Innovative UMN Music Ensembles Provide Unique Opportunities for Students

New Music Ensemble members perform.

Making music together is a core principle of an education at the University of Minnesota School of Music. That belief is seen throughout the several ensembles in the School of Music, ranging from wind and choral ensembles to marching band. While ensembles like marching band and choir are more familiar to those who participated in music classes during high school, the School of Music offers many innovative ensembles that provide a fresh experience to students seeking a new perspective on music. 

West African Music Ensemble

The West African Music Ensemble is directed by Sowah Mensah, who is from Ghana, West Africa. It is open to all UMN students and no musical experience is required to participate. This ensemble offers experience in learning to play West African music and insight into West African culture. Participating students will be able to play drums, xylophone, and sing. 

Directed by Maja Radovanlija (guitar), the Improvised Music Ensemble invites students to learn about the basics of improvisation, and often works in collaboration with other groups, like the SOM’s Solo and Improvisational Class, taught by professor of composition Alex Lubet. Founded in 2013 through several mini-grants, the group aims to teach students how to think outside of the box with music, and to introduce students to collaborative, interdisciplinary thinking. An intermediate to advanced skill level in music is required to perform in the ensemble, and all instruments are welcome. 

Improvised Music Ensemble

For students who haven’t improvised before, the ensemble starts with the concept of moving away from written music slowly. It ends with more abstract, intuitive, free improvisation, and conducted improvisation. Each semester, the ensemble collaborates with local, national and international improvisers which help provide their expertise in a workshop setting. 

A brand new, student-led ensemble, the New Music Ensemble focuses on performing modern music and bringing exposure to living composers. It’s open to all undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in music. The New Music Ensemble has had sporadic availability over the years, but was recently revived by a board of student volunteers including Lexie Aguilar, Jacob Frost, Nate Krebs, Koki Sato, Louis Vajda, and Andrea Wallick. The ensemble has faculty mentorship, rehearsal spaces, and an operating budget. 

Students are invited to participate in projects in modular sections, and they’re assigned to pieces in the first few weeks of the semester. Members determine their own rehearsal schedule, and then perform 1-2 times a semester. In spring 2023, the ensemble performed student-composed pieces. On April 6, the New Music Ensemble will mount a performance of Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. This performance will also feature modern works for Pierrot ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano), and will explore the wide range of colors available to composers who have chosen to write for this ensemble in the past.

Several other non-auditioned School of Music ensembles are also open to participation by musicians of any skill level, including World Music Ensemble, Javanese Gamelan Ensemble, and Gospel Choir. Some ensembles have additional sessions that provide schedule flexibility for non-majors. To learn more about finding an ensemble to participate in at the School of Music, visit this page

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