Growth Through Community: Reflecting On My Time at the Fresh Inc Festival

I am a clarinetist. I am an improviser. I am a writer.

These are things I repeat to myself when I feel scared to be my authentic self. My identity as a clarinetist has come naturally to me; I am a person who plays clarinet, day in and day out. But I didn’t think I could be the other two, all while being the first.

While engulfed in the stressful chaos that is remote school, remote jobs, and grad school applications, I had a friend suggest I apply for the Fresh Inc Festival. I didn’t think that a 2-week remote music festival in the middle of a pandemic could leave such an impact on me, but I am here to tell you that it was one of the most fun and nurturing experiences I have had in a long time.

My time at the Fresh Inc Festival was everything I had hoped for and more. During every rehearsal, every seminar, every concert, and every social gathering, there was presence, insightfulness, and a whole lot of laughs. Despite everyone’s exhaustion with working on online platforms like Zoom, Fifth House Ensemble did an amazing job of cultivating a refreshing and optimistic space to create, record, and perform. One of the most meaningful performances I have been a part of took place in a Zoom room with microphones and a mixture of performers and faculty; we spoke for a while before performing Pauline Oliveros’ Wind Horse Mandala, a work of hers that holds listening and responding to the core of creating the performance with those around you. I recognized this feeling, the rush through my body of improvising with these artists in real time over the Internet, to be my intuition telling me that this, that improvising, was one of the things that fueled my soul. 

For two weeks, I was in a space where I could share thoughts I had about the music cultures we are surrounded with today, my work as a performer, and the work I considered a “secret” – the words and music I was writing, my hopes of intersecting the two, and the yearning for doing all the things I loved, all encompassed into the identity of being an artist. I was met with warmth, encouragement, and given practical steps on how to deepen my practice. This carried beyond the festival; the people I met have become some of my closest friends and collaborators. 

After my time at Fresh Inc, I moved to London to begin my Masters in Clarinet Performance at the Royal College of Music and am also working as a Development Assistant for the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. I’m commissioning some new works for clarinet and electronics, and am even exploring my own compositional process, combining my own poetry with improvisation. I owe a lot to this festival for encouraging me to carve my own path, to make my own sounds, and to embrace being my best self.

I feel so excited for the new cohort that gets to come together in-person and collaborate in real time, in hopes that they’ll feel some of the very sensations I felt. To those reading this, apply. Apply for the thing, write down the idea, talk to the person, ask the “scary” question. It may just lead you to something so wonderful.

Thank you, Michelle! Applications for the 2022 Fresh Inc Festival are open through February 1 – apply now!