ten he played the trumpet and was active from early on in both jazz and classical genres. He attended the Eastman School of Music where he majored in composition, studying with Warren Benson and Samuel Adler. With his wife of 40 years, Barbara, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching and performing music in El Salvador and Costa Rica, where he later worked professionally. He served as Academic Coordinator of the National Youth Symphony Orchestra, and later became Director of the School of Music at the National University where he conducted the Chamber Choir and Jazz Ensemble. With Barbara Wesby and Diego Díaz, he published Lecture elemental, a musicianship textbook used in many countries of Latin America. He served as conductor of the National Symphonic Chorus and regularly guest conducted the National Symphony Orchestra for four seasons before his return to the United States in 1985. The Wesby’s two children, Carla, a professional singer in Manhattan, and Andrew, a filmmaker and professional musician in Boston, were born in Costa Rica.
Wesby received a master’s degree from Westminster Choir College where he studied with Joseph Flummerfelt. He earned the title of Doctor of Music at Indiana University, studying with Robert Porco. He was Director of Choral Activities at the University of Kentucky and founded the Lexington Children’s Chorus and New Voices, an elite vocal chamber ensemble. He was Director of Choral Activities at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, and conductor of the Handel Oratorio Society. An active clinician, guest conductor and published composer/arranger, Wesby was Choir Director of Lutheran Summer Music at St. Olaf College. He has written articles on the history of jazz and blues for the Encyclopedia of New Jersey. In 2002 he composed the Jazz Mass, which has been used in several Lutheran Churches. In 2006 he composed a special liturgy for the 150th Anniversary of Trinity Lutheran Church. Since 1996 he has served as Director of Choral Activities and Vocal Studies at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York, where he teaches Music History, the History of Blues and Jazz, Conducting, and Choral Methods.
He has toured with choirs and vocal ensembles in North, Central, and South America. He has composed for band, orchestra, jazz band, chamber ensembles and choirs and is the author of scores of arrangements for choirs, jazz bands and vocal jazz ensembles. Since coming to Wagner he has founded the vocal ensembles Stretto and the Jazz Lab and has transformed the Treble Concert Choir into a first-rate women’s chorus. Since he assumed the direction of the choirs at the college, Wagner choirs have been invited to sing three times at Carnegie Hall and have given numerous concerts with the Staten Island Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras. Wesby is the founder of the annual Italian Idol Singing Contest and Viva Italia! Concerts, as well as the annual Tribute to Black Music and helped establish the annual Music Composition Contest for the Stanley Drama Awards. He annually conducts the Alumni Choir at Reunion. He has been an active participant in the college’s re-connecting with its Lutheran Heritage. He was named Featured Composer for the 2009-2010 season of the semi-professional choir Schola Cantorum on Hudson of Jersey City, New Jersey.
Photo by Anna Mulé.