We made it to Ojai, finally! As you can see, the views are not too shabby. We’ve been running around like chickens without heads trying to get everything ready before the fellows arrive today. There are just so many errands, decisions, last-minute crises – I can’t wait for the fellows to just get here already so we can be done getting ready and just start already.

Since there’s no food on campus until dinner tonight, we’ve had to go into Ojai for every meal. The town is abuzz with activity because of the Ojai Music Festival. Everywhere you look there are Birkenstock-clad people either carrying instruments or lawn chairs. Matthew and I quickly found a favorite restaurant, Food Harmonics, that serves up incredibly delicious vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and gluten-free meals (it is California, after all). Sounds gross, but I assure you it’s not. If I only ate there, and only had the bison burger salad bowl the entire two weeks, I would still not be sick of it. The host is super-friendly, knows all the ingredients in all of their dishes, and genuinely seems to like working there. Plus, I spotted a supermodel (Shalom Harlow, if you’re wondering), although no one believes me.

Coffee, on the other hand, was quite a different experience. Matthew was smart enough to buy some bottled cold brew for himself, but I had to venture back into town this morning at 7am to get my fix. I Yelped a coffee shop with great reviews and headed there, bleary-eyed and unshowered to feed my addiction. I walked in, noted the hipster decor, but had no inkling of what I was about to experience. I love coffee, but I don’t love caffeine. I can handle a bit, but a whole cup of coffee will make me shake and feel like the world is going to crash down around me. And since I like to sip on coffee for most of the day, I usually order a half decaf – either I ask for a mix of decaf and regular shots in an Americano, or I just ask for half decaf and half regular drip. So I went up to the counter and asked for just that, and the young barista looked at me with scorn and sincere pity.

He said, “We can’t do that.”

I said, “Oh, you don’t have brewed decaf?”

“No, we do. We just can’t mix it with regular.”

“I don’t understand. Can’t you just pour me a half cup of decaf and fill the rest with regular?”

Nooooooooo. You see, they don’t mix. They’re totally different types of beans and special roasts, and it just wouldn’t be a half-caff anyway. The two just wouldn’t blend and it would taste horrible.”

(He demonstrated the not-mixing by interlocking his fingers with palpable condescension, which I pretended not to notice.)

“Okay, well how many shots do you put in your Americano?”


“So, can you make me one with one decaf shot and one regular?”

(Mock sorrow with extreme head tilt)

“Oh, noooooooo. We can’t do that either. For the same reason.”

At this point, I sort of looked around at the empty shop, wondering if there was a camera, because I was sure I was being punked. There was a guy waiting in line behind me, and while he wasn’t acting impatient, he also was making a point not to look at me. It became clear to me that I was not being punked, and further more, I was realizing that this video, which I thought was a parody, might actually be a documentary.

I’m ashamed to say I was too embarrassed to push the point, and I really wanted coffee, so I walked out of there with a regular Americano, head down, and Septa Unella’s voice ringing in my ears. And, I will admit, it was pretty good. Of course, as soon as I was driving back, I chided myself for letting some teenage hipster coffee snob get the better of me. I could out-snob him any day, he just caught me off-guard. I think I’ll go back there and order a grande half-caff soy mint mocha frappuccino with extra whip and three pumps of syrup, in a venti cup, and watch his head explode.

Aspirational packing. I will never come close, and I’m okay with that.

It’s time to pack for Ojai!

People always say to me,  “You must be an expert packer because you travel so much!”

And I usually just laugh. Because, yes, I do travel a lot, but somehow that fact has only created more anxiety around the whole business of packing. I still seem to have trouble anticipating with any kind of accuracy what I will want versus need to wear, and I almost always leave something essential at home. To combat this, I have amassed a stash of certain items (extra contacts, tiny tubes of toothpaste and several travel toothbrushes, laundry detergent, nutrition bars, feminine products) that permanently live in the dark, seldom-explored crevices of my suitcase. I dip into this stash occasionally, like when I recently forgot to pack any contacts, or the time I forgot to pack underwear and had to wash mine in the sink every night, but mostly I pretend this stash doesn’t exist and pack anew for every trip. But since I really know it’s there, this also means I have to take the same suitcase for pretty much every trip, whether it’s for three days or three weeks. I only take a different one if it’s an overnight trip, because you can live without most things for one night.

