Elise Witt Tackles Art and Activism

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the Next Leading Lady for March 2018: Elise Witt

Where do you work and what do you do?
I am a self employed singer, composer, community song leader, teacher, activist. I serve as Artist-in-Residence at the Global Village Project (GVP), a school for teenage refugee girls from Afghanistan, Burma, Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Nepal, Somalia, Syria and Tanzania. At GVP I use singing to teach English and help the young women acclimate to this crazy new world in which they find themselves. We say that “every teacher is a student and every student is a teacher.” So we learn songs from the students’ cultures, write our own songs about they are learning, and dive into the International peace and justice repertoire of music.

My Impromptu Glorious Chorus™ workshops for adults take me around the country and abroad to get the world singing. And my Global, Local & Homemade Songs™ concerts showcase my love of world music as well as my passion for writing original poetry and music. I am a 40 year member of Alternate ROOTS, my artistic family, whose membership is made of artists at the intersection of arts and activism.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
My mother sang in a choir in Switzerland while she was carrying me, so I have been “making music” since before my birth. I always sang growing up, both with my family and in school choruses and ensembles.
I moved to Atlanta in 1977 to help found the Theatrical Outfit. We were a diverse group of performance artists who created original shows at our little black box theater on St. Charles Avenue.
From 1980-2000 I sang in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and Chamber Chorus under the superb conducting of Robert Shaw. I am a lifelong learner, and have studied with masters of improvisation Bobby McFerrin and Rhiannon, 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 I incorporate into my own teaching, writing, and performing.
I am fortunate and proud to say that I have made my entire adult living as an independent artist!

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
Growing up, with a love of languages, I wanted to become a translator or interpreter. I speak 5 languages fluently and sing in at least a dozen more. I love languages both for the way that each language has its unique expressions that can’t be translated, and for the rich musicality and sound of each language. I didn’t become a translator or interpreter per se, but in a way I now use those skills in my musical work, so perhaps I did follow that path in a circuitous fashion.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life? 
My parents supported everything my sister and I did. Even when we embarked on paths that were stupid or misguided, they let us make our own mistakes and learn from them. They came to every concert and performance I ever did. They were always curious and interested in what I was doing, and what my friends were doing. My friends often came to discuss their ideas with my parents because they really listened. I am forever grateful for the love and support of my family!

How is art a passion for you?
Singing is something we are all born with, but our society says that only certain people “have talent,” and the rest of us should be consumers. Music has become a commodity for sale. Humans for millennia used music to tell their stories and to connect as community. I use my music to find that place of community again. Music, and especially singing, vibrates us individually on a molecular level, and brings us together as community. Singing with others is one of the most powerful, passionate things I know.What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
Our Public, Free, Totally Improvised Sings are new and exciting! Every month or two we partner with a membership organization and sing for an hour and a half in a group led, continuous musical experience using only our voices and our bodies. So far we have partnered with Sevananda Food Coop, Mulberry Fields Community Garden (part of the Wylde Center), Woodland Gardens, the Atlanta Beltline, and the Clarkston Library. We all need to sing!

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
I hope to help individuals discover, explore and expand their voices, especially those people who have been told at some point that they are “unmusical,” “tone deaf,” or shouldn’t sing. I enjoy to collaborating with artists in all genres – I have collaborated with dancers, theater and visual artists. I hope to make Atlanta a singing city! And because I travel a lot with my work, I also enjoy connecting Atlanta artists with artists around the country and abroad.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?

My Work: