What is the Ellipses Ensemble and when/why did you decide to create it? Who are the core members?
Through a series of public concerts, and in conjunction with documentary storytelling, the Ellipses Ensemble aims to increase awareness surrounding mental health. The Ellipses Ensemble was named as such to imply “There is more.” Concerts are curated according to that mantra, finding the intersection of music, storytelling, and bringing awareness. Comprised of professional musicians in the Philadelphia area, in its first season the Ellipses Ensemble presented five concerts, each with a theme surrounding mental health awareness and destigmatization. In addition to chamber music, the concerts featured original mental health documentaries. Philadelphia-area speakers familiar with the program's Mental Health focus are also part of the performances. Together, music and storytelling share the stage to produce an interdisciplinary and culturally-relevant program.
Each musical program is first performed in a public space (ie, a train station or park), and then at Philadelphia's Ethical Society as a full-length evening program. To increase concert and event impact, performances are live-streamed; concert proceeds are split between the Ellipses Ensemble and Prevent Suicide PA.
In year two, the Ellipses Ensemble aims to increase the series number to eight, bringing the public's eyes and hearts to additional issues surrounding mental health, while simultaneously contributing to the new music and chamber music scenes in the greater-Philadelphia area.
What make Ellipses unique from other chamber music ensembles?
We’re aiming to create social change through music, thus creating an additional narrative for the importance of music in our societies. We also have the merging of art forms (music, film, and storytelling) in order to generate a more engaged audience across all of the arts.
Why is this important?
Over the past decade, I’ve come to wholeheartedly understand the importance of artist as citizen. As musicians, we have a responsibility to look at the communities we love, and contribute within those existing fabrics. The hope is that, as we invest in our surrounding world through our artistry, the art will in turn become a stronghold in our societies. In other words, if we want our communities to embrace classical music and newly composed music (and we do!), we need to make sure it’s embedded into our cultural needs. With Ellipses Ensemble in particular, I’ve seen that as a society, we have trouble talking about mental health issues, which leads to feelings of shame and ostracization. We need to see an increased ability to discuss and destigmatize mental health awareness, and I’d love music to be part of accomplishing that goal.
How do you present your concerts to make concert goers more aware of mental health issues? Is your target audience those with mental health issues, or the general public to help raise awareness? Or both?
The performances alternate between music, film, and live storytelling; together, the arts combine to create a full story of the issues faced by individuals and communities.
The concerts aim to increase awareness surrounding mental health, but also to provide a comfortable space for anyone struggling. We want to avoid solely ‘preaching to the choir,’ but we also want an inclusive environment for everyone.
In your opinion, how does music improve mental health?
I can’t claim that music will fix anything; however, the arts bring people together, and if we can do so with intention surrounding a certain issue, I believe we can start to make the change we want to see. My musical life is not meant to be about me, but about how I am able to share. Practicing in solitary can be beneficial as a flutist, but as a citizen, we have to figure out how to best align with our worlds.
As someone very involved in the non-profit and fundraising world, how do you balance raising funds for each of your projects? And how can people donate to you (links etc)?
I help to raise money for several organizations. My two passion projects are the Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival and the Ellipses Ensemble. I run the Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival in the summertime, and I concentrate on the Ellipses Ensemble during the year. I have deadlines throughout the year by when I know I need to have certain goal amounts raised, and I consistently looking for grants and foundations that may be able to help.
What types of mental health issues and topics do you address? Do you have any personal stories that inspired any of your concerts?
We try to tie the mental health issues to make them relevant to what is going on in the city. For example, our first concert next year is the concluding concert to Peace Day Philly events; our entry point for the concert will be “Finding Inner Peace.”
How do you choose the music you program for your concerts?
The music is picked according to the interest of the musicians, and to the relevance of the program and issue at hand. There doesn’t have to be a direct connection with mental health, but instead we’re looking to blend the lines between social change and art.
What did this season look like, and what is in store for the ensemble next season?
This past season, we had 5 concerts that were each performed twice. We expect to have at least the same number of concerts this year, and hope to expand the impact. Our first concert this season was on September 22 at the Ethical Society in Philadelphia.
What advice can you give to flutists who want to start projects relating to social change?
Find the issue that resonates for you, and use your musical passion to make change. In the words of Frederick Buechner, “Your calling is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meets.”