You’d think I have a tried and true packing list by now. Because that would make sense after forgetting to pack contacts and underwear, right? But I don’t. I know I should. The truth is, though it has happened, I still don’t believe that I will forget things like contacts and underwear. It’s the unusual items unique to that trip that I think I need to remember.

So let’s get back to Ojai. I’ve never been there, but I’m from Southern California and I kind of have a good idea of what to expect. My weather app tells me it will be sunny: the lows will be in the 50s and the highs will range from 70s to 90s. Light jacket, layers, sunscreen, sunglasses, check.

I’ll be performing. This fact usually necessitates its own packing list. The switch to iPads has all but eliminated my anxiety over forgetting to bring the right music, but created a new anxiety about remembering to bring the appropriate chargers. Violin, iPad, pedal, charger, extra charger, extra strings, practice mute, dressy clothes and shoes, check.

Besant Hill School has a dreamy aquatic center. Swimsuits, goggles, earplugs, flip flops, sun hat, extra towel, check.

Gravel and dirt roads on campus. Sensible footwear, clothing that’s okay to get dirty, check.

Dorm living. Shower slippers, bathrobe, shampoo and soap, check.

Great. I gather all these things and start stuffing my suitcase, only to find that it’s not going to fit. Not even close. So I take everything out and roll items tightly like I’ve seen in those articles about packing, trying to get my suitcase to look like the picture. Still doesn’t fit. So then I start whittling down, frustrated that I wasted all that time trying to get things to fit. This is usually when I make poor decisions, keeping something I’m attached to emotionally and leaving something more useful.  You know, like opting to keep three swimsuits but taking out all my socks. My bedroom looks like a war zone at this point.

Eventually, I just have to zip up the suitcase and accept the fact that I’m a terrible packer and will always be. I tell myself it’s only two weeks, and even though it’s in the middle of nowhere, I won’t be alone and can always ask Nathalie for lotion if I’ve forgotten it. I know Michael will have his Aeropress. Matthew will have snacks. And most importantly, Annie will have alcohol.







We just got back from a wonderful couple of days in New York (the state), where we visited Cornell and Syracuse University. Cornell is special to me because my little sister went to law school there. If you have ever known anyone that was in law school, you know that for three years, that person was basically in a black hole. She didn’t come home for holidays, she didn’t answer the phone, she didn’t reply to texts. All I know is that she came out of there with two desires: to live in a place that was flat, and to own a Subaru Forester. She has both those things now, and after our visit to Ithaca, I think I understand why. I decided to go for a little walk our first morning there to get coffee and explore a bit. The landscape is rugged but stunningly beautiful. I wandered around a bit and then decided to go up Buffalo Street  – and I do mean up. It was a sunny and not-too-warm day, but I soon found myself wondering if I was going to have a heart attack, not from exertion but from fear that if I tried to stand up straight, I would fall over backwards and roll down the hill to my death. When I told my sister this, she scoffed and said, “try doing that in snow and ice.” It all makes sense to me now.

We performed in Barnes Hall, which is a lovely brick and stained-glass venue that looked perfect for Shakespearean plays. How serendipitous that we had so much spoken text in our program with Composition as Explanation and Counting Duets. We did have a couple of compulsive texters in the front row (why are they always in the front row??) that I didn’t see but were right in Nick’s line of vision, so you can bet we heard him kvetch about that for several hours afterwards. But there was also a young couple in the front row dressed to the nines that were absolutely rapt the entire time, so it all evened out.

The next night we headed to Syracuse University, where we split up for some master classes with string players, a quartet, and a couple flutists. We heard the theme music to a Japanese shogun drama, as well as a really lovely string quartet movement by a student composer.  Then some of us decided to go back to the hotel to rest a bit before the show, and I decided to drive the half-mile or so because my glutes were so sore from Buffalo Street the day before. Big mistake. When I tried to drive back, what should have been a two-minute trip turned into a fifteen-minute curse-fest, as Google continually led me into dead-ends and told me to turn the wrong way down one-way streets. Steering with one hand and watching the blue arrow spinning uncontrollably in wild circles, I really started to panic that I might never find my way out of the forestry school (only Google knows how I got there, and she’s not telling). Finally, I threw the phone on the floor and looked for the high points, remembering that Hendricks Chapel was on a hill. I did eventually bushwhack my way back in time for the show, no thanks to Google. (I hereby warn you that Google is wholly unreliable on college campuses, which are in my experience designed to either trap visitors or scare them away. Navigate at your own risk.)

