Fifth House Ensemble (5HE) wants everyone to just play. This is the focus on the group’s recent projects, which explore different ways to produce music, as well as how we send that music out into the world and how the audiences experience it.
“We spend so much time perfecting skills, getting things right, and getting ahead that we forget to connect with our own creative impulses on a daily basis,” said Melissa Ngan, executive director and founding member of 5HE. “It's this space that produces innovation, human connection, and a true sense of self.”
The first project that Ngan is working on is a program design for Unchained Melodies, a new modular work written for Fifth House Ensemble by Dan Visconti. It's a collection of ten 10-minute solo pieces that fit together in any instrumentation grouping from two to 10 players, and contains interactive games that encourage creativity and communication.
The project evokes the contrapuntal rigor of medieval music and the crafty puzzles of J.S. Bach, and is adaptable for educational programs and community engagement events that benefit from flexible instrumentation, opening up myriad possibilities of side-by-side performances, educational activities, and large-scale, multi-venue performance initiatives.
5HE created a new collaboration with Tuvan throat-singing group Alash, which premieres in early March. The ensemble received funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the National Education Association to travel to Tuva, where the musicians were able to connect with local herding families, artisans, and musicians. The collaboration also spawned new commissions from Grammy-nominated video game composer Austin Wintory and Fifth House’s own Fresh Inc. Festival alumnus William Pearson.
“The program explores the idea of folk music as preserved through participation, and brings together both ancient and modern experimental opportunities for communal music-making,” Ngan said.
The group is also working on building a new Deep Listening curriculum for its work with vulnerable populations, including people experiencing homelessness or incarceration. As part of its fifth year of partnership with Loyola University's Center for Urban Research and Learning, the group presents multi-week residencies at Deborah's Place, Teen Living Programs, Cara Chicago, and the Chicago Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
It is through these programs and research that Fifth House Ensemble and the Center for Urban Research and Learning found throughout the course of a residency, student participants experience: mindfulness – staying in the moment and engaging with your surroundings; empowerment – believing you are a valuable member of society and have the ability to cause and/or create change; agency – having the ability to respond in the moment and express one’s ideas; creativity – engagement and flexibility in the presence of obstacles; and collective decision making – a collaborative process where group members come together and work toward a common goal.
“Deep Listening is a beautiful way to encourage creativity and improvisation, while forging deep connections between ourselves and others,” Ngan said.
Through Ngan’s ensemble and consulting projects, she has been connected to a number of organizations serving people experiencing homelessness. She think it's important for all of us to realize that any of us who spend more than 30 percent of our income on housing are at risk.
“It's not a series of bad choices, but a system that leaves more of us vulnerable than we realize,” Ngan said.
To learn more about Fifth House Ensemble, visit their website.