Category: Listen

Different Cities Different Voices – Louisville

Skyline of Louisville KY with DIFFERENT CITIES DIFFERENT VOICES logo

An introduction by Teddy Abrams

Teddy Abrams sitting at a grand piano which has a globe on top of it.

Teddy Abrams (photo by Chris Wietzke, courtesy of Louisville Orchestra)

Louisville’s exceptional and dynamic music scene has always flown a bit under the radar from a national perspective. This is a microcosm of life in Louisville generally; we are deeply proud of the talent in our own backyard but somewhat baffled by the lack of positive attention to our city from outside media. Similarly, the broader Kentucky landscape contains the generative center of much quintessential American culture but doesn’t often receive commensurate recognition for the role our state has played in helping define our country’s musical history. I think this dual sense of pride and omission has had the perhaps unintended effect of inspiring Louisville and Kentucky musicians to develop an endemic, unique approach to their art. Due to limited music industry infrastructure or a lack of excessive outside influence, our local musicians have built a particularly open and creative environment for music-making; unusually porous cross-genre collaborations and consistent support for young talent may be two of my favorite Louisvillian cultural characteristics.

Thus I am honored to introduce you to these spectacularly talented musicians, all of whom are as equally committed to the health of their community as they are to the excellence of their musicianship. I chose these folks to represent Louisville (although I regret that I couldn’t extend this invitation to the dozens of other brilliant artists in town!) because they espouse what I consider to be our highest calling as artists – a desire to make music in a way that bridges divides, heals wounds, and allows us to confront our challenges as a strengthened society. Jecorey, Rachel, Tyler, Diane, and Carly exemplify this mentality and have made life far more musically inspiring for our city – and for me! I hope you will have a chance to visit our beautiful city and see these artists perform live and in person. You will leave town with a similar dual sense of pride that art is being created like this in our nation, and bemusement that the rest of the world hasn’t quite realized it yet.

Rachel Grimes

Rachel Grimes sitting in front of a grand piano with a harp in the background

Rachel Grimes at Loretto Motherhouse, Marion Co, KY, 2016 (Photo by Ted Wathen)

I was born and raised in Louisville, with multi-generational roots in central Kentucky. As a young child I learned piano by ear playing tunes, from ragtime to standards, alongside my father and grandmother. I took piano lessons to learn to read and to love Chopin, Bach, and Brahms, but it was as a teenager that I excitedly dove into the thriving Louisville underground post-punk scene. I attended the University of Louisville School of Music, earning a degree in composition with piano as my principle instrument. While there I also explored jazz combo, Renaissance harpsichord, and medieval a cappella vocal music. Over the next many years, I wove all of these musical threads together into chamber and orchestral music, scores for theater, film, and museum installations, recording and touring genre-defying albums with several bands, and pushing the boundaries of collaboration with many fellow creatives from my hometown.

Louisville, a friendly, mid-sized, midwestern/southern town has a rich and complicated cultural history and a swift current of creative people who make and support local art. It is known around the world for musical legends such as Lionel Hampton, Slint, My Morning Jacket, Jack Harlow, Valerie Coleman, and the Louisville Orchestra. It is an affordable place to live, work, eat, and create with access to beautiful natural spaces and rivers. After the spring of 2020, it is also known around the world for the murder of Breonna Taylor by the local police, and the killing of David McAtee by the National Guard. Our community experienced shattering pain during these events and subsequent protests, which was compounded by the intense fear, loss, and grief brought on by the pandemic, economic destruction, and tragic loss of health and life around the world.

All of my scheduled performances in 2020 and beyond were cancelled by the pandemic, projects put on hold and into limbo. At that time I was caregiver and guardian for my father and his brother, and in light of all of the strife and chaos happening around us, I focused on managing the circumstances the best I could. My husband, along with so many educator peers, was juggling many new stressors for keeping teachers, families, and children safe while ensuring learning. As a creative musician, I wrestled with many conflicting feelings of uselessness. I played the piano for my hurting heart – that helped. For fun, I played covers with my husband playing bass. I talked with my friends and held hands over the phone. After years of not getting to it, I updated many of my older pencil and digital scores and opened up a web shop for my digital sheet music – that was satisfying. In late 2020, I encouraged my fellow composers Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw, and Sarah Kirkland Snider to salvage our hopes of recording our co-composed work for mezzo-soprano and strings The Blue Hour and co-produced that album with Shara Nova throughout 2021. The album, performed by Nova with the commissioning ensemble A Far Cry, was released by New Amsterdam/Nonesuch Records in late 2022, and was included in the Top Ten Albums of 2022 by NPR, The Nation, WNYC’s New Sounds and more.

Music heals, music unites, music is essential to our lives and our hearts – now more than ever.

Rachel’s Music Picks…

Rachel Grimes: “The name” from The Blue Hour

Harry Pickens: Meditation Music

Jecorey Arthur

Jecorey Arthur standing in front of a microphone

Jecorey Arthur (Photo by Savannah Philpot)

Louisville is the city of Muhammad Ali—the greatest human example of using gifts for good. He used his boxing platform to call for change while I’ve used my music platform to call for change. All artists, but especially Louisville artists, have that hometown responsibility. This led me to run for city council, win, and become the youngest legislator in city history. So I’m not just here for my artistry but for my ancestry—continuing our fight for freedom, and music has been the main medium throughout my career.

Our music scene is so eclectic you can hear live jazz, hip hop, classical, soul, rock, bluegrass, and more all in a single weekend. Louisville composer, Mildred Hill, used to send transcribed “Black street cries” to Antonín Dvořák, who later influenced American culture by composing with Black music and claiming it was the future of our country. When you hear popular American music today, it was all influenced by Black Americans, likely from right here in Louisville. So our eclectic music scene today is tradition. Since the pandemic I’ve been overwhelmed with technology—virtual concerts, virtual meetings, virtual everything. Being back in school with my music students and concerts to hear live music has been healing.

Jecorey’s Music Picks…

Note: Kanye West is not from Louisville, KY. The featured artist on this song is—Vory

Carly Johnson

Carly Johnson

Carly Johnson (Photo by Mickie Winters of Winters Photography)

I’ve lived in Louisville since I was 8 years old and it has absolutely become home to me. After living in Philadelphia (which I also loved) while getting my jazz degree at The University of the Arts, I was lured back home after graduation due to feeling a little homesick…and truth-be-told missing a boy…who–thankfully–was worth the move back, as he eventually became my husband. I was still battling a bit of stage fright and it was such a comfort to get my footing and my jazz chops up in my hometown. As it turns out, I’ve stayed here because I am in complete awe of the love that people of Louisville have for music. Louisville cultivates such a wide range of musicians and actually shows up to support them. As a full time musician, I am forever grateful for this city’s love and passion for music and the arts and I’m truly grateful to the Louisville audience.

Other than the complete love and support of live music, Louisville has a real quirky small town feel, while still maintaining the highest caliber of the arts–our orchestra, our ballet, our jazz and indie rock scene, our art museums–and of course our food and drink. Our farm-to-table, modern, down-home and outside-of-the-box-creative bars and restaurants can absolutely stand-up to the best well known foodie cities and then some.

I found out I was pregnant less than a month before the pandemic came down in Louisville, and it quickly became very apparent that me and my husband would be going through a lot of these first-time experiences alone, instead of being surrounded by our amazing community. On one hand, having the time to be more in the moment and without the daily distraction of the grind that we all endure, was a gift. On the other hand, as a musician, I don’t think I fully understood the sense of self and sense of emotive expression I experience through making music with an audience on such a regular basis, until it was taken away. I was so grateful for any online streaming or outdoor performance opportunity that our community made happen, but they were still very few and far between compared to the 5-6 weekly gigs of singing I’d been doing for years.

Thankfully, Louisville unsurprisingly didn’t disappoint, and despite so many financial challenges that all of the venues faced during the pandemic, everyone got back to live music as soon as possible. I’d venture to say my schedule is the busiest it’s ever been. During the pandemic, I also took that time to release my first solo album and make a music video (of my tune “Burn Your Fears”) about that loss of human connection that we were all feeling, to show how strong we are as people and that, though things might look different on the other side of the pandemic, we’d be able to get to a place where we could see the beauty of life where we were then and now, again.