We played the show to a small but enthusiastic audience in Hendricks Chapel, which is a remarkable all-faith, including no-faith, spiritual and ethical center of the university. It’s the only place of worship I’ve encountered that has foot-washing stations in the public restrooms, which I thought was nothing short of amazing. If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth a visit…if you can find it.

Last night we hosted a little – or at least we thought it would be little – private event for our closest friends and fans. We ended up with over 40 people in attendance, but somehow it still felt intimate. The night was dedicated to non-Eighth Blackbird projects near and dear to our hearts, and we heard some performances of works from those projects. Matthew played a Burtner piece that will be featured on his solo MCA show in a couple weeks, Lisa played Vicky/Vicki by Andy Akiho, which she has been performing on other programs, and Nick played Angelica Negron’s Panorama, which he recorded for his solo album coming out on New Amsterdam very soon. Nathalie, Michael and I performed a movement of David Lang’s Composition as Explanation, and we capped off the evening with a performance of an old favorite, Doublespeak, by Nico Muhly.

We also had some other exciting news for our guests. They received a sneak peek of the 30 fellows, formally announced today, that are coming to the Lab! Nathalie put together a wonderful compilation of the fellows’ reacting to the news of their acceptance, which, after overcoming some technical glitches, we were able to show to our delighted guests. (Why is it that when you test something it works fine, and later, when you need it to work for real, it never does? Is there some kind of scientific law governing this phenomenon?)

We also gave our guests a little preview of what’s on the menu for our first ever online auction. We have some pretty great packages to see The National, Pitchfork Festival, and yours truly in LA and Chicago, some unique artisan items, the signed first page of the score to Nico Muhly’s Doublespeak, and so much more! Get excited, tell your friends, and CLICK HERE to head to the auction site.

Painful as it was to leave Melbourne, we quickly set our sights on our impending visit to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, buying tickets online as soon as we landed in Brisbane. We shoved our luggage into our rooms and ran back downstairs to catch an Uber to the sanctuary. It was already past 2pm and koala cuddling ended at 4:30, so there wasn’t a moment to lose. I have never seen Nathalie so excited about anything. I mean, she was close to tears as we entered the car park. So when they told us that koala cuddling tickets (an extra $18 fee) were sold out, I was genuinely expecting Nathalie to chuck a wobbly at the employee. We would be allowed to pet them, but not allowed to hold them.  Apparently too many tourists had already come through and manhandled the poor koalas, who were all humaned out. You’ve never seen such disappointment. I wanted to cry just looking at Nathalie’s face.

We slowly came to terms with our disappointment as we meandered through the sanctuary. All the wonderful and unexpected creatures helped. We were first greeted by a bearded dragon, which we soon realized had compadres lurking in every corner. There were also wild turkeys running about. Our spirits lifted by these encounters, we made a beeline for the koalas. There was a mom and joey enclosure, a bachelor pad enclosure, a kindy koala enclosure, and the cuddling station. Adam made a valiant effort at talking them into letting us hold Buckley, the koala of the day, but Buckley’s handler wasn’t having it. We were allowed up only one at a time to pet Buckley – and only on the lower back portion, please – and his handler kept us to about 30 seconds each. I’ll be honest: I was only there because I have a young son and I have to be able to tell him I pet a koala in Australia. But as soon as I touched Buckley’s soft dense fur, I was charmed. And I’ll be damned if my heart didn’t melt instantly at the sight of koala moms cuddling with their joeys. And Nathalie? I think her voice went up at least two octaves.

After some quality time with the koalas, we moved onto dingoes, tasmanian devils, platypuses, kookaburras, snakes, monitor lizards and emus, among others. Then it was time for a refreshment in the cafe, where we were tortured by a wall of celebrities holding koalas. Nathalie immediately found Janet Jackson, and Adam immediately found Grover (yes, from Sesame Street). John Paul II and the Queen Mother also got koala cuddles. If only we were famous.

