Ellen Denham is a soprano, voice teacher, writer, and director who recently received a doctorate in Vocal Performance and Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A native of Winston-Salem, NC, Dr. Denham received her B.M. from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and M.M. from the New England Conservatory of Music.
Praised for her interpretive skills, clear tone, and effortless ornamentation, Denham is equally comfortable on the opera and musical theatre stage, as a concert soloist, and in multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and improvised works. Recent opera and musical theatre roles include Violet in Rorem’s A Childhood Miracle, Martha Sheldon in Ward’s The Crucible, Jenny in The Threepenny Opera, Cinderella’s Stepmother in Into the Woods, and the Actress in Love Games, a new musical by Joseph Turrin. She is a past winner of the Encouragement Award from the North Carolina District Metropolitan Opera Council and has performed roles with Indianapolis Opera, Piedmont Opera Theatre, Intimate Opera of Indianapolis, and Lyric Theatre at Illinois. Her solo concert work has included songs by Salvatore Martirano on the 2012 Martirano Award Concert, guided improvised singing with Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra, and works including the Monteverdi Vespers, Mozart Vespers, Mozart Requiem, Handel Dixit Dominus, and multiple Bach cantatas.
While teaching voice as a Teaching Assistant at the University of Illinois, Denham was ranked as an Excellent Teacher by the Center for Innovation for Teaching and Learning. Her students were accepted into the Music Education degree, Music Minor, and performed roles in Theatre Department musicals and the Lyric Theatre studio. Prior to doctoral studies, Dr. Denham taught voice at Earlham College, in the music magnet program of Broad Ripple High School, and operated a private voice studio in Indianapolis. Her students have received awards from the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), have performed as soloists with community and professional organizations, and have gone on to degree programs in voice at institutions including NYU, Indiana University, Kentucky State University, and Ball State University. In addition to teaching voice, Denham has served on the Core Curriculum adjunct faculty of Butler University teaching a First-Year Seminar, and taught two semesters of Public Speaking at the University of Illinois. During the summer, she can be found at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp teaching small group vocal technique classes and the Vocal Jazz minor class, and has frequently taught workshops on vocal improvisation at the Indy Convergence.
An accomplished writer as well as a performer, Denham is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and has had short fiction published in magazines including Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, NewMyths.com, and the anthology Gears and Levers 3 by Sky Warrior Books, as well as writing articles for Classical Singer magazine. Combining her work in writing with her performing background, she has written several works for the stage, including the libretto for Butler Ballet‘s critically acclaimed production of The Willow Maiden, using her original story with an original score by Frank Felice. Her other works for the stage include the libretto for a musically improvised opera, Homo Homarus, premiered at the Indy Convergence and later restaged at the University of Illinois.
Denham pursued Theatre and Directing as a secondary area of doctoral studies, serving as Assistant Director for the mainstage University of Illinois operas Orpheus in the Underworld and The Merry Widow. In 2013, she was invited to direct the Umbrella Project of the Indy Convergence residency, an exploration of the subject of Otherness based on her concepts and created collaboratively by the performers using dialogue, dance, and an improvised soundscape of voices and instruments. Other directing projects have included a comic soundscape based on internet memes and an exploration of different ways to utilize improvisation in opera. She has received two grants from the Indiana Arts Commission for her collaborative work.
As a researcher, Denham’s primary area is the use of improvisation in opera. Her doctoral project, “Improvisation as a Generative Tool for New Opera: An Exploration of Methods and Parameters,” includes a study of historical antecedents for improvisation in opera as well as contemporary trends, and culminated in a lecture-performance demonstrating the methods studied. Her other research interests include the relationship between music and poetry, explored in the essay “Schubert and Goethe: A Transcendence of Competing Aesthetics,” presented at the Hawaii International Conference of Arts and Humanities.
A strong believer art that crosses boundaries of genre and artistic discipline, Denham continues to explore improvisation, extended techniques, and cross-disciplinary collaboration. She is a member of the executive board of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting multidisciplinary art.