My own music pick was a tough choice, since my record is mostly a soulful 13-piece band…but I went with “Burn Your Fears” since it ties into the pandemic experience. I originally wrote it for a dear friend of mine, Marisa, shortly after she was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of lung cancer (ROS-1), as a 30 year old non-smoker. She really beat the odds and was able to live 5 full years after being diagnosed, but she passed away last November, just a month after being honored by the American Lung Association as a Lung Force Hero. This song was an anthem for her, in the sense that it’s about facing something incredibly difficult in your life, allowing yourself to embrace and feel every emotion it brings your way and deciding to find beauty and live your life fully in a different way than you had planned. It’s always had a universal theme to it that anyone living with trauma has been able to relate to, but now more than ever, it feels immensely poignant and more relatable than before. Right now, we’re all afraid, experiencing intense emotions and we’re trying our best to navigate this new way of life; we’re learning to find joy and beauty and live our lives in a different way.

Whitney Hall is so important. It represents a longstanding beautiful mecca of the arts in Louisville, and it’s locally owned and supported by its patrons (not Live Nation!). At a time when music and the arts are really struggling, when Whitney Hall is sitting empty and the future is so uncertain, it feels like an impactful message to include the towering gorgeous hall as the background for new art being created—a new way for Whitney Hall to be showcased and seen by everyone who misses it. It’s even more personal for me…I was on stage at WH with Teddy and the LO Friday March 13th, probably the last rehearsal that took place there before the shutdown…and I’m dreaming of when we all get to be back up there again.

The vision…The video is simple in the sense that it’s mostly just myself singing and playing piano in the middle of the WH stage to a massively empty house. But as the song continues, 4 string players would gradually appear in the audience (very very spread out far apart from each other) and they’d pick up their instruments (viola, 2 violins, cello) when the strings start in my song and play from their seats. As the song builds, 2-3 ballerinas would join the stage dancing around the piano (very very far apart from each other and everyone else).

What the viewer is experiencing during the video is a reflection of feelings/emotion…the great big beautiful empty WH house–representing the loneliness we’re all experiencing (and that many people have experienced through trauma), myself playing alone on stage despite being alone– representing our strength as humans to continue and endure, the appearance of the string players and eventual ballerinas–representing humanity, hope for the future and a sense of community in our shared feelings as people.”

Carly’s music picks…

Carly Johnson: “Burn Your Fears”

Kiana & The Sun Kings: “True American”

Tyler Taylor

Tyler Taylor in an enclosed space holding a French horn

Tyler Taylor

I was born and raised in Louisville but wasn’t born into a musical family. I didn’t develop an interest in “classical music” until my older brother started playing the trombone when he was in elementary school. I took up the horn when I was in elementary school and by middle school had developed an intense curiosity about how music was put together – it seemed the only way I could get answers was to try and put it together myself. Fast-forwarding, I went to the University of Louisville as a composer and horn player, then Eastman, and finally IU. I was dumped out into the world during the pandemic with no prospects. I got a job at a coffee shop and worked until I could get my own place. 2021 was the year when things picked up – I was getting significantly more work as both a performer and composer. Even then I had a plan that I would only stay in Louisville for two years after I moved back and then figure out a way to get up to Chicago or New York. However, I realized that I could sustain myself artistically in Louisville – the city I know and love and where I want to stay.

I’ve now lived in three cities in my adult life – Louisville, Bloomington, IN., and Rochester, NY.. What makes Louisville different is its size – it’s not so big that is overwhelming but is also too small to provide the same amount of opportunity that you might associate with a bigger city. Like some other cities, Louisville has a tendency to value what comes in from the outside more than what they already have, so it might take people coming in from other places to validate your artistry or for you to leave and thrive somewhere else to prove your worth. All that said, if you can make it in the scene you can find some really amazing and talented people.

Louisville has an energy and comfort to it that I haven’t quite experienced anywhere else. I also identify with Louisville’s refusal to be easily labeled. For instance, people often argue about whether or not we are a southern or midwestern city. (Though, in my opinion, we are undeniably southern!) We are also situated in a state whose social-political ideologies, by and large, are in stark contrast to our own – we are part of Kentucky but sometimes feel like we don’t always have the most in common with the rest of our state.

During the pandemic I observed some people thrive in their isolation, in some cases creating more than they ever had in their lives. In my case, I stopped playing the horn and writing music entirely – I simply had no reason to do either. I quickly learned that those are two of the most important activities that contribute to and sustain my happiness. I was also faced with transitioning from being a semi-pro student to a professional during the “unprecedented times.” I don’t find my struggles unique but nevertheless difficult. Since then, I have established a fairly healthy freelance career and have made significant strides with many thanks to Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra. I think I’ve finally shaken the residue from my time as a student and am facing the newest challenges of my career – finding ways not to just sustain my creativity but to grow it. The circumstances have changed but the premise has more or less remained the same: how will I continue to grow as an artist and who’s coming along for the ride? I can’t do it alone no matter how hard I try!

Tyler’s Music Picks…

Tyler Taylor: Distill for 18 Players

Plus here’s a track by my fave Louisville musician, Jackie Royce.
She is a professional bassoonist and plays in this band Ut Gret. We have played together in gigs several times, went to school together, and I consider her a pillar in the Louisville music community.

Diane Downs

Diane Downs standing in front of a brick wall.

Diane Downs (Photo by Kriech Higdon)

My mother grew up in the Highlands of Louisville but upon marrying, moved with my dad to his family farm in Highview to raise me and my brothers. My grandparents bought the land in 1920 and supported their 10 children by running the Highview Dairy, growing crops, and the occasional sale of moonshine. I still live on the same land near my mom and my little brother. This is my home. I feel very connected to our land and never had the desire to move very far away. Part of my connection to my Louisville home was the music that was always present when I was young. “Boil Them Cabbage Down”, “Tom Dooley”, and “Old Joe Clark” were often sung in our kitchen by my mother as she played the banjo. I don’t ever remember not having a musical instrument close to me when I was young.

Louisville is where The Louisville Leopard Percussionists originated organically, accidentally. In 1993 was teaching 2nd & 3rd grade at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and found a stash of small mallet instruments in a storage closet while searching for bulletin board paper. I enlisted the help of my class to carry the instruments into our room and our group was born. We incorporated the music into our classroom schedule of math, reading, social studies, and science and ended up learning enough tunes to start gigging. A PTA meeting was our first gig, then the mall, for someone’s grandma at the nursing home, then it exploded from there.

In 2003 we incorporated into a non-profit organization and our program really started to grow. Never did I imagine that accidentally stumbling on those instruments would lead to over 30 years of Leopards, over 1000 children, performances at venues all over the eastern United States, an HBO Documentary, and even a appearance on A&E’s Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour. That’s why I still choose to live in Louisville. How could I leave this all behind?

When people think of Louisville, The Kentucky Derby, Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger baseball bats, The University of Louisville, or Kentucky Fried Chicken may come to mind. But, there is so much more to Louisville. To me, Louisville is an easy place to live. It has a lot of quirkiness, too. Louisville is the largest producer of disco balls in the world. Benedictine spread was invented in Louisville. The Happy Birthday song was composed by 2 sisters in Louisville.

There is a 30 foot tall golden statue of Michelangelo’s David on Main Street right down the street from the Slugger Museum and Bat Factory. We have the largest annual fireworks show in the country, the world’s longest go-kart track, and the oldest operating Mississippi-style steamboat. And, we have plenty of bourbon distilleries.

I feel that Louisville is a community that values the arts. Our Louisville Orchestra, The Louisville Ballet, and Kentucky Shakespeare are out in the community making the classic arts available and accessible to all. We have numerous art and music festivals all year long so there is always somewhere to go to find great performances and great art. Whether it’s a show by Turner’s Circus, The Squallis Puppeteers, Stage One Family Theater, The River City Drum Corp, Drag Daddy Productions, or The Louisville Leopard Percussionists, people show up to support our arts community. Like many others, our community has had some pretty significant rough patches. But Louisville is my community. I have spent most of my life here. My family is here. My Leopards are here.