After studying other visitors in the kangaroo enclosure feeding the roos out of hand and surviving, we each bought packets of kangaroo food and tried our hand as well. Aside from the unavoidable roo poo, it was an exhilarating experience to walk amongst the kangaroos and feed them right out of your hand. They were extremely docile, but we still kept a safe distance from the moms carrying joeys. For the most part they were pretty small, except for one which was as big as a pony and was patrolling the enclosure from the outside, probably for obvious reasons. We basically closed out the sanctuary hanging out with the kangaroos as the caretakers made noises about locking us in. We made one last pass through the koalas and then had to say goodbye. They escaped our grasp this time, but mark me well: if we are ever back, they will not escape a second time.


If cities are like celebrities, Sydney is Beyonce. She’s the Queen Bey, enough said. Constantly in the public eye, she’s impeccable in performance, everyone loves her, everyone wants to see her, everyone wants to take pictures of her.

What about Bey’s little sister Solange? If you don’t know who Solange is, that’s because she’s been flying under the radar this whole time. Solange might once have only been known as Beyonce’s little sister, but the younger, hipper Knowles is now quietly emerging as a performer and creative force in her own right after years churning out hits behind the scenes as a songwriter.

Melbourne is Sydney’s Solange. We love and adore Sydney, but we really wanna hang out and be friends with Melbourne.

Melbourne doesn’t have a flashy harbor with a world-famous opera house and bridge. But it does have a river lined with hipster bars and daring architecture. Beards are oiled and coiffed, hemlines are asymmetrical, socks are colorful and quirky. Sydney is up to its eyeballs in luxury name brands, but Melbourne is where you’ll see someone walking down the street wearing something you’ve never seen before and you can’t help but do a double take because they look so effortlessly cool. Fitzroy, I’m talking to you.

We  logged over 15,000 steps exploring Fitzroy. Almost every window display drew us in, and I spent more money on Gertrude Street than I did on food in two weeks. I have no regrets. My sisters are gonna love their gifts, and they’ll be the only ones on their continent with them. (If you’re in the neighborhood, do not miss Design Dispensary, which has an uber-cool selection of curated items from all over the world.) We quenched our significant thirst with a cocktail on the rooftop of Naked for Satan, where we took in 360 degree views of Melbourne. Nathalie had the tasting menu at Saint Crispin one night, and we had dinner at Taxi Kitchen another. It was Matthew’s birthday on our last night in Melbourne, so we gathered at Gin Palace for some Negronis and their famous chicken sandwiches.

I do want to devote some space here to talk about the plumbing fixtures we encountered in Melbourne. Apparently no design element in Melbourne is safe from experimentation. I can’t tell you how many public restrooms I walked into where I didn’t know how to use the faucet. I stood supplicating in front of one faucet, waving my hands in every way I could think of to activate the sensor before realizing that the decorative metal “accent” on the tiled wall was actually the faucet lever. At Gin Palace, water came out of a giant pipe in the ceiling. And then there was the sink-toilet combo. I’ve never seen a sink on top of toilet before. The sensor faucet wasn’t rocket science to operate, but after washing my hands and flushing, the faucet wouldn’t stop running. Thinking I broke it, I backed out of the restroom slowly, wondering if I should confess to the staff. But then Michael, who knows all things, explained to me that the faucet water was filling the toilet tank. Duh.

All I want to do is head back to Fitzroy to storm all the stores that were closed on Sunday and drink every cocktail at the Everleigh and discover more weird faucets. But we leave for Brisbane today, which is sad for my inner shopping addict but probably very good for my wounded wallet. All is not downhill from here, though, because a koala sanctuary awaits us in Brisbane, as well as a reunion with our former flutist Tim Munro’s beloved mum. Stay tuned.

So it’s been almost two weeks since we’ve landed on this big island and we have been steadily picking up and incorporating the lingo. You know, to blend in. The accent is a bit hard to mimic, and words like “no” (which sounds to our American ears like “nawyeurooahooo”) really betray us. But in writing, we’re indistinguishable from native Aussies. Behold:

A great day in an Australian city such as Sydney always begins with a delicious brekkie, and we enjoy some smashed avo toast with poached eggs on top. Usually the sun is bright and reliable in the summer, but we happen upon the one day in Sydney when the harbor is obscured by clouds and a Seattle-like mist enrobes the city. Good thing our hotel is prepared with heaps of brollies. We grab a few and venture out to explore options for a quick cuppa. I’m partial to a long black myself, but flat whites and iced coffees are also very popular.

