Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fifth House Ensemble: Chamber Music for the Modern World

During my senior year at DePauw University, Dean Mark McCoy announced an addition to the new guest artist concert series that would include several visits from a group called Fifth House Ensemble. They were to host workshops, promote performances in the Greencastle community, and give a final concert at the end of the year.
The musicians from Fifth House fit right in with Dean McCoy's developing "21st Century Musician" curriculum. At their first on-campus talk, they discussed their ways of boosting concert attendance. One man asked us to think of a character, a typical 21st-century person, and how we would use our various resources to base a program and its promotion around that character. Different audience demographics - young and old, amateur and professional, etc. - would require different presentation. For example, he stressed the importance of social media literacy to advertise to young or inexperienced audiences. The ensemble members at the talk also showed their expertise in finding ways to keep audiences engaged during concerts. One of their popular programs is based around a graphic novel, Black Violet by Ezra Claytan Daniels, and uses visual media to tell the story while the musicians supplement it with various classical pieces.
"Music can tell a story" was one of the catch phrases of Fifth House Ensemble. In another one of their events, a group of musicians demonstrated their performance style when visiting schools and playing to children. They cleverly used a few pieces of classical music, which many of the college students and professors watching recognized, to accompany simple poems, interactive stories, and more. After dropping the schoolteacher act, they explained how these routines they performed were carefully created and refined to teach kids about classical music and give them the most fun experience possible while doing it, all while using music to tell stories. They even gave groups of students the challenge of creating their own "for kids" performance that used the same methods.
These were my first-hand experiences with Fifth House's fascinating methods of bringing classical music to modern audiences. When exploring their website, I found descriptions of all their different types of events. Their residency program, part of which was their visits to DePauw, might be the most relevant to the idea of music for the 21st century. For each residency, with any type of school, they pose clear questions and objectives based around a theme - Music and Poetry, Messages in Music, Educational Outreach - and propose a process and sometimes a final project to help achieve those goals. From the content of the site, it looks like they have had much success on every level.
Fifth House Ensemble is a non-profit organization and their website can be accessed here.

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