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Black woman conductor promotes representation at Denver schools

Maria Ellis is paving the way for the younger generation who want to pursue this industry.

DENVER — The Colorado Children's Chorale organization partnered with Maria Ellis, one of only a few Black women who are conductors in the country, to surprise schools across the Denver Metro Area. 

"I came across Maria on Facebook around 2019-2020 and she's branded as a girl conductor. I could just tell from her energy that she would be great working with our kids," said Emily Crile, the artistic director for Colorado Children's Chorale. 

Ellis is recognized as a choral conductor, music educator, and founder of Girl Conductor. The Colorado Children's Choral organization received financial support from The Eulipions Fund, to bring Ellis in for a week-long Conductor-in Residence program and work one-on-one with 13 choirs at seven schools.

  • Vista Peak Preparatory
  • Gateway High School
  • MLK, Jr. Early College
  • Rangeview High School
  • Overland High School
  • George Washington High School
  • Prairie Middle School

"In my world, she’s a celebrity, she’s like the Taylor Swift of choral world," said Crile. "It's also fun to watch her working with the kids, because you notice a difference. Their sound changes quite a bit."

Ellis traveled from St. Louis to Colorado between Feb. 28 and March 3, to amplify and show the importance of representation in the choral world, which typically is a male dominated industry. 

She knows there aren’t many Black women in classical music, and she said those musical influences need to be taught in school. 

“More and more women are getting on the podium. Growing up all I saw were white males, unfortunately I didn’t see my first African American conductor until the year 2020," she said. "We are making strides and that’s exciting to see so many people of color entering the field and doing things their way and representing their cultures and it’s really inspiring."

Her family’s singing tradition inspired her to follow the music path when she was 12 years old. Ellis was a member of the church choir and that's where her interest in classical music began. Fast forward years later, she made her first debut in June. 

“There will be bumps on the road, but if you’re really passionate about it, you’ll find a different way to get around those bumps and keep pursuing, you can do this, it’s the best job in the world," said Ellis. "I would tell kids that you have to study, and you have to practice to be good at your craft. It takes a lot of studying, it takes a lot of practice." 

Ellis started an organization called, Girl Conductor, her mission is to motivate and teach her students about classical music, and help the younger generation read notes by using gospel songs.

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