A trip to the dunny is usually necessary after too much coffee, and the boys look for a place to go for a slash. While the rest of us wait, we check out the tradies, one of whom is a ranga, and debate the appropriateness of their attire. I mean, no hard hats and above-the-knee shorts? Comfy, but definitely against protocol in the states.

No roos to be found in the city, unless kanga bangas at the Coles counts, but Sydney proper doesn’t concern itself with appeasing tourists’ appetites for exotic animals. There are fast ferries to Manly beaches and famous bridges and opera houses to gawk at, the Museum of Contemporary Art and The Rocks Market to visit, window shopping at the QVB, and, of course, concerts for us to play at the City Recital Hall.

Before we know it, it’s time for our arvo coffee, and perhaps a bikkie or two to accompany it. We discuss evening food options. There’s soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, Aussie burgers at Burger Project, or schnitties and meat pies at the local pub, an embarrassment of choices. Might as well start with cocktails at Opera Bar, where we can further discuss food and gawk at a bona fide reality TV star. After dinner, there will be a requisite trip to the nearest IGA to buy a box of Golden Gaytime. We barely step outside before devouring the whole box standing on the sidewalk next to the didgeridoo busker.

Driving in Australia, or should I say, being a passenger in a car in Australia, is utterly terrifying. Everything about it is wrong. As soon as the car pulls into traffic I’m convinced we will plow head-on into every car. Right turns in particular are heart-stopping. I try not to look but I get motion sickness easily so I have to look out the window. Just as I am getting accustomed to going the wrong way around in roundabouts, the car chucks a yewy and I think I might vomit.

Flying, on the other hand, is a real pleasure in Australia. I can walk on the plane with a full bottle of water brought from the hotel and no one blinks an eye. There’s always food included, even on measly hour-long flights. They board planes simultaneously from front and back*, and luggage comes out by the time you walk to the baggage claim. Watch out for those carousels, though. They spin so fast the bags literally come flying off the belt with the centrifugal force. Retrieving bags from our first domestic flight is reminiscent of the famous chocolates scene from I Love Lucy, only with more yelling and running as we chase our bags down the belt, shielding ourselves from the ones flying off it. Totes awkies.

Australian airlines don’t like cellos, however. Or, more likely, they just don’t like Nick. Our tour manager Michelle has hosted many groups with cellists and swears it has never been a problem. But Nick gets booted off our first flight from Perth to Canberra and has skirmishes with airline agents on every subsequent flight. Basically, Michelle has to crack the shits at someone every time we approach the counter. But once on the plane, everything’s grand.

After a long day, it’s time to relax in our rooms. We stay at a couple different Crowne Plaza hotels, some of which are attached to a casino. Though we are tempted to try our hand at the pokies, we all resist (as far as I know). The beaches are irresistible, however, and Adam is absolutely determined to introduce his toes to every beach he possibly can, no matter what time of day. Good on him. He needs a new cozzie, so Michelle points out a couple of stores where he might find some cute budgie smugglers. I promise him not to post any photos. At least not here…

*I’ve been told this is a Virgin Airlines thing, not an Australian thing.


Arvo = afternoon

Avo = avocado

Bikkie = biscuit

Brekkie = breakfast

Brollies = umbrellas

Budgie smuggler = Speedo

Chuck a yewy = make a U-turn

Cozzie = swimsuit

Crack the shits = get mad, throw a tantrum

Cuppa = cup of coffee or tea

Dunny = toilet

Flat White = basically milk with coffee flavor

Golden Gaytime = an ice cream bar with biscuit crumbles and chocolate coating

Good on him, also, good on ya = good for him, good for you

Iced Coffee = don’t be fooled, this is a milky, sugary treat

Kanga Banga = kangaroo sausage (see picture)

Long Black = espresso with water, but NOT an Americano

Pokies = slot machines

Ranga = redhead, as in “orangutan”

Roos = kangaroos

Schnitties = schnitzel

Totes awkies = totally awkward

Tradies = tradesmen


We just arrived in Perth yesterday, but have been looking forward to seeing quokkas on Rottnest Island for weeks. It’s the only excursion we actually planned and booked ahead of time for our one free day here. (Let me just apologize in advance for the next few posts, which will be replete with pictures of the gorgeous summer we are enjoying down under while our families freeze at home in Chicago. I promise you, we will be working hard as well.)

