fresh inc at rush hour!

Today, we had the distinct pleasure of performing at the amazing Rush Hour Concerts at St. James Cathedral in downtown Chicago. Even Millie couldn’t believe the splendor of the picturesque St. James Cathedral. She couldn’t help herself – she got all lit up!

Before the show, we had a special session with Rush Hour visionary, Deborah Sobol. She contextualized for us the importance of keeping music in our daily lives, and encouraged us all to continue to look around us at the cultural landscape that exists outside of our musical circle for ideas and inspiration. Hearing the way she and her team of indefatigable geniuses created a series that on every level is centered around the needs of a culturally curious, fresh audience to classical music.

As if a live audience of hundreds wasn’t enough, we were also broadcast live on WFMT with host Dennis Moore. Here’s Melissa in the “booth” prepping for the big moment!

As part of the fresh inc application process, one piece was selected for a special prize: a performance at Rush Hour with live broadcast. The winner of this year’s contest was Alex Temple, for the newly composed work Party at the Last Resort.

Also on the program was Paquito d’Rivera’s Aires Tropicales, and a special 8-minute version of Terry Riley’s In C, featuring all fresh inc composers and instrumentalists. What an amazing way to showcase the talent present here tonight!



One of the sessions we looked forward to most happened on day 6 of fresh inc, in which we were joined by graphic novelist Ezra Claytan Daniels, one of 5HE’s favorite collaborators and the mastermind behind our landmark Black Violet series. Millie loves Ezra!

(oh, and hey – if you want to check out Black Violet on your iPad, click here, or check out our album on iTunes!)

Ezra started by showing the complex process behind creating Black Violet, from narrowing down repertoire selection with members of 5HE, to marking emotional cues in the music, and finally laying down narrative and art slides that are triggered in real time.

Then, he challenged us to listen to a short segment of a Mendelssohn piano trio and come up with our own stories, realized either through short theatrical skits, drawn slides, or any other medium we wanted to choose.

The results were hilarious! We had stories of ill-fated lovers, an epic stick-figure chase, a rowdy classroom of first-graders, and more. It was amazing to see how the same piece of music could inspire such different tales, and be heard differently through these multiple lenses.


The afternoon was filled with rehearsals, as always with mixed ensembles containing festival participants and members of 5HE.

Simultaneously, we hold composers’ forums, in which our fresh inc composers present their work and hilarity ensues!

Later that evening, we convened for a rehearsal and informal performance of Terry Riley’s landmark work, In C.

Millie joined us to try out every musical instrument she could get her tentacles on, finishing with her final pose as a sexy lounge singer on the toy piano.

After a quick talk-through and rehearsal, we launch into an hour-long version of Riley’s work, a condensed version of which we’ll perform at Rush Hour Concerts at St. James next week.

It’s day 5, and we start with the usual marathon of rehearsals. Over these two weeks, we rehearse all 24 new works that have been written for the festival, along with many established pieces both new and old. Festival participants join members of 5HE in mixed ensembles for rehearsals and performance, which is our favorite way to make music and learn.

Today’s workshop is on marketing and psychographics, exploring what happens when artists put their audience at the center of their programming. We look at ways to truly understand an audience through survey questions that get at the root of their preferences, buying habits, behaviors, interests, and more. Trying to program for a public that you haven’t reached yet? Create an ideal audience member, give them a name, and create a collage that puts into images their unique interests and personality. Here’s a way in which Honda does that in their recent Civic commercials:


We used Black Violet as a case study for how a psychographic understanding of one’s audience can impact your choices with regards to collaborators, programming, sponsorships, venue selection, and more, all with the idea of creating cohesive experience design.

We then challenge everyone to create their own collages using a(n amazingly heavy) arsenal of magazines and glue sticks.

Next, we’re on to our second salon night, in which we were delighted by solo and chamber works, including works of Philip Glass and fresh inc’s own David Rakowski. What a great way to end the night!

P.S. – who knew you could play a clarinet like this?!?


milwaukee art museum

It’s day 4, and time for our first off-campus public performance at the Milwaukee Art Museum, as part of their Target Free Thursdays!

We performed in the front lobby, near this gorgeous walkway. We couldn’t have asked for a better space to showcase some wonderful music, and the talents of our performers.

Millie was in on the act as well, being her thoroughly modern self in front of the glass sculpture that sits in the entryway.

She also was on hand to help with video documentation. Millie is a multi-talented…well who knows what she is, exactly…

Audiences of all ages got to see some fantastic music in a gorgeous space at noon, written by composers ranging from Bach to Stravinsky and David Lang. Upon seeing the toy pianos on parade, one of them exclaimed, “Are they actually going to PLAY those little thingies!?!” Glee ensued.


We’re so proud of everyone for such a great show!! And, as one Facebook friend comments on this final pic: “that is slick as HELL!”



public speaking primer

It’s day 3, and after a long morning of rehearsals, we gather after lunch for one of our favorite sessions: the public speaking workshop. How many of us don’t get nervous before going on stage to perform? And when we have to say a few words to the audience, that amps up the pressure even more.

Enter our resident public speaking expert and pianist, Adam Marks, who takes us through an activity that highlights the different ways that artists traditionally present their work. We see works by the same artist paired together, we examine the Wikipedia-style facts of their life, and we hear Adam’s personal feelings on the work. Does any of that information change our perception of what we see? Then we consider what happens if we let some of the relevant facts and some personal details blend together into the story of how this work came to be presented today, all in a vocal style that matches the audience we’re reaching. Now we get nods!

We challenge ourselves to create connective statements, bringing musical concepts audiences by relating them to ideas they know and enjoy. Trying to explain the return of many themes at the end of the Poulenc Sextet? Compare it to a soap opera, in which you know you’ve reached the end of the hour by the quick changes that begin to occur (pregnant woman at top of stairs, couple gets into the car on a rainy night, coma victim’s eyes begin to flutter…).

Once you’ve got your content, it’s time to start thinking about the physical act of speaking and finding your natural voice. To that end, Adam leads us through some vocal warm-ups in the dark. Huh huh maaaaaaaaa!!!!

After hours, we get a visit from Jenny’s son, Charlie, who won the “who tires out faster, the 2-year-old or the 32-year-old” contest between him and Eric. Here they are running down the hallway like birds!