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Music in their Words

Music in their Words

New chamber works incorporate the recorded voices of important 20th Century composers. Performances and history lessons for all.


March 14, 2016MIDWEST TOUR!

Posted by: Bill Ryan

And we’re off! We take our Music in their Words project on a five-day tour, sharing it with audiences in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. You can read the complete press release HERE, as well as get ticket info.

March 16: 8pm, BOP STOP at the Music Settlement, Cleveland, OH
March 17: 2pm, Kendal, Oberlin, OH
March 18: 7:30pm pre-concert talk, 8pm concert, Ohio Wesleyan University. Delaware, OH
March 19: 7:30pm, Theater at the Fort, Indianapolis, IN
March 20: 8:30pm, Constellation, Chicago, IL


February 13, 2016: Two Performances on a Snowy Weekend

Posted by: Bill Ryan

We’re under blizzard warnings here in Michigan, but we’re still getting out there to spread the good word of contemporary music. We’ll be performing two compositions from this project (works by Sarah Kirkland Snider and Marc Mellits), plus music we commissioned in the past. And coming soon, our midwest tour announcement, where we’ll take this whole thing on the road for a week.

February 13, 2016: Mason First United Methodist Church, Mason, MI, 7pm, free admission 

February 14, 2016: Loutit District Library, Grand Haven, MI, 2-3pm, free admission

September 15, 2015: PROJECT PREMIERE!

Posted by: Bill Ryan

After a relaxing summer to recharge, we’re back! We’ll be premiering four commissions from the project (music by Marc Mellits, Anna Clyne, Gyan Riley, and Michael Lowenstern) at New Music Detroit’s annual marathon event, Strange Beautiful Music 8. We start the whole thing off, right at 4pm. We also just made a quick video trailer of the project. Check it out, and share share share.


Posted by: Bill Ryan

Over the next year we will be introducing you to the team members behind our project. This will lead us up to the fall 2015 premieres. Now up–R. Luke DuBois, who is producing the composer videos that will be shown at concerts and online.

There are a few people who travel through life and see everything differently than most of us. Luke is of this very rare breed. He is hands down one of the most creative thinkers out there. We’ve been following his work for a little over a decade, and if you don’t know it, you MUST check it out. Last year the NY Times ran a terrific profile on his work, and there’s been nice mentions by others here and here. Some of his projects that we especially admire are Billboard, Hindsight is Always 20/20, A More Perfect Union, Vertical Music, and The Marigny Parade. In 2009 Luke contributed a track to our In C Remixed album, and then he produced dazzling live video projections for our In C Remixed show at le Poisson Rouge. It is very exciting for us to be working with him once again!


Posted by: Bill Ryan

Over the next year we will be introducing you to the team members behind our project. This will lead us up to the fall 2015 premieres. Now up–Zoe Keating, who is composing a work for our ensemble and the voice of Henryk Górecki.

What can we say about Zoe that you don’t already know? This self-made composer/cellist has been sharing her professional and personal story online for years. From her working process, to her income, to her struggles with YouTube licensing, and to the recent heartbreaking loss of her husband,  Zoe has been authentic, sincere, and transparent. This makes her quite endearing to her fans, and to us, and we haven’t even started to talk about her music yet.

Our relationship with Zoe goes back to 2009, when we asked her to contribute a work to our In C Remixed CD. We knew of her incredible album One Cello x 16: Natoma, and so reached out on a whim to see if she would even consider. Well, shortly after she delivered Zinc, a joyful, beautiful composition which turned out to be the most popular track of the 18 we released. We have since arranged it for live performance (thank you alumn Adam Cuthbert) and have performed it over 40 times on tours, with dance, in outreach concerts, and more. We continue to admire her work, including another album and television show, and can hardly believe she’s composing another piece for us. What a privilege it will be to share it with the world.

Next month: Luke DuBois


Posted by: Bill Ryan

Over the next year we will be introducing you to the team members behind our project. This will lead us up to the fall 2015 premieres. Now up–Todd Reynolds, who is composing a work for our ensemble and the voice of Meredith Monk.

Our relationship with Todd goes back to 2006, when he was an early guest on GVSU’s Free Play concert series. During that visit he also made a surprise appearance with us, in this epic performance of John Cage’s 4’33”. Todd has been a guest with us an astounding seven times—which will hit eight when he performs here this April. Why so many? Quite simply, because the great experiences he has to offer our community can’t fit into any single visit. Not even close. He’s worked with us as a violinist, as an electronic artist, as a software guru, as a conductor, as a Soundpainter, as a chamber musician, as a composer, as an entrepreneur, and as a teacher, and has left a legacy of friendships, collaborators, and deeply inspired students and faculty. Todd contributed a fabulous track to our 2009 In C Remixed project, and is now writing for us again, composing a work utilizing the voice of his longtime collaborator Meredith Monk. For more information on all things Todd, check out his website, or better yet, go see him on Broadway tonight!