Wait, what’s a quokka, you ask?

I’m still not sure. It’s a marsupial with the tail of a rat, the body of a miniature kangaroo, and a face that’s cute as all get out. The only place on earth where they live is on Rottnest Island, except for the quokka who recently escaped to Perth on a garbage truck. That little quokka is now in a zoo. They kind of remind me of the Rats of Nimh (this is a deep cut, but we’re best friends forever if you know the reference). See?

The Rats of Nimh were really quokkas

They only live on Rottnest Island, which is accessible by a 45-minute ferry ride. Once on the island, there are no vehicles allowed, so you can rent a bike, book a Segway tour or hoof it to explore, all without worrying about death from cars. We opted to rent bikes, much to my horror because not only was I wearing a dress, but I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I rode a bike. Well, there was that one time a couple years ago on Governor’s Island when I acquiesced to a tandem bike with my husband, but we all know that doesn’t count. The only thing I feared more than the bike was being left behind by everyone, so I took the plunge.

And guess what? It was just like riding a bike. Sort of.  I did need a lot of personal space to feel comfortable, and there were buses and service vehicles that occasionally passed us, which nearly gave me a heart attack. And a mean lady yelled at me (it wasn’t my fault, I swear). We rode until we found a little beach access area, and several quokkas came out of the bushes to greet us. They’re extremely friendly and unafraid of humans, so if we wanted to pet one we could have. In fact, I had to back up to avoid a quokka who was maybe getting a bit too friendly. There are warnings everywhere not to touch or feed them, but the rumor that they carry salmonella was quite enough for me, thank you.

After getting our fill of quokkas, Nathalie and I headed down to the picturesque beach, where she snorkeled a bit and I baked on the beach, having not brought my swimsuit (did I mention it’s really hot here??).  At one point, Nathalie motioned to me from in the water to look at something. When I looked over, I saw a GIANT bird looking for lunch in the water. I missed it at first because I assumed it was a dinghy or some weird inflatable water toy, it was so big. We caught a picture of another one on our way back to the ferry (in the gallery above). If you know what it is, please tweet us!


We had so much fun last week in North Carolina! Well, full disclosure: we did start out the week in VA with a performance and recording session at Old Dominion University, which was lots of fun. But I also got a speeding ticket, which was not fun (thanks, Sergeant Peacock, you got me fair and square).

Young composers rarely get to have wizened old fogies like us read their music (for better or worse), let alone get a recording out of it, so this was a unique and hopefully valuable encounter. We gave some feedback and opinions about compositional choices, which is always a learning experience – both in what you hear and how you choose to internalize it. The student composers were awesome, and even humored us when we waxed philosophical about what 2/4 time signature really means. I always worry that we’re being too harsh, but then I remember that we’re not doing anyone any favors by sugar-coating what we say.

Then we headed to Winston-Salem. We made a stop at The Pit BBQ in Durham on our way to the hotel, and enjoyed some pretty fantastic ribs, chopped pork and sides. I don’t remember anything else from that night because I slipped into a deep coma soon after we got back in the car.

The next few days were a whirlwind of activity at UNC Greensboro, UNCSA, and a performance at Wake Forest University. We taught some masterclasses, held a few informal lectures and Q&A sessions with students, and were generally impressed and charmed by everyone we met. As it turns out, Nick’s wife Yasuko attended UNCSA as a youngster, but I don’t think she would recognize the school now. The addition of the “U” means university curriculum in addition to a complex of fancy new buildings. We were green with envy over their library, which has sweeping views of Winston-Salem.

After our performance, which was one of the best-attended this season, we headed to a beautiful reception in the home of Ralph Womble, who is a board member of Helen Simoneau Danse, who recently commissioned Nathalie. We ran into a few old friends and unexpected connections. We met the parents of a Chicago colleague, and I ran into best friends of a former colleague from my previous position with the Washington National Opera. Thanks, Ralph, for hosting such a lovely event!

Then it was back to Chicago for almost two days until we headed out to Richmond, where I’m writing this now. Next week to Chattanooga and then…down under for a month!



