Roger Ames was born in Cooperstown, New York in 1944. He grew up in nearby Worcester, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskills. His father, Franklin, was a self-taught church organist, his mother Sally a long time first grade teacher at Worcester Central School. He studied piano with Florence Russell, voice with Mildred Whitcomb, and theater with Patricia Zich - each of whom influenced him profoundly, and helped him carve out a life in the arts.
He graduated valedictorian of Worcester High School class of 1963, and delivered a speech entitled "The Arts: The Missing Link In Education." Since that time he has been an advocate and practioner for arts in the schools, and much of his life has been devoted to teaching - both his own students and teachers all over the country, to enable them to increase the involvement of their students in music, theatre, and opera.
Ames graduated from the Crane School of Music, Potsdam College, in 1967. While there he was mentored by Robert Washburn, Carl Druba, Brock McElheran, Robert Reinert and Helen Hosmer - each of whom made a significant impact on his life. He went into public school teaching, first at Whitesboro High School, filling in for his friend and mentor Calvin Gage, and later at Somers High School, where he involved over half the high school (400 students) in his High School Choir. While there he began writing large works for chorus and orchestra, his largest effort involving 800 performers in an original work entitled SPRING CAME ON FOREVER.
He went on to work in Washington D.C. as music director of STREET 70, a professional theatre ensemble in Silver Spring, Maryland. He also founded the Montgomery County Masterworks Chorus, and was minister of music / composer in residence at Westmoreland Congregational Church - where he wrote several large works for choir, congregation, and orchestra: THANKSGIVING MASS, MASS FOR ALL SAINTS, and many anthems written on a bi-weekly basis. His last two years at Westmoreland were occupied in writing his first opera, AMISTAD - based on the overthrow of the slave ship Amistad by Africans destined for the slave trade. That work was workshopped but never produced.
While in Washington, Ames studied with Samuel Barber and John Kander. He was named one of four 'up and coming artists on the scene' in the Washington Post in 1977. It was in Washington that he got his first excellent review as a composer, from the late Paul Hume, critic for the Post.
In 1978, Ames went to Europe with Georgine Resick, who had a singing contract with the Cologne Opera, and his son Daniel. While there, he was able to delve deeply into composition and orchestration. He wrote AMARANTHA, which was later produced by the Maryland Opera studio, and several song cycles - SUMMER SANG IN ME (Edna St. Vincent Millay), FOUR MINIATURES (Theodore Roethke), COME LIVE WITH ME (James Agee), and a number of folk song settings, some of whom sung by Thomas Hampson on his CD "OLD SONGS RE-SUNG".
He created music theatre pieces with his friend and mentor Pat Zich in London, and developed ideas for the Berkshire Ensemble for Theatre Arts, which he, Pat, and Marianne Ryer then established in Williamstown, Massachusetts in the mid 80s. That project combined professional writers, directors, dancers and composers with four ensembles of teen artists, each of which developed its own musical over a period of 5 weeks of extensive training, brainstorming, writing and rehearsing. BETA, as it became known, received an 'outstanding arts organization' award from the Massachusetts Arts Council, and was given several grants by the National Endowment for the Arts for 'innovative programming.'
During that time, Ames was commissioned by the Masterworks Chorus to write REQUIEM FOR UNBELIEVERS, and had a very successful premiere of that work in Washington, conducted by Jeffrey Rink. The poetry of Anne Sexton was interwoven with the traditional latin texts, using a soprano and baritone soloist as Anne and her Psychiatrist / Priest, with chamber orchestra of 18 players. The piece was re-orchestrated and extensively revised for the Boston premiere by Boston Pro Musica November of 2007 - and re-titled REQUIEM FOR OUR TIME.
In 1986, Ames began working with Laura Harrington, librettist and poet, and created MARTIN GUERRE, which was commissioned by Boston Lyric Opera. It received its premiere at the Hartford Stage, directed by Mark Lamos. They went on to write the opera HEARTS ON FIRE, produced and directed by Ben Krywosz and Nautilus New Music-Theater, and were commissioned by Northshore Music Theater in Boston to write a new musical.
Ames also wrote a nearly complete score for SUNSET BOULEVARD with Calvin Remsberg, a project that was adopted by the Shubert Foundation and nearly came to fruition - only to be halted when Andrew Lloyd Webber obtained the film rights for adaptation a few days before they were to meet and sign the contract with Paramount.