The Louisville Leopard Percussionists is a performing ensemble so the pandemic was rough on us. Not being able to come together to play music for an audience was hard for our kids and teachers alike. But, we made the most of it. When it was safe, our Leopard staff at the time, Wes Greer, Kent Klarer, Carly Rodman, and I focused on very small groups and made 17 videos in just a few months. The kids were very proud of their accomplishments and grew so much as young musicians. We were able to really focus in on individual kids to help push them to a different level of musicianship. Our kids were missing out on so much life, we were happy that we could provide them with music to help get them through.

Diane’s Music Picks…

This video is from an October 2022 performance as the warm up band for My Morning Jacket. Watching our little rock stars perform on the big stage reinforced why I do what I do in my city of Louisville.

This is a link to one of my favorite Louisville bands, Squeeze-Bot, performing Thelonious Monk’s Well You Needn’t. I’ve spent many summer evenings sitting at the picnic tables at NachBar listening to these great musicians.

dublab — Notes from the Archipelago

NMBx dublab co-branded web header showing Jonathan Hepfer playing mallet percussion

[Ed note: Founded in 1939 by Peter Yates and Frances Mullen in their modest Rudolf Schindler-designed Silverlake home, Monday Evening Concerts (MEC) is the world’s longest-running series devoted to contemporary music. Originally envisioned as a forum for displaced European emigrés and virtuoso Hollywood studio musicians to sink their teeth into the most challenging solo and chamber music of the day (such as the works of Charles Ives, Alexander Scriabin, Erik Satie, John Cage and Béla Bartók), MEC has blossomed its way to international acclaim for its presentation of demanding, uncompromising and poetically-charged music – whether new or ancient.

For eight decades, musical history has been made at MEC, whether it was the American conducting debut of Pierre Boulez, world premieres of compositions by Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Harold Budd, the early-career performances of future classical music icons such as Michael Tilson Thomas and Marilyn Horne, or the first Los Angeles appearances of artists like Marino Formenti, the Arditti and JACK Quartets and Steve Reich and Musicians. — Alejandro Cohen]

In 2015, I arrived in Los Angeles to become the Artistic Director of Los Angeles’ celebrated contemporary music series Monday Evening Concerts. At the time, I was finishing a doctorate in the performance of contemporary music at UC-San Diego. My life as a musician (I was, and am still, a percussionist and conductor) up until that point had revolved around academic institutions and what one might call ‘music of the hardcore avant-garde.’ So, when I arrived in Los Angeles, for the first time in my adult life, I found myself suddenly in a very different intellectual environment than the ones I had been accustomed to since I was a teenager.

By and large, thankfully, I made new friends quickly. But when the subject of what I did for a living would come up in conversation, I never knew quite what to say. Stating that I directed a contemporary music series meant virtually nothing to anybody I spoke to. So, instead, I would say that I ran a classical music concert series. Realizing that this immediately fired their synapses to Mozart and Beethoven, rather than Cage and Radigue, I would ask my friends to envision the paintings in the Louvre, and then the paintings in MoMA. Once that difference clicked for them, it became much easier to describe the type of work I was involved with. (The dissolution of representational imagery in visual arts roughly matches the timeline of the dissolution of tonality and pulse in classical music.) I would say that like visual art, classical music has an aesthetic trajectory that takes it through many different movements and vogues over the decades and centuries, and that MEC was focused largely on musical works produced since the Second World War.

Amongst my new friends, what I would consistently find is that they were incredibly intelligent, curious, open and creatively brilliant. They were highly accomplished and successful photographers, directors, dancers, designers, actors, producers, etc… They didn’t necessarily know any of the reference points I would mention, but they could sense that there were intense, beautiful and urgent ideas contained therewithin. They seemed to share my hunger to find the sublime in music (that nebulous term I continue to use even though I know is taboo), whatever form that might take.

Moreover, these friends helped me realize to what degree academia had instilled a myopia in my own conception of music. As I drifted further and further from the world of graduate studies, I became less and less interested in music as a siloed art form, and more and more interested in music as an important part of the cultural fabric of its time. As a consequence, I found myself paying close attention to how my friends responded to the works I presented at MEC. Quickly, I learned a great deal about both the surface and content of the works I cared about. Further, occasionally my friends would reveal to me their own enthusiasm for a given composer that I had – in the academic sense – considered to be rather lightweight. Suddenly, I found myself listening to their music with different ears. After two decades of austerity, I discovered that, as my friend and mentor Hamza Walker might say, ‘I like ice cream too.’

Something else I discovered was that these same folks all seemed to harbor an almost instinctive respect for what I did, even if they didn’t quite understand what it was. Very often, I’d find myself on a dance floor where New Order or Rick Ross would be blaring and realizing – everyone in here has some version of the ‘I played clarinet in middle school and I loved it!’ story. Everybody I knew, it turned out, kept that part of them very closely guarded, and they remembered that era of their life with a great deal of fondness. So, this typically engendered a generosity on their end that I found both touching and surprising. I always had just assumed that nobody cared about the type of work I did except for my immediate colleagues.

I wanted to offer this playlist as an intentionally unkempt, unruly, sprawling overview of works that have made an impression on me over the past twenty-five years of research in this field. I have preserved works I loved as a teenager, works I loved as a graduate student, works I loved while I was studying in Germany, works I have learned to love in the past seven years, works I continue to investigate, and works I perhaps myself may not love, but think are nonetheless deserving of recognition.

Certain tracks you may love immediately. Some you may despise. Some may be vexing or bewildering. That’s okay! I’m with you too. This material is challenging, but like Joyce’s novels or Tarkovsky’s films, it can be incredibly rewarding. Perhaps even transcendent, euphoric, or revelatory. And not understanding this music?…Well, that’s kind of de rigueur in this neck of the woods. Don’t worry, you’re in good company.

This playlist is intended as something of an ocean. Put on your goggles and snorkel and start exploring. As Hamza might say, ‘get in, the water’s fine.’

dublab — Colloboh live performance at dublab for NewMusicBox

A photo of Colloboh standing next to an analog patch-cord synthesizer.

A live performance captured on video by Los Angeles based composer, Colloboh. This performance took place at the dublab studios and features new compositions utilizing modular synthesizers.

Introducing Colloboh – experimental producer Collins Oboh. Born in Nigeria, raised in the DMV, and now at 28 years of age, Colloboh asserts himself as a no-nonsense contender of electronic music composition utilizing modular synthesizer. With the release of his 2021 Entity Relation EP and opening for beloved dream pop duo Beach House on their ‘Once Twice Melody’ tour, Colloboh has begun to cultivate a following eager to listen to his forward-thinking musical arrangements.

This program is part of New Music USA’s web magazine NewMusicBox “Guest Editor series”, which aims to celebrate a plurality of voices from across the nation and will feature exclusive content written, produced, or commissioned by a rotating artist or organization. The series kicks off with dublab. NewMusicBox, edited by Frank J. Oteri, amplifies creators and organizations who are building a vibrant future for new music in all its forms, and has provided a vital platform for creators to speak about issues relevant to them in their own words since 1999.

The dublab partnership will feature new weekly content from at least 15 different voices through January 2023, presented in conversations, DJ mixes, articles, and live performances all exploring the current landscape of music composition.

The Guest Editor is the first such series in the magazine’s 23-year history and reflects New Music USA’s aim to deepen its impact across the many diverse music communities across the United States. This aim is also demonstrated by NewMusicBox’s ongoing “Different Cities, Different Voices” feature that spotlights music creation hubs across the nation.

dublab — BAE BAE – Hood Rave Mix

An image if BAE BAE DJ'ing a set with suoerimposed NMUSA/dublab logos

BAE BAE takes us into a labyrinth of sound, a hazardous journey filled with techno, afro riddims, vocal ballads and ambient samples. The mix is the kind of set you will hear at Hood Rave, the underground party she curates in LA.

