Arts Spring 2016

Park to park

New Music Ensemble to perform in national parks during summer tour

by Matthew Makowski
video by Jeremy Knickerbocker

The students of Grand Valley’s award-winning New Music Ensemble will get an incredible opportunity this summer when they travel thousands of miles across the U.S. to perform at some of the country’s most famous parks. The tour is possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Parks Service.

With the “Imagine Your Parks” grant, the ensemble is commissioning eight composers to write original compositions inspired by Yellowstone, Badlands, Grand Teton and Wind Cave national parks. The ensemble will then perform the compositions in the parks through interactive and educational performances.

“From tranquil works evoking the starry nights and majestic anthems celebrating the vistas, to compositions that utilize recorded sounds of park wildlife, this is a music program that will leave a lasting impact on audiences,” said Bill Ryan, New Music Ensemble director. “They will experience music that is truly an outgrowth of our national parks.”

New Music Ensemble

The roster of the New Music Ensemble’s National Park tour is pictured: top row, from left, Kevin Flynn, Bill Ryan and Denise Finnegan; and front row, from left, Karsten Wimbush, Hannah Donnelly, Wade Selkirk and Sarah Dowell.
photo by Amanda Pitts

The “Imagine Your Parks” grant marks the first time the NEA has provided funding for a Grand Valley project. Fred Antczak, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the grant will provide students with invaluable new learning opportunities outside of Michigan.

“We think sharing dynamic new music with park attendees will give our students an exceptional opportunity to engage with communities they might not ordinarily encounter under uniquely inspiring circumstances,” Antczak said. “This grant demonstrates the university’s continued commitment to the arts.”

This will not be the first time the ensemble has performed in national parks. In 2014, the New Music Ensemble spent 10 days traveling 4,000 miles and performing 13 concerts at five southwest national parks: Arches, Capitol Reef, Zion, Grand Canyon and Great Sand Dunes.

Senior Nikolaus Schroeder, a double major in music, and public and nonprofit administration, said this year’s tour will paint a picture of what life is like for active musicians on the road, while also reinforcing the musicality and bond of the group.

“The musicians in the New Music Ensemble are some of the hardest working at the university, so as the sound engineer and student tour manager, it is a point of pride that I get to travel with them and help them share their craft across the U.S.,” said Schroeder, a native of Big Rapids.


Danny Phipps, Music and Dance Department chair, explained that the New Music Ensemble is at the forefront of a movement by composers to develop new ideas and music applications. “The pairing of the New Music Ensemble with the beauty and sounds of our national parks is another way to explore the vast creativity that is music performance,” Phipps said. “To have our students and faculty actively engaged in the new directions in music is an invaluable hands-on experience that will have an enormously positive impact on the professional lives of these students going forward.”

Since its founding in 2006, Ryan said the New Music Ensemble has been promoting “the music of our time” through commissions, tours, recordings, collaborations, outreach events and workshops. The ensemble aims to not only prepare students for careers that include contemporary music, but also help them become exceptional educators, advocates and leaders in the field.

Schroeder said participating in the ensemble has shown him the possibilities of music outside the concert hall.

2014 NME tour group

Members of the New Music Ensemble are pictured at Great Sand Dunes National Park during the group’s 2014 tour, consisting of 13 concerts at five southwestern parks.

“As performers, we feel empowered to make our own ensembles, interact with composers and other musicians, book our own tours, and make music happen on our terms,” he said. “New music, at times, can be abrasive, strange, and uncomfortable, but it is always engaging, refreshing, and truly represents the future of music.”

NME video

Page last modified February 1, 2017