By Sophie Webber
2009-13: Our Formation, Our Mission
How can classical music reach a wider audience? How can classical music be an agent for social change?
These are two of the questions which led to the formation of Fused Muse Ensemble back in 2009 when Sophie Webber, founder, was completing her doctoral dissertation at Indiana University. She was drawn to the idea of giving voice to the marginalized and the underrepresented, at the same time as bringing the beauty and tradition of classical music to a broader audience.
From 2009-2013, Fused Muse focused on innovative mixed media performances; experiments in collaborations between music, dance, visual art, and theatre. The ensemble explored which mediums worked together most successfully and the implications of a true ground up collaboration. Following a four year gestation period and an increasing desire to connect more deeply with the community, Fused Muse established its current twofold mission in 2013:
I) To increase increase awareness of global concerns through interdisciplinary performances of music and mixed media
II) To increase community engagement with classical music
With a core of innovative and top-ranking international musicians and guest artists, the ensemble’s work integrates classical music (new, old, and improvisatory) with other media such as film, science, and dance. Each year, the group picks a topic to represent through the arts and partners with local charities that represent that concern. Throughout the spring and summer, several preliminary performances are given that lead to a culminating concert series in the fall. Fused Muse also performs for nonprofit fundraisers and offers education outreach workshops across Chicago with an aim to ignite hearts and minds.
2013-15: A Brief Overview of Our Topics, Partners, and Projects
In 2013, Fused Muse’s topic was “Trafficking and Domestic Violence” in collaboration with Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network. The ensemble’s culminating performance included an actress writing a trafficking survivor’s memoir in real time, set to a new composition for solo dulcimer. Other works included two dancers depicting the complex nature of relationships and the fine line between submission and oppression, and a contemplative piece for cello, piano and solo dancer that celebrated the power of the human spirit.
In 2014, the chosen theme was “Engaging with the Environment” and the ensemble worked with Chicago Gateway Green and the Recyclery. The fall concert series, entitled “Breaking Ice,” took place at Constellation in Chicago. The program included new interdisciplinary pieces such as “Bike Again”, a work for dulcimer, cello, bicycle percussion, and artistic video footage depicting everyday events of children repairing bicycles at the Recyclery cooperative. The milestone work, “Breaking Ice,” was a tribute to climate change that was based on postdoc experiments by University of Chicago Physicists Ivo Peters and Qin Xu, and incorporated live cello, electronic music, and video. Other works works included a series of live music and dance collaborations that addressed various environmental concerns such as water scarcity and the influence of technology on the environment. Excerpts from these works are available on the ensemble’s website.
This year, Fused Muse is focusing on “Homelessness” and is collaborating with Cornerstone Community Outreach (a homeless shelter) where the group will be offering arts workshops in the near future, as well as Harmony, Hope and Healing (a choir for the homeless and underserved in the Chicago area), and Circles and Ciphers (a restorative justice group for young teens in the Rogers Park area).
2015 appearances to date include a music and dance performance at Evanston City Arts’ “Cranes for Peace” event at the Evanston Ecology Center, a music and dance performance at a Hyde Park Salon, and a collaboration of spoken word and music entitled “Slowing Time” at the Midwest Buddhist Temple (Old Town) with Barbara Mahany (author of the recently published book, “Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door”).
Fused Muse has several works in progress towards the main fall concert series, including a newly-composed gospel song for Harmony, Hope and Healing (with text from a poem written by a street youth), a newly composed song for voice, cello and electronics that uses actors to depict several individuals’ personal experiences of homelessness as told by residents at Cornerstone Community Outreach, a hip-hop dance collaboration between Circles and Ciphers and dancer/choreographer Matthew McMunn, a homeless documentation video which looks at alternative perspectives on homelessness with minimalist music for violin and piano, and a percussion, voice and dramatic re-enactment piece that focuses on the extraordinary amount of time homeless people spend waiting in line for basic services.
A Final Note
Fused Muse Ensemble continues to be humbled by the many selfless and hard-working artists and nonprofit staff and volunteers that we have met and worked with over the years. We are troubled by the immense hardships that individuals and nonprofit organizations face when addressing difficult social issues such as trafficking, domestic violence, the environment, and homelessness. However, Fused Muse is equally inspired by the tremendous power of the human spirit as we encounter stories of survival, change and hope. One of our top priorities is to create artwork around these topics which are educational, but not exploitative, with the guidance of the non-for-profit organizations with whom we are working.
All musicians volunteer their time and efforts to Fused Muse and its cause. We cover our production expenses through grants and individual donations and also make a donation to the local charities with whom we are partnering each year. Please consider joining our mailing list (email firstname.lastname@example.org with “YES” as the subject header) and take a moment to visit our website which lists our events, artists and collaborative nonprofits. If you are able, we would also welcome any small donation towards our 2015 production expenses. You can donate to our mission here.
With your help, Fused Muse Ensemble can choreograph and execute high quality performances that impact social change. Thank you very much for your interest, and thank you, Musicovation, for featuring us on your blog!
Sophie Webber is a British cellist who currently resides in Chicago. In 2009, she graduated from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music with a Doctorate in Cello Performance. While at Indiana, Dr. Webber studied under Japanese cellist, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi and Hungarian-American cellist Janos Starker. The same year, she founded Fused Muse Ensemble, which is now an Illinois 501c3. She is committed to bringing classical and classically-inspired music to the community in meaningful ways.