The hyperbolic black femme, BAE BAE translates her empathy to the decks. She blends r&b, house, club, jungle, garage, dancehall and more, foregrounding black music genres and sensuality. She throws a monthly black and queer centered party in LA called Hood Rave.

This program is part of New Music USA’s web magazine NewMusicBox “Guest Editor series”, which aims to celebrate a plurality of voices from across the nation and will feature exclusive content written, produced, or commissioned by a rotating artist or organization. The series kicks off with dublab. NewMusicBox, edited by Frank J. Oteri, amplifies creators and organizations who are building a vibrant future for new music in all its forms, and has provided a vital platform for creators to speak about issues relevant to them in their own words since 1999.

The dublab partnership will feature new weekly content from at least 15 different voices through January 2023, presented in conversations, DJ mixes, articles, and live performances all exploring the current landscape of music composition.

The Guest Editor is the first such series in the magazine’s 23-year history and reflects New Music USA’s aim to deepen its impact across the many diverse music communities across the United States. This aim is also demonstrated by NewMusicBox’s ongoing “Different Cities, Different Voices” feature that spotlights music creation hubs across the nation.

dublab — Qur’an Shaheed: live performance at dublab for NewMusicBox

Qur'an Shaheed in front of a digital piano.

Qur’an Shaheed (b. 1992, Pasadena, CA) is a pianist, poet, singer and songwriter based in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, CA. She has been playing piano since the age of four, trained extensively in classical and contemporary music. Since 2012 she has been developing her practice as a songwriter alongside her solo piano and ensemble work. She released the album Process, with producer Jesse Justice and Preference Records, in 2020 and regularly performs in and around Los Angeles. Her sound is innovative, highly personal, and experimental, incorporating elements of improvisation as well as neo-classical and neo-soul techniques.

This live performance by Qur’an Shaheed is part of New Music USA’s web magazine NewMusicBox “Guest Editor series” which aims to celebrate a plurality of voices from across the nation and will feature exclusive content written, produced, or commissioned by a rotating artist or organization. The series kicks off with dublab. NewMusicBox, edited by Frank J. Oteri, amplifies creators and organizations who are building a vibrant future for new music in all its forms and has provided a vital platform for creators to speak about issues relevant to them in their own words since 1999.

The dublab partnership will feature new weekly content from at least 15 different voices through January 2023, presented in conversations, DJ mixes, articles, and live performances all exploring the current landscape of music composition.

The Guest Editor is the first such series in the magazine’s 23-year history and reflects New Music USA’s aim to deepen its impact across the many diverse music communities across the United States. This aim is also demonstrated by NewMusicBox’s ongoing “Different Cities, Different Voices” feature that spotlights music creation hubs across the nation.

dublab – Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer: a live performance at dublab

Jeremiah Chiu and Marta Sofia Honer

This live performance by Jeremiah Chiu and Marta Sofia Honer took place at the dublab studios featuring some of the music they composed together as part of their recent album, Recordings from the Åland Islands, out now on International Anthem.

Jeremiah Chiu is Los Angeles-based artist, musician, educator, and community organizer. Chiu’s hybrid practice often operates under his studio moniker, Some All None, where projects lie at the intersection of art, music, technology, and publishing. Chiu is Full-Time Faculty in the Graphic Design Department at Otis College of Art & Design, a recording artist on International Anthem, and a resident DJ at dublab.

Marta Sofia Honer is a viola and violin performer, session player, and educator in Los Angeles. Working in both classical and contemporary fields, Honer’s versatility in different musical settings has garnered her credits alongside Beyoncé, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Chloe x Halle, Angel Olsen, Fleet Foxes, including four Grammy nominations. She regularly records for film and television and is a recording artist on International Anthem.

Video by Eli Welbourne
Edited by Maddi Baird

dublab – Maddi Baird’s West Coast/Los Angeles Composers Mix

This mix illustrates the ways west coast & primarily Los Angeles based composers from the past and present experiment with timbre, tone, electronics & genre to create a distinct sound that can only be found through the geographical & natural landscape of the west coast.

maddi baird dublab / new music usa tracklist:

harmonium #1 – james tenney
solar ambience | insects – anna friz
+ – 3.33$
blood moon – cate keenan
in the night sky – maggie payne
quatre couches / flare stains – pamela z
super passiflora – galdre visions
little jimmy for two pianos and two percussion- andrew mcintosh
version 1 – r. pierre
logistical improbable structure (cave painting) – zane alexander
ritual residue – folded worlds
pinion- madalyn merkey
mourning dove – sam gendel
under lower fig tree – maya lydia
untitled (joshua tree) – maddi baird ft. blake brownyard
traces of a dream (jupi/ter recycle) – marine eyes
blues fall (live) – michael pisaro-liu & julia holter
deep hockets – deep listening band
aubade – tashi wada with yoshi wada & friends
a study in vastness – ana roxanne
magdalena – sarah davachi

Maddi Baird is a Los Angeles-based composer, sound artist, and dj using performance and installation-based works along with empirical forms of research to explore the multifaceted ways in which humans relate to themselves, each other, and the natural world. They are actively examining the connections between tone, timbre, and acoustics as a means to further explore sound behaviors in collective environments. Their work is enhanced through their role as a dj, which illuminates the intimate connections humans have with their physical bodies through sound. Working with archives of extinct and endangered sounds, they create immersive, textured soundscapes that use the evocative power of sounds to elicit “mood,” an experience that they distinguish from emotion because it is shared by both human and non-human agents. They are currently pursuing an MFA in Experimental Composition & Sound Practices with an emphasis in Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts.

Different Cities Different Voices: New Orleans

DCDV banner image with overlay of photos of New Orleans

Different Cities Different Voices is a new series from NewMusicBox that explores music communities across the US through the voices of local creators and innovators. Discover what is unique about each city’s new music scene through a set of personal essays written by people living and creating there, and hear music from local artists selected by each essayist.  

The series is meant to spark conversation and appreciation for those working to support new music in the US, so please continue the conversation online about who else should be spotlighted in each city and tag @NewMusicBox.

An introduction by Ashley Shabankareh
(Member of the New Music USA Program Council)

Ashley Shabankareh

New Orleans possesses a rich cultural landscape of musical talent, with tradition and community at its core. While New Orleans is most commonly viewed as the birthplace of Jazz, it should be recognized and uplifted as the birthplace of American music. Whether it’s jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, classical, bounce, hip-hop, or brass band music, the sounds of New Orleans play a big part in our culture. Our community is close-knit, laidback, and relies deeply upon family traditions that are passed down from the older generation to the younger generation and from them to their successors.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, we have seen many ebbs and flows within the New Orleans community. The pandemic hit at the worst possible time of year for New Orleans – festival season – where a large portion of income is earned for those in the music and cultural economy. Like numerous communities across the world, the pandemic caused gig cancellations, which negatively impacted many whose lifestyle often is sustained from gig to gig. Numerous music, arts, and service organizations, including, but not limited to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, MaCCNO, and Culture Aid NOLA, quickly stepped in, offering grants, food relief, and other assistance to help sustain our musicians and culture bearers and work to ensure that our culture was not lost as a result of the pandemic. As the weeks turned to months, the uncertainty continued; would New Orleans’ music and culture be able to be sustained after the pandemic?

We began to see optimism within the community when live music was able to occur within outdoor spaces, including at porches and new opened outdoor venues like the Broadside and Zony Mash. As vaccine distribution began to pick up, performances began to happen indoors. We saw more and more gigs happening and the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant allowing more and more spaces to finally reopen. But then hope quickly turned to disappointment as what was anticipated to be a very robust festival season in the fall was canceled. Shortly thereafter, New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Ida, leaving the city without power for close to a month. Many were forced to leave their homes, and for some, they had to find a new home to live in due to damages caused by the storm.

