Hometown: Pine Lake GA USA
Web site: http://EliseWitt.com
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Elise was born in Switzerland, raised in North Carolina, and since 1977 has made her home in Atlanta. She speaks fluent Italian, French, German, Spanish, and English and sings in over a dozen languages. Her passion for music and languages has led her to take her Global, Local & Homemade Songs™ across the United States and around the globe.
Among her ancestors, Elise claims “Wedding March” composer Felix Mendelssohn and his grandfather, Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn; Protestant cow farmers from northern Germany; Russian chemists; Polish intellectuals; French Bordeaux wine growers; a British painter; and a great great aunt from Cuba.
Elise has served as a cultural ambassador to South Africa, Nicaragua, China, Italy, and Yugoslavia. For the Kennedy Center’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, Elise represented the State of Georgia, and she has crisscrossed the United States with her Global, Local & Homemade Songs™ – from New York’s Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the People’s Voice Café to festivals like Clearwater’s Hudson River Revival, Falcon Ridge, LEAF, the North Georgia Folk Festival, and the Marin County Fair in California; from Minneapolis’ Gingko Coffeehouse to Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe; and from the Open Door Community to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.
Elise’s original songs are wildly eclectic. The Raleigh Times says, “Her performance is like a suitcase plastered with stickers from around the world… populated with interesting characters both heroic and comic.” VALISE is Elise’s 11th recording on the EMWorld label. Her songs have been used in several documentary films, and include the anthem Open the Window (inspired by a Georgia Sea Islands Spiritual), Why Are Our Eyes in the Front of Our Heads? (acapella jazz vocal ); Clothes Swap (a funky ode to the virtues of re-cycling and girl gatherings); Set Us Free (inspired by the words of Reverend Timothy MacDonald at Martin Luther King Jr.’s 80th birthday celebration at the National Historic Site in Atlanta), Venus Between Us (a tribute to Soul Music), Ma Roulotte (a french gypsy jazz waltz, co-written with partner Mick Kinney), Butterfly’s Mysteries (a scientific boogie, written at the Callaway Gardens Butterfly House), Verkehrte Welt (Crazy Mixed Up World, a German paradox poem à la Oh Suzanna), and Blessed Nation (original music by Elise Witt to a poem by Pete Seeger).
The Elise Witt Choral Series makes Elise’s songs available for choirs, choruses, and vocal ensembles. With arrangements by Michael Holmes, there are currently 10 songs arranged for mixed voices, as well as women’s and men’s groups, and a second series is in the works. Elise has collaborated with choirs, choruses, and vocal ensembles as composer, conductor, and clinician. Her choral arrangements have been performed by Echoes of Peace Choir in Duluth MN, WomanSong in Asheville NC, Clear Rivers Chorus in Carrolton GA, Resonance Women’s Chorus of Boulder CO, Winston Knoll College in Saskatchewan Canada, Charm City Labor Chorus in Baltimore, and many other choruses, schools, and churches around the country.
Global Repertoire: In addition to her own songs, Elise introduces audiences to Argentine songwriter Maria Elena Walsh’s moving Como La Cigarra (Like the Cicada) about the power of singing for survival; Ich Hab’ Noch Einen Koffer in Berlin (I Still Have a Suitcase in Berlin) made famous by Marlene Dietrich – Elise’s father, famed pharmacologist/spider scientist, is a Berliner; Gino Sansonne’s La Bambina ed il Gabbiano (The Girl and the Gull) from Italy’s Lago Maggiore; as well as new and traditional songs from the Southern USA.
Elise’s training is as prolific and varied as her music. She sang for 20 years with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and Chamber Chorus under the direction of choral master Robert Shaw, as well as in the Robert Shaw Singers, which was the Resident Choir at Spivey Hall, and performed annually at Carnegie Hall. Elise has studied extensively with masters of improvisation Rhiannon and Bobby McFerrin, Pan-African vocal specialist Dr. Fred Onovwerosuoke, maverick cellist David Darling and his Music for People, and Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Dr. Ysaye Barnwell,all of whose pedagogy she incorporates into her own teaching.
Elise has earned a reputation as a masterful educator, encouraging even the shyest singers to explore, expand, and revel in their voices. In Atlanta, Elise leads a monthly Community Sing at the Shambhala Center, and frequently teaches classes at the Rising Phoenix T’ai Chi Studio in the Little 5 Points Community Center. Elise takes her Impromptu Glorious Chorus™ to singers around the country in studios like San Francisco’s Sawtooth, Seattle’s Space Needle, Boston’s Third Life, and Asheville’s Jubilee, as well as conducting workshops for organizations like Alternate ROOTS, the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, and WAND.
In addition to performing and recording, Elise has created a reputation as a masterful singing teacher, encouraging even the shyest singers to revel in their voices and join with others to create joyful choruses. Her “Singing For Fun” classes in Atlanta have become legendary, and her “Impromptu Glorious Chorus” around the country and abroad draws and inspires everyone from professional singers to “singers for fun,” to self-professed “non-singers.” Elise has taught at festivals, arts camps, schools, and community gatherings around the U.S. like the Songwriters Soul Kitchen, Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins WV, The Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville NC (where she coordinated the Sing & Swing program for 8 years), Common Ground in Westminster MD, Virginia Tech University in Blackburg VA, The School for International Training in Brattleboro VT, Big Apple Circus Clown Care, Savannah Folk Music Society in Savannah GA- and internationally – University of Biel Switzerland, Casa per la Pace in San Gimignano Italy, Centro de Cultur Popular in Matagalpa Nicaragua, and aboard the Universe Explorer educational ship sailing around the Americas and through the Panama Canal.
As a Teaching Artist in Schools, Elise works with students in elementary schools, middle, and high schools as well as colleges and universities. She currently serves as Artist-in-Residence at the Global Village School in Decatur GA. Writing songs about everything from Prefixes & Suffixes, Secrets of Fractions, the Planets, and Contemporary Leaders, Elise and her students have made the learning of difficult subjects fun with their original songs. Her education workshops and concerts use music as a language to celebrate our cultural diversity while appreciating our connections as one human family. Elise is also a highly respected and sought after teacher of teachers, leading professional development workshops in a myriad of settings. A high school teacher in Thomaston Georgia says, “I was totally impressed and awed with her fantastic voice and ability to inspire the students.” A student in Augusta Maine says, “She would receive straight A’s from me!!” And Allied Arts in Milledgeville GA calls Elise “every arts residency director’s dream.”
Brought up as the daughter of survivors of Nazi Germany, Elise uses her music to promote causes of peace, justice, and human dignity in her community of Atlanta, and around the globe. She is member of Alternate ROOTS, a coalition of artists based in the Southeastern United States whose work is at the intersection of arts and activism. She is also part of the national SOAW Musicians Collective, and has sung for Refugee Family Services, American Friends Service Committee, WAND, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change, and many others.
Aside from quirky song titles and international flair, the real reason to hear Elise Witt is her charismatic stage presence and her gorgeous voice. The Louisville KY Courier says, “Her straightforward charm and pure, strong voice are truly fine music to the ears.” All of Elise’s songs come straight from the heart. Her voice has the power to carry you to distant lands as well as inner landscapes. And by the end of a concert, it is not unusual to have the entire audience (self-professed “non-singers” included) singing in fabulous multi-part harmony!
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