Next month: Zoe Keating


Posted by: Bill Ryan

Over the next year we will be introducing you to the team members behind our project. This will lead us up to the fall 2015 premieres. Now up–Anna Clyne, who is composing a work for our ensemble and the voice of John Cage.

We first met Anna in 2007 when she came through Ann Arbor for the premiere of her Next.Stop. She was quiet, unassuming, and just filled with great ideas and music. Over the next few years it was fun to watch her slowly take over the world, becoming an integral part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, completing residencies at Mizzou and Cabrillo, and receiving commissions from the Bang on a Can All Stars, American Composers Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Houston Ballet, London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Metropolis Ensemble, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

We wore out her 2012 CD Blue Moth, which led to us to performing her work 1987 on our fall 2013 concert, and then to us seeking her out to be involved with this project. The textures she creates in her music, which often merge electronics and acoustic instruments, are completely engaging and otherworldly. And now we’re going to be in the middle of them. We can’t wait!


Posted by: Bill Ryan

Over the next year we will be introducing you to the team members behind our project. This will lead us up to the fall 2015 premieres. Now up–Roshanne Etezady, who is composing a work for our ensemble and the voice of Joan Tower.

The compositional state of affairs in Michigan recently took a giant step forward this past fall when Roshanne moved to Ann Arbor (while saxophonists rejoiced as this guy tagged along). Need some evidence? Check out this and this. Get to know her a little better here.

One of the best-received compositions we performed on our 2011 tour was Roshanne’s work Damaged Goods. We always felt invigorated by its energy and lushness, and our audiences did too. In addition to keeping her busy compositional schedule, Roshanne is now the artistic director of the University of Michigan’s Contemporary Directions Ensemble. A very exciting development, so we’ll keep an eye (and ear) out for that group’s exciting upcoming activities. We’re also looking forward to having Roshanne visit us on campus, and of course, to the piece she delivers us based on the voice of one of the most successful woman composers of all time, Joan Tower.

Next month: Anna Clyne


Posted by: Bill Ryan

Over the next year we will be introducing you to the team members behind our project. This will lead us up to the fall 2015 premieres. Now up–Marc Mellits, who is composing a work for our ensemble and the voice of Steve Reich.

Marc’s music hits hard. With its energy, with its drive, with its careful architecture, with its beauty. He jumped on our radar in 2000 when the Bang On a Can All Stars premiered his work Five Machines in New York. Since then we’ve worked with Marc as much as possible. In 2006 we spoke extensively with him about his work on the Music for 18 Musicians score as we prepared for our performances of the work. In 2007 we commissioned and premiered his 240 weeks. Last year we visited his workplace, the University of Illinois at Chicago, where we performed a concert and hung out with his composition students. We’ve performed lots of his music: Groove Canon, Merge Left, Parking Violation, and Mara’s Lullaby, and recently took Tight Sweater on our national parks tour. Along the way we’ve learned that Marc is a beer connoisseur, a football fanatic, and a great dad. He’s also got one of the most unreadable web sites out there (think GeoCities, but not quite that good). However, with over 800 performances of his work annually, people are finding him and his music. Maybe he’s onto something with his website after all.

Next month: Roshanne Etezady

October 9, 2014: TEAM INTRODUCTION #3: Sarah Kirkland Snider

Posted by: Bill Ryan

Over the next year we will be introducing you to the team members behind our project. This will lead us up to the fall 2015 premieres. Now up–Sarah Kirkland Snider, who is composing a work for our ensemble and the voice of Arvo Pärt.


This devastatingly beautiful song cycle by Sarah is one of the most remarkable things we have heard. Ever. The album was released in October 2010, featuring performances by Shara Worden and Signal. If you don’t know it, listen to this, and then go out and buy it. And then pass to a friend, and then buy it again. Penelope went on to receive nation-wide critical acclaim, including being named to several top ten lists of 2010. It was, and is, a magical creation.

Sarah is one of the few composers involved in this project that we have no relationship with, beyond a few emails. We are just huge fans that reached out, and she responded with excitement about the prospect of being involved. For more information on her and some exciting things she’s up to, including an upcoming piece for our neighbors to the east, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, please stop by her website

And seriously, back to Penelope. Have you listened to it yet? 

