B i o g r a p h y
Deanna Wehrspann is a professional pianist, choral singer, and composer of choral, vocal, string, and piano music. She has shared the stage as orchestral pianist/accompanist with Grammy-winning Phoenix Chorale, Dawn Upshaw, Samuel Ramey, and Branford Marsalis, as well as for South Dakota All-State Chorus and High School Honor Choir with conductors Christopher Aspaas, Henry Leck, Joe Miller, James Rodde, Vijay Singh, André Thomas, and Claude Zetty. She collaborates regularly with Sounds of South Dakota regional opera.
She was named Commissioned Composer for the 2016 North Central Division Elementary Honor Choir of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) and for the 2015 South Dakota Music Teachers Association. She has been Composer-in-Residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (Nebraska, Aug. 2013), and at Ucross Foundation (Wyoming, Aug. 2015). Deanna has choral music published by Augsburg Fortress and Choristers Guild, and was a winner in the Morningside College Choral Composition Contest in 2013. She frequently sets texts of award-winning playwright and poet Ivan Fuller.
A charter member of the professional South Dakota Chorale, chosen to perform at the 2015 National Conference of ACDA in Salt Lake City, she is a life-long choral singer. She has degrees from Augustana College (SD; B.A.), Luther Seminary (MN; M.A.), and Emporia State University (KS; M.L.S.). She also studied for a year in Leipzig, Germany, on full scholarship from Lutheran World Federation.
She has membership in American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), American Composers Forum (ACF), Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM), International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM), and Music Teachers National Association (MTNA).
She is a past state winner in MTNA student piano competitions and is currently Composition Chair for the South Dakota chapter of MTNA.
She has been active as a professional accompanist for Augustana College (SD), University of Sioux Falls (SD), University of South Dakota, Vermillion, and Minnehaha Mandskor. Also a violinist, she has played for nationally-recognized broadcasts of "Christmas at the Cathedral."
A music and worship professional at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, she and her husband Joel met in a Lutheran choir in Lincoln, NE, where they lived for many years. They have two grown daughters, Catherine and Grace, and son-in-law Cody.
She remains grateful to Walter May for his compositional teaching, to J. Earl Lee for his piano mentorship, and to so many choral directors under whom she has sung: Rolf Anderson, Charles Bruffy, Jeanne Carter, Bradley Ellingboe, Eric Ericson, Robyn Holcomb, Harold Krull, Gene LeVasseur, Don Levsen, Jack Levick, Olaf Malmin, Carlos Messerli, Jack Mohlenhoff, Tim Peter, Dione Peterson, Frank Pooler, Almuth Reuter, John Rutter, Ron Schallenkamp, Brian Schmidt, Rod Walker, Jon Washburn, and Sir David Willcocks.
Born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1958, Deanna (née Levsen) grew up in Aberdeen, SD, and Sioux Falls, SD, where her parents Don and Shireen Levsen were church musicians. Her mother was her first piano teacher and she began accompanying for her father's church choirs. She has a younger brother Mark and a younger sister Sara.
She graduated summa cum laude in music from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, focusing on piano performance, the Augustana Choir, the orchestra, a minor in Greek, German Club, and theatre. She won a college-sponsored choral contest and was encouraged to continue, but "female composer" was not seen as a viable option at that time. She played piano or organ and sang in semi-professional choirs and church choirs during the next thirty years, as she achieved graduate degrees in theology and library science, studied in Germany, was on the national staff in the formative years of Lutheran Summer Music, and worked in library or book-related fields.
Three fortuitous circumstances led to a re-discovery of her musical calling: in 2003 her personal fulfillment and joy as a professional accompanist began after a chance discussion with another pianist about such work.
In 2008 at a choir reunion, a former classmate asked Deanna if she was still writing music. She answered, "No," and came the reply, "Why not?!?" This simple question re-ignited a passion for compositional creativity that seemed to want to make up for lost time. She asked Ivan Fuller, a theatre professor and playwright with whom she had worked, if he wrote poetry and would he be willing to have her set his words to music. So began (with Cry of the Crimson Woman) a very fruitful and rewarding creative partnership of poetry set for voice, choir, and even solo piano.
The third circumstance came in 2009, with the foundation of the South Dakota Chorale, when Deanna became a charter soprano and eventual board member of the ensemble that fulfulled her lifelong dream of singing in a professional choir.
In her free time, Deanna is an enthusiastic Minnesota Twins fan, a reader of fiction and non-fiction, and a solver of New York Times crosswords. She is also an über-fan of figure skating, having attended multiple World and US National Championships, including in Canada, Germany, Sweden, and Finland, with her two daughters.