The last two nights we played fun, albeit somewhat sinister, concerts at Steppenwolf’s new 1700 Theater. We were joined by the awesome Richie Reed Parry, who wrote Strange Sun Rise, November 2016 for us. He came in the day before, we hashed through the score, he made changes, we played the first concert, he made more changes, we played the second concert. And still more changes will be made before we perform it again.  

Richie regaled us and the audience with the story behind the piece: inspired by Brian Eno’s iconic Music for Airports, it took a turn for the darker side when the election happened. A quiet, beautifully serene landscape just before sunrise morphed into a mashup of images from the openings of Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey with the faces of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Il as the only sources of light. Kinda funny, but also kinda not. 

In the tradition of Richie’s heart and breath pieces, Strange Sun Rise also has everyone playing either to their heartbeats or breaths. We all suited up with our stethoscopes, which required an insane amount of medical tape for the boys (but hey, free chest wax!) and a really good bra for the girls. It’s much less comfortable and much less audible than you might think it would be. One doesn’t hear one’s heartbeat so much as feel it through the vise-like earpiece, which seems like a torture device after a few minutes. But out of this pain is born great beauty. Each time we performed it, I was surprised and sad that it ended so soon. We heard from some audience members that they felt similarly, and could have listened to the piece indefinitely.

Aside from our ears being attacked by stethoscopes, there was another unfortunate casualty. Right before the second performance, Nathalie was putting her piccolo together while chatting with me and Lisa in the dressing room when we heard a thud. Her piccolo had slipped through her fingers and fallen on the floor. It seemed fine to the eye, but when she tried playing it, something was obviously wrong. Michael was called over to help diagnose the problem, but they decided it wasn’t fixable, at least by them. So, Nathalie played the whole concert on flute.  (Not that anyone could tell…)

The piccolo incident couldn’t have happened at a better time (except for never), because that was our last show of 2016. Nathalie’s taking the picc to the flute doctor today, and all will be well. We’re still rehearsing and working away, preparing for a recording the very first week of 2017, but we’ll be hunkered down in our studio until then. 

We wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year!


The Cubs are the World Series Champions. Just let that sink in for a second.

I only watch baseball because my husband is a fan. This usually means that I’m sitting on the couch reading the New York Times or playing  Candy Crush (yes, I’m still playing that) while he paces and yells at the TV. But last night I was glued to the TV, twisting my hotel sheets into a knot of agony, looking at my phone only to furiously text with my husband about the game. I thought I was going to die, like, seven times. 


Because how could you NOT care about this game, Cubs fan or not? When the Cubs were down 3-1 in the series, I thought all was lost. My husband put my son to sleep in a baseball onesie the night of Game 5, and that’s when they made a comeback. And if there’s any way to beat a curse, it’s with superstition. So you’d better be sure we stuffed him into that same unwashed onesie the next game night, which they won, and, of course, the final game night. They didn’t win easily, despite apparently taking control of the game early, but win they did. You’re welcome, Cubs fans. (That onesie is getting mounted into a shadow-box frame when I get home. Unwashed.)

So now our beloved hometown, lovable losers for over 100 years, will have to adjust to being the winners. I hope no one dies from the shock. We’re in Richmond until Sunday, so we’ll probably miss the victory parade, but I’m sure the celebration will continue for weeks on end. And the story, as far as my future Cubs fan son is concerned, will be that he’s the reason they won. 

FinalMCABlogPic_300x300It’s hard to believe that our season-long residency at the MCA is coming to a close. We’ve truly loved inviting the public into our creative process and presenting concerts and education events throughout the year, and will miss all of the wonderful interactions and music we were able to share. We had a chance to recount our top 10 favorite residency on the MCA’s blog (though there were so many to choose from).  Thanks to all who came to visit us during the year, and to the MCA for a truly memorable season.

> Read the blog post

O Ca-na-da!!

More specifically, beautiful and temperate Vancouver. We spent a lovely Saturday there enjoying heavenly Beard Papa’s cream puffs before our performance and devilshly naughty poutine afterwards. We played in the very lovely Orpheum Annex, where over a hundred people actually decided to come hear us instead of the Vancouver Symphony or Evita, which were both playing at the same time. Thank you, Vancouverites! There was also a couple who drove 400-some miles from Portland just to see us – they might win the prize for longest distance driven by non-relatives to see an Eighth Blackbird show.