Next month: Marc Mellits

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The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble is commissioning nine composers to create works that utilize the actual speaking voice of an important 20th Century composer. The commissioned composers have chosen someone that has had a strong impact on their own work--due to their music, writings, teaching, mentorship, or other influence. Each work will be 5-8 minutes in duration, and will be written for ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion) and an electronic backing track that incorporates the 20th Century composer's speaking voice in some way. The speaking source material will either already exist, or will be recorded specifically for this project.

The commissioned composers and the voice they will work with:

Mason Bates (George Gershwin)
Anna Clyne (Igor Stravinsky)
Roshanne Etezady (Joan Tower)
Zoe Keating (Henryk Górecki)
Michael Lowenstern (Eric Dolphy)
Marc Mellits (Steve Reich)
Gyan Riley (Terry Riley)
Sarah Kirkland Snider (Arvo Pärt)


A. Each commissioned composer will be filmed as they explain their work and why they chose their particular 20th Century "master" composer. These short video "program notes" will be shown before each work is performed. New media artist Luke DuBois will produce the films.

B. A brief history lesson will be designed around each 20th Century "master" composer. These lessons, prepared by ensemble members with guidance from the ensemble director, will dicuss the historical significance of each composer. Each lesson will have interchangeable content, dependent on the audience. Content units will be designed for K-3rd grade, 4th-6th grade, middle school, and high school level students. The high school level presentations would also be appropriate for any outreach events in the adult community.

A typical educational presentation for a work would be:

1. GVSU New Music Ensemble members present a brief history lesson on Steve Reich.

2. GVSU New Music Ensemble performs Clapping Music by Steve Reich

3. Show the short film of commissioned composer Marc Mellits introducing himself, his composition incorporating Steve Reich speaking, and how Steve Reich has influenced his own work.

4. GVSU New Music Ensemble performs the new Marc Mellits work.


The ten commissioned works will be performed throughout the 2015/16 concert season in a variety of venues:

Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, MI

The Block, Muskegon, MI

Detroit Institute of the Arts, Detroit, MI

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Cleveland, OH

Constellation, Chicago, IL


Selections from our 20th Century composer history lessons will be presented, followed by performances of the commissioned work that incorporated each composers voice.

Alexander Graham Bell Elementary School (K-8), Chicago, IL

Lamont Christian School (K-8), Coopersville, MI

Loutit District Library (adult community), Grand Haven, MI

St. Mary's Catholic School (K-8), Spring Lake, MI

Walden Green Montessori (K-8), Spring Lake, MI

Project-related Media


(start video at 9:40) The GVSU New Music Ensemble performs Steve Reich's Double Sextet (2007) at Strange Beautiful Music VI, New Music Detroit's annual contemporary music marathon. Recorded live 9/14/13. Ashley Stanley (flute) Ian McIntyre (clarinet) Krista Visnovsky (violin) Cesar Colmenares (cello) Dutcher Snedeker (piano) Josh Dreyer (vibraphone)


(start video at beginning) The GVSU New Music Ensemble performs Jad Abumrad's Counting in C (2009) at The Atlas in Washington D.C. Recorded live 11/10/11. Ashley Stanley (flute) Anastasiya Nyzkodub (clarinet) Jonathan Nichol (saxophone) Kelly Vander Molen (violin) Cesar Colmenares (cello) Jera Leffring (piano) Josh Dreyer (vibraphone)


(start video at 3:00) The GVSU New Music Ensemble performs Terry Riley's In C (1964) at le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY. Recorded live 11/8/09. Dennis DeSantis (guest artist--electronics) Craig Avery (electric guitar) Ashlee Busch (flute) Adam Cuthbert (trumpet) Kurt Ellenberger (accordion) Sam Gould (percussion) Alex Hamel (percussion) Blair Hotz (bass clarinet) Jake Isaacson (percussion) Kaja Lill (bass) Pablo Mahave-Veglia (cello) Jonathan Nichol (saxophone) Tyler Smith (piano) Devin Starr (clarinet) Bill Willits (guitar) MingHuan Xu (violin)

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Project Details

Start and End Date

09/01/2015 - 05/01/2016


Allendale, Michigan

Updates (10 RECENT)

Last Updated March 14, 2016

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Project Created By

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Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble

Allendale, Michigan

The New Music Ensemble at Grand Valley State University is dedicated to bringing audiences the most significant music of our time. Founded in 2006 by its director Bill Ryan, this undergraduate ensemble performs an incredible variety of music. From landmark compositions of the Twentieth Century, to the most recent works of this new century, their...


Gyan Riley

Brooklyn, New York

Role: composer

Marc Mellits

Chicago, Illinois

Role: composer

Sarah Kirkland Snider

Princeton, New Jersey

Role: composer

Zoe Keating

Role: composer

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