However, despite the consistent hardships over the past 21 months, New Orleans saw our community grow even stronger than before. We’ve recently seen our City Council take steps towards the legalization of outdoor music in New Orleans, a huge step to ensure that outdoor spaces that opened as a result of the pandemic can legally continue to operate. New Orleans has also seen the Office of Economic Development propose an Office of Nighttime Economy, which myself and numerous other advocates hope will support cultural activity, not enforcement, to provide true equity of opportunity within the community.

As our vulnerable city continues to recover after both a hurricane and a pandemic, one thing is for sure – our community has become more vibrant and creative. In this installment in Different Cities, Different Voices, you’ll hear from 5 New Orleans musicians: Jason Marsalis, Helen Gillet, Clint Maedgen, Delaney Martin, and Dylan Trần.

[Ed. note: Listen to music by the contributors and other New Orleans-area artists throughout the essays below, and on our Different Cities Different Voices playlist.

Photo: Naveen Venkatesan, Unsplash

JASON MARSALIS – percussionist, bandleader

Jason Marsalis playing the vibraphone at a performance.

Jason Marsalis

Since I was a kid, I’ve been involved in the New Orleans music scene. Growing into adulthood, I started to see the city receive recognition that it hadn’t in previous years. A huge growth of young musicians occurred in New Orleans during the 1990s. At the same time, New York was always the place to be when it came to music. However, the dynamics of the scene changed when aspects of the music business were no longer vibrant. New Orleans has always had a connection with its traditions. Even when music changes, aspects of New Orleans groove was always in the music. However, the music in New York was deemphasizing the swing element while embracing a darker ambient sound. New Orleans was maintaining its fun element while New York was losing theirs. It was during that time I decided to stay in New Orleans.

I discovered that working in New Orleans would help me develop my “swing”; it’s an element of a groove in the music that makes the people want to dance. There are gigs that are based on the swing element that you can play in New Orleans. In New York, those gigs are not as common as they once were and many drummers haven’t developed the swing element at all because of it. Now that doesn’t mean New Orleans doesn’t have its challenges. In the past year of the pandemic, I lost my father pianist Ellis Marsalis to Covid-19. It was not only a loss for me but for the music scene as a whole. He was a teacher and leader that believed in young people playing music. He would use his bandstand as a way for younger players to grow and develop. His passing left a hole in the music scene that will have to be filled in other ways. Those ways include other people understanding how to pass on music to the next generation. As for me, even when the gigs were shut down for a year, I was able to use my creative outlet in other ways. I did more teaching, posting videos, and performing the music online. One way that I have fared with this major change is through teaching. The more music that is taught and passed on to the younger musicians, the music and all of its elements have a better chance of survival.

Listen to a Performance by Jason Marsalis:

The Jason Marsalis Quintet performs the music of Ellis Marsalis: “Three in One”

Listen to Jason Marsalis’s New Orleans Artist Recommendation:

Dr. Michael White: “Give It Up – Gypsy Second Line” Live at Little Gem Saloon


HELEN GILLET – singer/songwriter, cellist

Helen Gillet surrounded by various cellos.

Helen Gillet (photo by Jason Kruppa)

There were no other cellists I could see around town when I first moved to New Orleans in 2002. There were also very few women instrumentalists out and about. I was raised by strong women, so this struck me as odd. But the spirit of New Orleans music can be very welcoming to newcomers who are willing to show off their talents if they have enough sincerity, talent, and show respect to the city and the musical legacy that came before.

Sure enough, I managed to talk my way into a variety of musical contexts, convincing bandleaders I could fill the role of trombone, guitar, bass, violin, and eventually drums, synthesizer…all using the acoustic cello, and later on the looping pedal. I have learned to: “turn it up to 11” in funk bands, rock bands and even solo to play loud enough to cut through the noise of a drunken tourists yelling “Sake Bomb” as she stumbles into a Frenchman dive. Especially during the post-Katrina musical renaissance, I became a resident recording cellist around town, notably Piety Studios under the tutelage of Mark Bingham. I learned about recording music, playing in front of amazing microphones and into headphones; creating and weaving my cello parts to lift countless records for artists such as beatnik poet Ed Sanders, Marianne Faithful, Cassandra Wilson, Dr. John, Wardell Quezergue, Sonic Youth, Arcade Fire, Leroy Jones etc.

I was blessed by the city in 2004 during my first ever Jazz and Heritage Festival appearance as cellist in Smokey Robinson’s band, a decade before my first solo Jazz Festival appearance under my own name. I have been blessed by two Smokeys, the second of which was my neighbor of ten years, Fats Domino’s drummer and grandfather of funk Smokey Johnson. He became like a father figure to me, encouraging me every day to “Go lay it on ’em” and to “go get ’em killa'” — He also was instrumental in helping me figure out I had worth as an artist and how to demand more money for my music. “Girl, you know some S@&*..I hope they payin’ you for what you know!” We all need a great cheerleader in our lives, especially before we learn to do it for ourselves, and I was fortunate to find the best ones just four houses down the street from me. He helped me see past my gender and just do my thing in music. I not only managed to carve out a decent living for the past 19 years I have followed my own path along the way. Thank you Smokey and thank you New Orleans!

Earning the reputation to be a first call for innovative musical projects looking for a cello player has been a wonderful privilege. Within a few years of living here, I was playing in a musical jazz arena alongside Johnny Vidacovich, James Singleton, Kidd Jordan, visiting world renown Jazz improvisers such as Frank Gratkowski, Hamid Drake, Wadada Leo Smith, Tatsuya Nakatani, Cooper More, so many more… I played in a local Medieval Band. I am fond of my yearly appearance at The New Orleans Noize Fest, playing in spontaneous Punk Bands, Rock n Roll Circus Bingo Show, Mardi Gras Indian Funk Orchestra, Southern Rock bands, with Singer Songwriters, Traditional and Progressive Jazz, Vaudevillian French bands and even a Disco band called “Bubble Bath” — I have workshopped my Belgian inspired surrealist ideas with some of the world’s finest improvisers and come up with a style that is my own. It was a natural evolution to put all my favorite grooves, melodies, and sentiments from this plethora of inspiration into my own music.

You often feel like there are just as many musicians in New Orleans as there are houses in New Orleans. Live music is everywhere, in the streets, in the clubs, restaurants, churches, sports fields, public parks, private courtyards, schools, barber shops, coffee shops, hotel lobbies, spilling out into Steamboats over the Mississippi and up over the West Bank into Algiers Point. Since the pandemic began, that spirit made its way onto people’s front porches, rod iron balconies, driveways, car ports … you name it; if you were strolling outside on any given day, you’d likely run into a live band playing a show. When music is such an important part of the fabric of a city, the musicians are put to work. I remember drummer Claude Coleman from Ween coming up to me in the artist tent at Voodoo fest in New Orleans and saying, “You New Orleans musicians are the best in the world because you play so often with so many different kinds of bands!” People often say I am very diverse, and I would say, look at any New Orleans full time instrumentalist…they are usually playing in at least 10 different style bands often and well. I am not sure where else in the world a cellist could have gotten a more diverse musical education.

I consider myself a Stoic optimist, having had to pivot many times during hard times. I understand things are likely to be tough and living is finding ways of surviving creatively. The city of New Orleans is a good place for someone like that. The outdoor music scene has exploded in New Orleans since March 2020. I was fortunate enough to have established my solo musical presence before the Pandemic hit, allowing me to live stream with my show and reach listeners eager for entertainment. Never receiving unemployment because I was working enough remotely to not be qualified, I just pushed as hard as I could to eke out a living. I played a lot of outdoor venues and during the welcomed pockets of time between waves of variants, I have even managed decent tour schedules across the USA. During long periods of staying home, I have worked on my relationship with my city, and have built a front porch worthy of live music performances and for the first time in the 14 years I have lived in my house, some of my neighbors have been able to hear my music for the first time. I am proud to be approaching my 20th anniversary living in this amazing and resilient city.