After the performance, Nick and Michael gave in to temptation and picked up poutine on the way back to the hotel, which is all the more amazing because Nick was slated to run a half-marathon the next day. While Nathalie and I waited patiently for them to receive their fix, we were getting our own unintentional fix from the street outside. We looked at each other and mused if we’d be back to the poutinerie for the “wow size” in about an hour. In case you didn’t know, weed shops are legal in Vancouver, and it seems everyone is taking advantage of it, at least on a Saturday night in the entertainment district.

There were a million things to see and do that we didn’t get to, but hopefully we’ll be back again soon with some more free time to enjoy all that this fantastic city has to offer.


We are back from a whirlwind 15-day tour which started in Knoxville, TN and culminated in Columbia, SC. Big Ears Festival was a star-studded affair, with our concert featuring Will Oldham and Bryce Dessner and our late-night show featuring Nico Muhly and Philip Glass. Doesn’t get better than that. Then we headed to Shenandoah for a concert, where we honored composer Tom Albert, who was retiring after 40-some years on the faculty. Tom not only wrote one of Eighth Blackbird’s first commissions, Thirteen Ways, but he is the father of founding violinist Matt Albert, recently appointed as Chair of Chamber Music at the University of Michigan. An illustrious lineage, to be sure.

The intervening ten days or so were spent at the University of Richmond on a music-department-wide extravaganza featuring the music of Matt Ulery. The concert brought the jazz, vocal, and chamber music departments together on stage along with us and Matt. Two days later we played a concert with Matt’s trio, a program we’ll be bringing to Chicago in June at the Hideout. Stay tuned for more details.

The pictures above are from our outdoor concert as part of the Southern Exposure and Indie Grits Festivals. The setting couldn’t have been more picturesque, right on the waterfront with majestic trees strung with cafe lights all around. Patrick Nugent did the spectacular live video accompaniment, which incorporated live video of us performing into archival images. One particular image was very reminiscent of the eye of Sauron – Michael made a very memorable video. See it here: https://www.facebook.com/mikeney/videos/10154130309124187/


2011-08-31-will_oldhamFresh off our world premiere of David T. Little’s piece Ghostlight at the Kennedy Center, we bring our program Ghostlight back home to the MCA this weekend, with the exciting addition of Will Oldham, AKA Bonnie “Prince” Billy! We first performed with him last summer at Celebrate Brooklyn, and let me tell you, this man is a force of nature on stage. He’ll be doing Rzewski’s Coming Together with us along with his own songs arranged for us by Lisa, and it’s gonna be awesome.  Both shows are sold out, but you can still get on the waiting list.  

8th Blackbird FINAL

We are thrilled to announce our 2016 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions! For the first time in the award’s history, MacArthur is recognizing 14 creative and effective Chicago arts nonprofits like us, including our Creative Partners fellow Lucky Plush (congrats @LuckyPlush!). #MacAward

This remarkable honor is a tribute to our talented and hardworking ensemble and staff along with our committed board and generous donors. Their shared commitment over the last 20 years has built an innovative organization that creatively and effectively moves music forward.

This award is a significant investment in our long-term future. It comes with a $400,000 grant for capacity building and sustainability. For us, that means building our cash reserves, upgrading technology and completing a strategic plan.

On behalf of the birds, our board and staff, we would like to express our gratitude to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for this incredible honor. We especially thank Cate Fox at The MacArthur Foundation for her guidance and encouragement.

…Filament. Eighth Blackbird.

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That’s right. We won another Grammy! I wasn’t able to be there (busy changing diapers) but I watched this screenshot take place live online and I whooped and hollered for my very glamorous ensemble-mates and for my very first golden statue (which I will accept from the mail man with a prepared speech). I can’t wait to hear all the juicy tidbits about Taylor Swift encounters and ritzy swag bags. Hope they saved something for me…

Thanks to everyone who helped make this album happen: Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Son Lux (Ryan Lott), and of course the granddaddy of them all, Philip Glass. Thanks to Jim Ginsburg and Cedille Records. Thanks to our wonderful staff and supportive friends and family. It truly takes a village.