In 1987 Ames was appointed chair of Music Theater at the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford, where he built a program of 8 students and 3 faculty into a major undergraduate program of 80, with 8 faculty and three theaters to work in. He left Hartt in 1992 to become composer in residence and Director of Vocal Music at Great Neck North High School on Long Island. His ensembles have gone to Carnegie Hall several times, and here is where Ames help establish STAGES, a program for high school seniors that requires in depth, extensive study of the history of western dramatic literature, culminating on a project where the students create their own full-length music theatre work. Over the past few years, they have written about the hero's journey, the life of Salvator Dali, the gender struggle of the mid -20th century (A Thousand Words), and are currently working on a piece around the life of Zelda Fitzgerald.
Ames has contributed to several textbook series, MUSIC! WORDS! OPERA! published by Opera America, The High School Music Program, published by GIA in Chicago, and the Grammy Foundation's Arts in Education Series, begun by the Bernstein Foundation for the Arts. He is a consultant for Opera America, and goes to a number of opera companies in North America to work with education directors on programs that foster creative interaction with the multiple arts as it relates to opera and opera companies in the area. He has worked with the school districts of San Francisco, Dallas, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Denver, Duluth, Tulsa, Miami, Charlotte, Boston, Cleveland and Cincinnati to help them develop programs that have children writing their own operas, from grades 1 through high school.
While teaching and consulting, he has also written operas, musicals and oratorios for Boston Lyric Opera, Utah Opera, Central City Opera, Tulsa Opera, Lake George Opera, Off-Broadway, London Fringe; Long Island Masterworks Chorus and Orchestra, (In Memoriam: Warsaw 1943 with Bernard Kaplan, librettist); the Greensboro Choral Society, and others.
IN MEMORIAM: WARSAW 1943 is Ames' most ambitious project to date. The work, written with his colleague Bernard Kaplan, was originally designed as an oratorio that traces personal and historical events of the Holocaust in Poland. Presently it is in revision, being adapted for the operatic / music theater stage, with plans to make it a multi-media event that includes dance, portraiture, and scenic design to transport the audience into a theatrical space whether it's a concert hall or traditional stage. The work was a finalist for the New York City Opera's VOX competition in 2008. Its revised version was premiered by the Oratorio Society of Minnesota, Matthew Mehaffey, conductor, in May, 2011.
His one act opera, EN MIS PALABRAS, Jeffrey Gilden, librettist, was commissioned by Central City Opera and is currently being toured around the west by the company's touring ensemble. It is the story of an immigrant family struggling with the tension between inclusion and tradition, and is designed for family and young audiences.
His REQUIEM FOR OUR TIME, set to the poetry of Anne Sexton, recently received a triumphant New England Premiere by Boston Chorus Pro Musica, with Ilana Davidson, soprano, David Murray, Baritone, Jeffrey Rink, conducting. His recent commission, En Mis Palabras, with Jeffrey Gilden, librettist, is currently being toured throughout Colorado and the west by Central City Opera.
He has recently completed a one-act opera commission for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights Aids with Jeffrey Gilden entitled SHADOWS, and he was commissioned to write a large work for chorus, orchestra, and dancers for the Strathmore Performing Arts Center in Maryland, along with lyricist Elizabeth Bassine, entitled TAKE JOY, which premiered in December of 2010.
He and Elizabeth Bassine have recently completed their third draft of a musical based on the award-winning novel, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, by Welsh writer Richard Llewellyn. That work has undergone an earlier workshop – by Minneapolis-based Nautilus Music-Theater, Ben Krywosz, artistic director, and a workshop reading at the Actors Studioe in NYC. Recently, Mark Lamos, artistic director of Westport Playhouse, has agreed to direct and help produce the show.
Ames is also associate artist at New Dramatists, NYC, and former Music Director of Pantomonium, a theatre company that volunteers its time to create and produce annual off Broadway Christmas Pantomime musicals written partially by and for underprivileged children in New York City. (Kids get to create material side by side with professional writers, composers and actors, and then come see the show for free). He has helped develop the music for four of those shows to date.
Ames is published by GIA Music. He also has publications at Hinshaw Music, inc, Belwin Mills, and Vista Music. He is on commercial recordings by Thomas Hampson, (Old Songs Re-sung), on the EMI label, and also by Anam Cara, (Innisfree), James Jordan, conductor, and has scored movies and documentaries for French and German Television.
Ames recently retired from Great Neck Public schools, but has returned there to teach part-time, consult and compose for the students in the district. He spends most of his time in East Hampton with his wife, Elizabeth, their dog, Angharad, his stepson Adam, stepdaughter Joanna, and his son David, who is a currently a graduate student at Buffalo University, studying Political Science. His daughter, Beth Marie, recently graduated magna cum laude in Geology from Beloit College.
Ames' choral publications and textbooks can be found at GIAmusic.com and Hinshaw Music, South Carolina.