A Recap of the E.M. Expo
by LUCI DISANO
First-Year GD Clarinet
The first session of the day addressed a question that I think weighs on many of us: what’s next after I graduate? Ensemble members shared their own stories about how they navigated the transition, and it was interesting to discover how completely different paths led each of them to Fifth House. The founding members of the group met at the Chicago Civic Orchestra, but have also enjoyed unique careers along the way. Violinist Andrew Williams told of how the teaching job he never really envisioned for himself turned out to be one of the most rewarding facets of his career. Flutist Melissa Snoza discussed the practicalities of interviewing for a job, and Jani Parson, the group’s pianist, shared strategies for building a private studio. Eric Snoza explained that every job, whether musical or not, should be seen as an opportunity. There were times that he had to take non-musical jobs to pay the bills, and he has brought the skills he learned along the way into his work with Fifth House. That’s right, guys. He had a day job. And he didn’t die! As a matter of fact, he now has a successful photography studio in addition to his music career.
Lunch gave us another opportunity to speak one-on-one with ensemble members. I had a memorable conversation with hornist DeAunn Davis. One of the founding members of Fifth House, she has left Chicago and is currently pursuing her DMA at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Her goal is to land a university teaching job and mentor a generation of hornists free from the “orchestral-musician-or-failure” mentality.
The afternoon was split into two parallel sessions. I opted to attend the “funding your dreams” session, which was far more valuable and straightforward than I could have ever imagined. Melissa Snoza discussed the differences between for-profit and not-for-profit business models, walked us through the basics of working contracts, and demystified the grant writing process. The session served as an excellent get-started guide for those of us with entrepreneurial projects in mind. For me, Melissa’s presentation filled in the daunting gap between having a great idea and taking the first step toward bringing it to fruition.
After a quick coffee break, Fifth House gave a moving performance of Black Violet, an original program that combines music by Walter Piston, Johannes Brahms, Jonathan Keren, Heitor Villa Lobos and Greg Simon with a story and artwork created by graphic-novelist Ezra Claytan Daniels. From the first note, there was something extremely special about the performance—I was struck by the passion and joy radiating from the group. These artists love what they do. If that wasn’t enough, there was an engaging and beautifully illustrated story to go with it. Having witnessed their performances, it’s no great surprise to me that Fifth House has had such success in reaching non-traditional audiences. Who would have imagined that a story about a spoiled black housecat in 17th century London could be so riveting? After a performance that was more than an hour long, I still wanted to hear more!
The Expo ended with a session entitled, “Putting Your Audience Center Stage,” in which ensemble members discussed the origins of Black Violet. To further their goal of bringing new audiences to classical music, Fifth House has found creative ways to bridge the gap for non-classical listeners. By offering an immersive experience that pairs their music with Daniels’ storytelling, they have created an opportunity to introduce graphic novel fans to the beauty and power of classical music.
I consider myself very fortunate to have spent the day with Fifth House Ensemble. The ensemble is comprised of some of the most creative and driven people I have ever met. I was truly inspired by their enthusiasm and their willingness to share their hard-earned knowledge. Melissa explained that she had no fear of being put out of business by sharing her experiences because the number of creative, innovative ensembles that would have to exist in order to put Fifth House out of business would certainly ensure a culturally-rich world.