Listen to Music featuring Helen Gillet

Helen Gillet Trio: “Tourdion” from the album Running of the Bells
Tim Green: Conn-o-sax
Helen Gillet: vielle (medieval fiddle) and cello
Doug Garrison: drums with mallets

Helen Gillet: Helkiase (Solo Album)
Helen Gillet: cello, loops, vocals

Listen to Helen Gillet’s New Orleans Artist Recommendation:

Lilli Lewis Project: “We Belong”

CLINT MAEDGEN – multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, photographer

Clint Maedgen

I first moved to New Orleans in 1988. I wrote 150 songs while delivering food on a bicycle in the French Quarter from 1998 to 2005. New Orleans is an amazing place to be an artist, and this city has given me a lot. I have led my own bands over the years (liquidrone and bingo!) and also had the honor of playing saxophone and singing with the historic Preservation Hall Jazz Band for the last 17 years, and I’ve also taken thousands of photographs in the French Quarter and beyond.

New Orleans makes it very easy to be creative; it’s the kind of place where anything seems possible. This is also a town that still talks to one another, and that is a hard thing to live without if you’ve ever lived here and had to leave. The city gets in your bones in a forever kind of way, and I just couldn’t help but live here. I also still feel like a visitor here, and I am honored to be a small part of such an incredibly important place. Where would the world be without New Orleans? So many things started here, it is absolutely mindblowing.

As for the new music scene here today, I feel incredibly spoiled getting to hear so much music in the air at all times of the day and night. All kinds of music. Music is everywhere here. So many places to play, so many musicians. One of my favorite sonic experiences in New Orleans these days is to hear TRUMPET MAFIA playing on Frenchmen Street. The sound of 8 to 12 trumpets playing together has become this new electric current that is sent into the air on the regular, on Tuesday nights here lately. TRUMPET MAFIA is definitely a worldwide organization, but it’s amazing getting to hear them this much in New Orleans. Please check out these amazing musicians, and many more coming out of New Orleans today. It’s an exciting time for New Orleans music.


Members of the TRUMPET MAFIA include: Branden Lewis, Ashlin Parker, and John Michael Bradford

This last year has honestly been one of the greatest years of my artistic life. I have performed well over 200 shows for my online subscribers, and through the use of Zoom have stumbled onto my new favorite interface for live performance. To me it’s like Hollywood Squares meets Austin City Limits. It is virtually the same audience every time we get together, so we have developed strong relationships in the context of these mini concerts that feel very intimate. Each person has their own square, so puppet dance parties are always a good idea. We have gotten to know each other over time, even though a few of us live in different countries.

Here is a three-minute sizzle reel of the PANDA FAM.

I wrote 24 personalized songs for my subscribers last year. I launched a deal where any member that purchased one of my French quarter doorbell throw pillows, I would write them a personalized song. Each person got to submit 10 words. That project set me free in so many ways, and I found the songs came to me quite quickly. The process reminded me of how I wrote music in the early 90s, recording onto cassette and ping-ponging between different devices to achieve a multi-track. It felt playful and wide open, And I love what it brought out in me.

Here is the video playlist:

As a group, we have collectively been raising funds to record each of the songs in the studio, with the intention of releasing the songs on vinyl upon completion. These songs have such an amazing energy to them, and as a songwriter I find myself amazed with an entirely new process to share and experience with an audience that really wants to be there.


As a photographer, my subscription-based audience has been a true blessing. Our group has also become a collectors club, and I have sold eight of my photographs this past year.

An original photograph by Clint Maedgen collaging an eye, a eye chart, and a carpet.

Clint Maedgen: Hindsight & Shadows

An original photograph by Clint Maedgen collaging abstract paintings and a silhouette of a man wearing a hat,

Clint Maedgen: Shadows & Colourburst

CONNECTION is the real currency. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And for creators to have the opportunity to convey that message with an audience that wants to participate online, I can’t help but think that we are living in the modern day gold rush. We finally have the opportunity to cut out the middleman and the gate keepers and connect directly in a very organic and convenient way. If you love what you do and you love to talk about it and you like sharing your excitement for it, I think that this platform is perfect for all creators of all walks of life. If 500 people give you $200 a year that is a really good living for an artist. I like to imagine a world where artists perform because they want to, not because they have to. I think the answer is finally here.


DELANEY MARTIN – multi-media installation artist and Creative Director, New Orleans Airlift

Delaney Martin

I met New Orleans pre-Katrina, 1998, in my early twenties. Meeting her upended my life in the best way. I’d been a savvy kid living in New York and LA, reading culture magazines from Europe. Not only was none of that available for purchase in New Orleans, none of it mattered. Moreover, the culture here was not for sale. What New Orleans lacked in terms of a global art trending was more than made up by its incredible living culture that paraded–no–danced, down streets every Sunday for second line parades, rounded a corner in the flowing feathers and hallucinatory splendor of Black Masking Indians during sacred times each year, and kept late hours and a big beats in small neighborhood clubs that rivaled any famous nightclub I’d ever visited. And that was just the Black culture. Though less famous, the weirdo White kids were running anarchist circuses, inventing instruments, costuming on a Monday morning and just generally building such a specific-to-time-and-place culture that I realized that literally everything I had valued before needed to be reconsidered in the most joyous way possible.

I eventually left to go to grad school in London, but I deferred for a year. And I returned as often as I could in the intervening years. I built an art practice in London, but New Orleans continued to ground me at a distance. When Katrina hit, I was looking for a way to help. Starting in 2007 my co-founder of New Orleans Airlift and I began a sort of import export culture business, bringing folks like Big Freedia to NY for the first time or an artist like Swoon to New Orleans to work with us collaboratively alongside local creators we valued. I expanded my art practice to function as a framework for collaboration, building bigger ideas than I ever could on my own by having so many hands working towards a common goal. These days we are most known for our collaborative juggernaut Music Box Village – a collection of interactive musical houses hand built by artists in the dozens, an ever-expanding krewe exploring this idea of a performative musical architecture. This idea born of New Orleans is an ode to our city’s culture, its architecture; it’s the music you can hear coming through thin old walls or around the corner of your block, yet it is an idea that resonates around the world. We invite world-renowned musicians to compose and perform the musical houses. Part whimsy, part serious new music pursuit, the Music Box Village has become a landmark in our city, building off the rooted, but living, evolving culture that defines New Orleans.

I love creating here. I’ve created in many cities, but this is my speed. Jump in a truck with your friends, hit the wood dump, build from nothing, make make make, but all at a livable pace that prioritizes catharsis, ritual and release.

COVID allowed me to slow down. Slowing down and reflecting and moving with change is good. The pandemic of course shut down our performance schedule and was terrible for musicians. But it was growth for myself and for my organization. We pushed up against the obvious challenges by saying, well what do we have time for now. We were able to gather musicians we work with for conversation, have difficult conversations, make decisions to work on difficult projects around race and hard histories that continue to shape our lives. The pandemic created such a rare opportunity to make space for change.

That said, second lines are back. And we terribly missed dancing through the streets. It gives us life. New Orleans without its culture is a city with pretty buildings, but terrible education, pollution, crime, corruption!!! None of us would live here, but the culture trumps all of that and so we do.

Hurricane Ida – now that is a different story. We can celebrate the spirit of mutual aid that defined our community’s response to this tragedy, but it was a tragedy and more will come. New Orleans’ place on the map of the mind is huge, but Ida was a stark reminder that its place on the map may not exist into the very near future. Our neighbors in the river parishes continue to be without homes. This easily could have been New Orleans fate. We were just lucky by 20 or so miles. No amount of culture or music can save us. But we must save the culture. To be honest, we are still in this moment of Ida recovery – it’s too soon to say we’ve overcome it.

Because New Orleans is so storied musically, this idea that it is all tradition can become a perception problem from the outside, but it’s not really a problem from the inside. We know tradition here does not mean something stale or a museum culture. It’s all very alive down here, evolving, well-loved. These so-called traditional forms are understood to be more than music, but sound connected to the spirit in deep ways. There is not a snobbism about, say brass band culture, amongst new music people. It is a blessing that we get to be in this swirl. In turn, these so-called culture bearers are not closed off; they are welcoming. They are also experimental. The musicians we have in our space are not all people making new music. They are brass bands, they are Black Indians, they are superstars of the new music world, they are pop stars. What we give them is a context to work together in an unlikely setting and unlikely pairings. There is an openness. Recently we had two big players in their respective new music circles live in our town for some years: Yotam Haber, the Rome Prize-winning composer and Mikel Patrick Avery, known more as a Chicago character and perhaps most known for his work band leading for Theaster Gates’ Black Monks of Mississippi. We worked extensively with both of them, and the effect of New Orleans on their practice was profound – they wanted to dig in, not dig out. They’ve moved on to other cities and opportunities, but it was great to have their gifts here for a while and we knew that our city was a gift to them too.

