Called to Compose

“When I was eleven years old, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, and I said, ‘A composer.’ I had this vision at a young age, and I stuck with it.”

Twenty years later,  Dr. Shawn Okpebholo’s music has been played in venues around the world from the Kennedy Center in New York City to concert halls in India, Africa, and China.


Dr. Okpebholo grew up in Lexington, Kentucky and says his music career started when he was just seven years old. The Salvation Army Church picked up the kids in his neighborhood and took them to church, where they were given instruments. Each week he went to learn, and he fell in love with music. “That was the beginning of my music education,” he says.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music composition and history at Asbury College, he attended the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he earned his master’s degree and doctorate in music composition and theory. Dr. Okpebholo then spent time teaching at Union University, Northern Kentucky University, and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music before joining the Wheaton College faculty in 2010.

“I consider Wheaton College a dream job,” he says. “I love the idea of knowledge not stopping with your discipline, but going outside of your discipline. I believe a liberal arts education is the way to go. Studying subjects outside of music has helped me to become a better composer. And I’m amazed by the people that I work with, such talented and distinguished musicians.”

Dr. Okpebholo also enjoys Wheaton students’ passion for learning. “I love walking into a classroom, lecturing, and then hands will raise, and they will take my lecture into a path that I maybe hadn’t thought of. They are hard working; I have never seen a group of students work so hard. I will walk into the Conservatory at 7 a.m. and will hear students practicing. That’s dedication.”

That dedication is seen in Dr. Okpebholo’s work as well. Dr. Michael Wilder, dean of the Conservatory of Music, says that Dr. Okpebholo brings a level of professional engagement that is dynamic and inspiring. “He can be counted on to enliven a discussion or class presentation with creative and insightful perspectives.  A favorite of students and faculty alike, Okpebholo has brought contributions to the Conservatory of Music and the College at large that will have lasting impact on all of us, as well as the broader kingdom."