Errollyn Wallen

Born January 1, 1958

Born in Belize

Errollyn Wallen was born in Belize but was raised in London by her aunt and uncle. She credits her uncle with introducing her to the world of poetry and music, and she developed many artistic interests in her youth. She eventually moved to NYC to seriously pursue dance but left that passion behind after realizing her desire to pursue music composition! Due to the difficulties that she encountered as a Black composer, as well as being the first musician in her family, she “had to become a little bit of a warrior,” find her own path, and fight against people’s perceptions of her.

Wallen describes her compositional process as drawing upon “building blocks” rather than stylistic guidelines. Although she exclusively studied 12-tone serial music throughout school, the music she writes today is very free. She is inspired by the music she listened to when she was a child: jazz, hymns, pop songs, and other vernacular and folk music, and enjoys incorporating these ideas into her compositions. A talented singer, she also writes and performs songs with her own band.

Among the many awards Wallen has accumulated throughout her career, a notable achievement is that all her recordings were taken on board the NASA S115 mission to be played in space. She has also written the memoir “Becoming a Composer,” which offers insight on the struggles she faced while pursuing composition, as well as glimpses into her own compositional process. She believes that today is a “golden age for composition,” as composers can learn from, be inspired by, and come to understand so many different people and styles of music.