Listen, clearly New Orleans is not a mecca of “new music”, but it is open, collaborative, and knows deep in its bones that we make music that matters to the world and so much of that music was the new music of its time.

Listen to Delaney Martin’s New Orleans Artist Recommendations:

Taylor Lee Shepherd: “The Blue Sea Hushed Him”, from Flight of Icarus @ the Music Box Village

So much to choose from at Music Box, but selecting this piece by my music box co-founding sound artist Taylor Lee Shepherd. He leads this project with me. We’ve built musical houses in collaboration and our Shake House is well heard on this track. But he is also the daily technical director of Music Box Village, maintaining all the musical houses by our collaborating artists, and so intimate with all the sounds. This song is from his one man show Flight of Icarus. For the show he exclusively used the sounds and interfaces of the houses, looping and building on their sounds via connected looper pedals he installed throughout the space.

Leyla McCalla: “Mèsi Bondye” from Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes

I really like this particular track. Sort of a nice spare, feminine counterpart to Taylor’s Shepherd’s piece. It also speaks to the evolving exploration of rooted music that New Orleans artists explore – in this case both Leyla’s and New Orleans’ deep connection to the music and culture of Haiti.


DYLAN TRẦN – composer and Marketing Coordinator at New Orleans Opera

Dylan Trần

My experience in New Orleans can be summed up in one word: opportunity. I’m a first generation American on my dad’s side, born into poverty in the Deep South. If it weren’t for the fact that Loyola University New Orleans has a free undergraduate application and ample scholarship opportunities, I’m not sure I would have been able to go to college, much less pursue a career as a composer. Even my career as a composer, at this point, is only financially possible because of my administrative position at the New Orleans Opera Association.

Throughout my undergrad I had many interests: conducting, composing, singing, film, photography, marketing, languages, history, diasporas, media, activism, sociology, etc. I had very supportive professors in all of these areas that encouraged me to develop my skills in these interests; this held true when I left school as well. This is a huge reason I have stayed in New Orleans— as my artistic career evolves, the city has allowed me to discover, create, and share opportunities to facilitate my growth and exploration.

The reasons I believe this city is so prime for making your own opportunities is a bit of a double-edged sword. There’s a famous Cajun French phrase, “laissez les bon temps rouler” (let the good times roll). That lovely, laidback vibe permeates the music scene as well, setting the scene for the biggest challenge I’ve experienced in New Orleans—outside of jazz, funk, and other popular genres, there is a lack of infrastructure for “classical” music artists. Because of this, most of my commissions come from online and social media networking, as opposed to local groups.

In a way, this lack of infrastructure creates space, an opportunity to build community and art without having to follow an extant institution’s rules—but, the work is not easy. As artists, we are no strangers to being our own advertisers, agents, accountants, etc., something I experienced intimately while I was pursuing a local singing career. As a composer, however, one of the only ways I’ve been able to create the art I want is to take on the additional titles of project manager, development officer, employee organizer, community liaison, etc.—basically running my own small business.

This may sound scary to someone who is trying to be exclusively a composer, but if you are someone in a more exploratory part of your career, New Orleans is an excellent place to do that. I don’t think there are many other places where I would have had as many opportunities to be compensated for trying new things. I’m not just talking music commissions either. I’ve been hired to direct music videos, film documentaries, write articles, run marketing campaigns, develop guest instructor lessons, be a guest speaker, etc. I did not have a huge amount of professional experience with many of these things prior, but because of the nature of the city, if you put some work in and cash in some social currency here and there, you can really explore anything!

Beyond that, I do think the “classical” new music scene in New Orleans is in a blossoming era at the moment. In terms of large organizations: the Marigny Ballet regularly performs world premieres, the New Orleans Opera Association (while not a regular commissioner of new works) is known for championing second and third performances of emerging works, and the LPO will occasionally commission a local composer to accompany an extant “canonic” masterwork. Versipel New Music is a particularly talented collective working exclusively in new music, and there is New Music On The Bayou in North Louisiana, but I am not familiar with many others locally. That being said, every year, I meet more and more composers and groups in the city, so I believe that, while the new music scene may be small at the moment, it is vibrant, growing, and will continue to flourish.

Stepping outside of strictly “classical” new music, the New Orleans musical world opens up tremendously. Some days it seems like there isn’t a genre unrepresented in the city. Hip-hop, folk, indie, jazz, rock, metal, and indigenous musics are ubiquitous in the community. More and more as of late the larger “classical music” organizations have begun to reach out and collaborate with these other genres. For example, it has happened on more than one occasion that the LPO will share the stage with Tank and the Bangas. If you are interested in exploring many genres of music, and the intersections and collaborations therein, New Orleans may be the place for you.

Listen to Music by Dylan Trần:

Dylan Trần: String Quartet No. 1 on Việt Themes

Listen to Dylan Trần’s New Orleans Artist Recommendation:

Lilli Lewis: “Incantation: Wind”


Listen to the Different Cities Different Voices playlist on Spotify:

The series is meant to spark conversation and appreciation for those working to support new music in the US. Please continue the conversation online about who else should be spotlighted in each city and tag @NewMusicBox.


Photo: Mana5280, Unsplash

Quick Cuts for Big Ears

A crowd of people outdoors

Attending the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville is a delicious game of choice and chance, forcing you to pick between such things as overlapping performances by Rhiannon Giddens, Theo Bleckmann, and Joan La Barbara—and that’s just the first night! But with only a week to go until the kickoff of the 2019 edition of the festival (March 21-24), decisions will need to be made, so we’re combing through the schedule and getting excited to consume as much music as we can cram into our ears (and the hours available each day).

Meanwhile, we’ve been digging through our archives and revisiting the amazing conversations we’ve had with some of this year’s featured artists to get ready for what’s ahead.

The time Joan La Barbara gave us a masterclass in extended vocal techniques

(“The Unexpected Importance of Yes” 3/1/06; @ Big Ears here)

These are things to play with; they’re just ways of experimenting. These are the beginning rudiments of extended vocal techniques. What I want to give to you and what I want to give to every singer is just to play with voice, just play with it and see what else it can do. There are all sorts of wonderful things and if you listen to the music of other cultures you’ll hear very, very different uses of the voice.

The time Gabriel Kahane told us the tale of the golf sweater, the crumpled letter, and the Tupperware container of chocolate chip cookies hidden in the back of the closet

(“NewMusicBox LIVE! Presents” 8/4/15; @ Big Ears here)

The time Meredith Monk spent an hour sharing personal stories and trading ideas about music with Bjork

(Radical Connections, 3/16/07; @ Big Ears here)

Counterstream Radio OnDemand: Meredith Monk and Björk


[nm_stream_boxes ids=”277006, 272862, 270886″ title=”More on using the voice with this year’s Big Ears artists:”]

The time Wadada Leo Smith explained how to leave room for personal interpretation

(“Decoding Ankhrasmation” 5/1/12; @ Big Ears here)

I have all kinds of music, but I use the specific language that I have to experiment with instruments and people, sometime extracted from their history, sometime using their history as well. Most things that artists do will find this course.

[nm_stream_boxes ids=”274664, 271855, 277478, 275469, 274957, 273586″ title=”Other deep conversational dives with this year’s Big Ears artists:”]

The time Carl Stone showed us how to make music on a laptop using MAX (in the year 2000)

(“Intellectual Property, Artistic License and Free Access to Information in the Age of Sample-Based Music and the Internet” 11/1/00; @ Big Ears here)

[nm_stream_boxes ids=”271023, 147595, 274129″ title=”More from Stone on intellectual property and the creative experience:”]

The time Alvin Lucier offered us some excellent advice on evaluating new music

(“Sitting in a Room with Alvin Lucier” 4/1/05; @ Big Ears here)

I’m not interested in your opinions, but I’m interested in your perceptions.

