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Shelley Washington

Princeton, NJ         

I am a composer, performer, collaborator, and educator who grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. I like to write music with a big palette that draws elements from jazz, rock, American folk and other musical spaces, new and old. I also perform regularly as a saxophonist, primarily wielding the baritone saxophone, and I love making lots and lots of noise.  

The music I write focuses on exploring emotions and intentions by finding their root cause. I want a listener to somehow move, for their emotions or imaginations to be altered, or even just be moved to tap their toes. My music explores intricate rhythms to encourage a sort of layered listening through grooves, melody, and harmony. In the music I write that confronts known social injustices, I want to create a space for public dialogue while personally reclaiming power for my own experienced inequalities. Shaking the cages, raging against the machine, and supporting others make me happy. 

I am also a vocalist, and double on flute, piccolo, clarinet, and (when the opportunity arises) English handbells. I really enjoy playing music from any genre, and enjoy it most when my friends, new and old, write for me. Some of my music has been released on the DIY “hardcore vs. classical” label, People | Places | Records. I’m a founding member of the composer collective Kinds of Kings.

I am a big fan of learning. I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Arts in Education from Truman State University in 2013 and 2014, respectively. I then moved to New York City in 2015, and I completed a Master of Music in Composition from NYU Steinhardt in 2017. I currently live in Princeton, New Jersey with my dog Rodeo. I started working on a PhD in Music Composition at Princeton University in the fall of 2018, and I’m doing my best to absorb as much information as possible, and having a great time making more noise with my friends.


Performed live by Bearthoven (Karl Larson, piano / Matt Evans, percussion / Pat Swoboda, bass)
Roulette in Brooklyn, NY (2/28/18)

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The Farthest

“The Farthest” – Words and Music written by Shelley Washington.

Commissioned by Dianne Berkun Menaker for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Silent Voices: If You Listen, Saturday April 28, 2018.

Performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus accompanied by members of the ICE Ensemble.

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Chunky in Heat, Scene 5

From Experiments in Opera and Contemporaneous premiere production of Chunky in Heat, an opera based on a libretto by celebrated author A. M. Homes. Chunky in Heat tells the story of a girl who comes of age poolside at her family’s home in the canyons of Los Angeles. The magical thinking of youth comes undone after her brother dies and she realizes what the word “dream” in American Dream really means. Chunky in Heat features music by Jason Cady, Paula Matthusen, Erin Rogers, Aaron Siegel, Shelley Washington and Matthew Welch.

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