Home Carrollton Undeniably ‘DOPE’: UWG alumnus achieves success as a composer

Undeniably ‘DOPE’: UWG alumnus achieves success as a composer

University of West Georgia alumnus and composer Katahj Copley. Photo by Pinnacle Photography.

Katahj Copley ’21 crept into his collegiate career at the University of West Georgia with a dubious demeanor and emerged as a harmonious force in musicianship and composing.

He began his journey locally at Carrollton High School and quickly intertwined with his passion for music composition upon his arrival at UWG. Due to the unwavering belief of his mentors, his baby steps swiftly turned into confident strides toward the music of his dreams.

“My first lesson at UWG, I was late,” Copley said. “I began learning from Professor of Saxophone Dr. John Bleuel, who, despite my tardiness, entrusted me with writing ensembles even as a freshman. I was so scared, but once I got into it, the music started flowing from me.”

Copley flourished under the supervision of the faculty in UWG’s music program as he crafted his skill and began receiving a multitude of opportunities, such as creating ensembles for the College Band Directors National Association; however, his journey did not start with such openness.

“When I first got to UWG, I did not open up at all,” said Copley. “I could not open up. Past experiences led me to not being able to excel or be vulnerable. My brothers at Kappa Kappa Psi taught me to open my heart. There was no music before that.”

After accessing this unknown part of his identity, Copley found himself enveloped in robust, career-connected experiences with professors and the music program. Individuals such as Director of Bands and Professor of Music Dr. Josh Byrd gave him opportunities not commonly given to up-and-coming composers of Copley’s age.

“The moments of rehearsals where I heard my ensembles being played and stumbled through trial and error were hilarious, frightening, exciting and heartwarming,” expressed Copley. “Most composers don’t get the opportunity in college to have this learning experience to listen and hear which parts of their compositions are working and, more importantly, which are not.”

After graduating from UWG with his bachelor’s degree, Copley pursued higher degrees, returning to his alma mater to introduce his piece, “Sunshine,” which played over dinner at the 2022 Presidential Black Tie Gala. However, he still faced a challenge in defining his musical identity.

“A lot of times, as artists, we’re constantly trying to find that moment where we find identity through our music,” explained Copley. “My music began to feel disingenuous to my soul as I tried to discover my new sound after undergrad. I created these barriers between the band world and the world of Black music, including jazz, hip-hop and neo-soul. That collision was always within me; I just needed a moment to discover that about myself.”

This realization culminated in the composing genius that is Copley’s “DOPE.” “DOPE’s” Symphonic Wind Ensemble reflects a division of three parts – “Undeniably,” “Unapologetically” and “Undisputedly,” exploring vibrant expressions of color and pushing musical boundaries.

Copley had fallen in love once again.

Copley’s creation, “DOPE,” is a fusion of influences from artists like Kendrick Lamar and Marvin Gaye, representing a blend of musical inspirations from various eras of his life. His daily mantra, influenced by Kappa Kappa Psi’s motto, emphasizes the importance of balance in striving for happiness, humility and being heard.

“That mantra means balance; one cannot outweigh the other,” he said. “If you strive to be happy all the time, at some point, you become complacent, and you never grow. If you strive to be heard all the time, there will be a moment when you don’t have anything to say. And if you strive to be humble the entire time, you will never get the flowers you deserve.”