Bring down the house: Grant to support music ensemble residency

The Fifth House Ensemble and the Binghamton University Chamber Singers, directed by William Culverhouse, perform "Their Dance, Our Dance" in November 2019. Image Credit: Screen shot from Binghamton Music Department video.
The Fifth House Ensemble and the Binghamton University Chamber Singers, directed by William Culverhouse, perform
The Fifth House Ensemble and the Binghamton University Chamber Singers, directed by William Culverhouse, perform "Their Dance, Our Dance" in November 2019. Photography: Screen shot from Binghamton Music Department video.

In November, Binghamton University music students enjoyed master classes with a respected chamber ensemble, performed alongside them and experienced their own compositions come to vibrant life in the concert hall. This academic year, they’ll get that chance again, thanks to a grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Binghamton University’s Music Department received one of 39 grants, totaling $240,000, through the foundation’s ArtsCONNECT touring program. The funds will be used to sponsor a residency with the Fifth House Ensemble, a Chicago-based group that specializes in emerging artist training, arts-integrated programming and civic practice.

The department plans to expand on its relationship with the ensemble, whose three-day visit in November 2019 was “a smashing success,” said Associate Professor of Music Daniel Thomas Davis.

(Watch a performance of “Al Karaji’s Incredible Triangle” and another titled “Their Dance, Our Dance” from the November 2019 visit.)

“A vibrant group of graduate and undergraduate composers wrote pieces for the ensemble. They also collaborated with our choral ensemble, the chamber singers,” he said, noting that Assistant Professor of Music William Culverhouse, the director of choral activities, played a key role in the visit.

In addition to performing with a 16-member student group as part of their residency, Fifth House led workshops, including one on grant-writing that proved immediately beneficial: Three student participants ended up becoming finalists for the SUNY PACC Prize for Performing Arts, Creation and Curation.

SUNY PACC provides experience in designing arts process with an emphasis on meaningful public engagement. Student participants undergo a proposal, pitch and documentation process similar to what is required of professional artists and curators, although the live pitch competition is postponed until the fall due to the pandemic.

The details of Fifth House’s visit are still under development, although Davis hopes the ensemble will be able to conduct an in-person visit in the spring. Plans include creative arrangements of video game music, workshops focusing on community engagement and, of course, performances with student composers and musicians.

“It’s an invaluable opportunity for student musicians to work with professional artists,” he said.

The grant is particularly welcome now, when many artists have been hard-hit by the ongoing pandemic and the cancellation of performances. The performing arts world relies on nonprofit support, and the pandemic has posed a great deal of uncertainty about the future, Davis said.

“It’s particularly welcome at the moment,” he said of the grant. “We’re looking forward to getting creative with how we structure their residency in these unprecedented times.”

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