With an admittedly overwhelming number of options to explore, last year I took festival founder Ashley Capps’s advice when selecting from among the myriad options:

The art of fully enjoying the festival experience is to “be here now” as they say, and once you make your decision, to go all in and be fully immersed in what that experience has to offer.

It was guidance that held up under the pressure of so many great performances in 2018. We’ll be reporting from the festival again live this year via our social channels if you want to follow along, or get a taste of what’s to come right now with our 2019 Big Ears Playlist.

The Tennessee Theatre

The Tennessee Theatre, Big Ears 2018. Photo: Molly Sheridan


Before we sing another chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” and bring the curtain down on 2018, we have an annual tradition among the staff here at New Music USA of revisiting some of the tracks that caught our ears and hung on for any number of good reasons. Don’t see a 2018 favorite of yours? We hope you’ll tell us more about it below in the comments so we can all give it a listen.

PLUS: New this year, you can stream the entire mix using our playlist feature. This listening option will allow you to easily save tracks to your own playlist as well.

Happy Holidays from New Music USA!!


Jennifer Jolley: Prisoner of Conscience

Album: Motherland
New Focus Recordings

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes / Bandcamp
The score on ISSUU

I know that Quince’s second album made our list last year, but to me their latest (Motherland) is, to recontextualize Mao Tse Tung, a “great leap forward.” The centerpiece of this third Quince disc (featuring four recent compositions by four different women for unaccompanied female vocal quartet) is Jennifer Jolley’s Prisoner of Conscience, a substantive musical response to the 2012 trial and imprisonment of three members of the Putin-defying Russian punk band Pussy Riot. Though it was composed back in 2015, Jolley’s not-fit-for-radio-airplay, eight-movement cantata with spoken-word interludes is the ideal soundtrack and perhaps balm for our current “toxic” (to replay the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year) times.

—Frank J. Oteri, Composer Advocate and Co-Editor, NewMusicBox

12 Little Spells

Esperanza Spalding: 12 Little Spells

Album: 12 Little Spells
Concord Records

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes

“Grounded sensation of perpetual connection with the immensity of the external world,” reads the photo accompanying the release of “12 Little Spells,” an overture dedicated to the thoracic spine. With it, Esperanza Spalding conjures the grounding, expansive, connecting force of the twelve vertebrae between the pelvis and the base of the skull that anchor the ribcage and protect the spinal cord. This spell/song has cinematic swells that feel like breathing, like unfurling, like taking a giant full-body morning stretch while returning to your corporeality after a deep sleep. Spalding’s voice, supported by strings and guitar and bass and brass, stretches and expands alongside her lyrics.

On her website, Spalding writes that the concept behind her newest album, 12 Little Spells, came to her as an embodied tingling healing sensation. She touches upon her initiation into reiki and writes that she wanted to “harness these 12 little sensation-revelations into sounds, words, imagery, and performance that activates this healing, tingling effect in others.” For me, this collection of spells feels more like a grimoire than an album in the best possible way. If you are a body in need of some magical grooves, I would highly recommend treating yourself to a meditative hour of musical healing, courtesy of Esperanza Spalding’s 12 Little Spells.

—Mallory Tyler, Administrative Associate


Jlin: Abyss of Doubt

Album: Autobiography
Planet Mu

Purchase via Bandcamp / direct

Admit it, we’ve all been there. That’s what makes this short, intense track so compelling. Suggested listening mode is loud and with good headphones for the most dramatic impact.

After working in steel factory in Gary, Indiana, Jlin has taken the electronic music world by storm. An indefatigable touring performer, she’s been on the road almost constantly since May 2017. Despite that, she still found time for collaborating with choreographer Wayne McGregor on a major new work, Autobiography, from which this track and album resulted.

—Eddy Ficklin, Director of Platform

This is Not a Land of Kings

Gelsey Bell: This is Not a Land of Kings
Gelsey Bell, Amber Gray, Grace McLean (vocals)

Album: This is Not a Land of Kings
Gold Bolus Recordings

Purchase via Bandcamp

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for the center of the Venn diagram of folk, a capella, experimental, female vocals. On this track and across the entire short EP, Gelsey, Amber, and Grace demonstrate the full expressive power of the human voice. Extended techniques mingle effortlessly with deeply satisfying consonant and dissonant harmonies. This track helps me suspend time for a moment before I get back to “rolling up [my] sleeves.”

—Megan Ihnen, Content Associate

The Landscape Scrolls

Peter Garland: mid-day
John Lane, percussion

Album: The Landscape Scrolls

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In the chaos of modern life which often sets my mind skipping, I found Peter Garland’s The Landscape Scrolls to be a recording which instantly focused my ear and attention. Spare lines of distinctly diverse timbres fuel the five-movement, 50-minute-long piece, expertly delivered by percussionist John Lane. In this setting, Garland’s musical imagination cuts an aural path that is striking for its clarity of expression and inspired in its cumulative effect. I have yet to find the lucidity many have achieved through the practices of yoga or meditation, but the resonances in The Landscape Scrolls shush the contemporary noise machine and offer up a centering sonic touchstone.

—Molly Sheridan, Director of Content

A Very Wandelweiser Christmas

Franz Xaver Gruber, arr. Meaghan Burke: Silent Night
The Rhythm Method

Album: A Very Wandelweiser Christmas

Purchase via Bandcamp

The Rhythm Method are, individually and collectively, fierce, fearless, and virtuosic performers. They’re also a group of players who are unapologetically stylistically omnivorous and versatile, and have a definite sense of humor – which shows in their choice to release that rare animal, a new music Christmas album. (The last one I remember is Jerseyband’s Christmasband… in 2001? Which is also awesome but on a completely different level, volume-wise, to this one.) The quartet describe this album as “a cheeky but earnest tribute to the ethereal, soul-flossing music of the Wandelweiser composers’ collective” drawing on “those composers’ deep engagement with silence and slowness, with gentleness and the sort of beauty you have to lean in to hear.” If you like your holly jolly on the quieter, experimental, ASMR side, this is for you.

—Eileen Mack, Software Engineer and Platform Strategist

Yo Soy La Tradicion

Miguel Zenon: Viejo
Miguel Zenon and Spektral Quartet

Album: Yo Soy La Tradicion
Miel Music

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Miguel Zenon has for many years used his enormous artistic vision to draw attention to the music from his own cultural heritage. This collaboration with the Spektral Quartet is a striking addition to his body of work. This entire album is worthy of some deep listening, and it was recorded just at the time Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, making the project all the more compelling. I chose this particular track because it demonstrates a more introspective side of the music, which often goes unnoticed.

—Deborah Steinglass, Interim CEO

Book of Travelers

Gabriel Kahane: Model Trains

Album: Book of Travelers
Nonesuch Records

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Gabriel Kahane is such a phenomenal storyteller. On the album Book of Travelers, he captures many personalities and snapshots of lives within the romanticism of long-distance train journeys throughout America. In “Model Trains,he relates the story of a train-loving husband and father who goes slowly mad after hitting his head. The harmonic palette one might liken to romantic art song, which is probably what carried the story so poignantly for me upon first hearing it.

—Amber Evans, Grantmaking Associate


Julia Holter: Chaitius

Album: Aviary

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I’ve always really enjoyed Julia Holter’s work, and her new album, Aviary, is stunning. Each track offers its own beautiful, terrifying, and joyous world, worth multiple listens. I was initially taken by “Everyday is an Emergency,” which is full of bagpipe, brute-i-full amazingness. However the energy and chaotic-ness of “Chiatius” grabbed my attention. It delivers something of a more classical vibe mashup. It’s as if there are multiple pieces overlapping, ebbing and flowing over the top of each other.

—Scott Winship, Director of Grantmaking Programs