Natalie Nowytski headshot

natalie nowytski :: bio

Natalie Nowytski is an award-winning composer and performer based in the Twin Cities. A first-generation Ukrainian-American and Minnesota native, she trained classically with her grandmother, the legendary vocal coach Oksana Bryn. Her Ukrainian heritage and love for traditional folk music brought Natalie to the internationally acclaimed Ethnic Dance Theatre in 1996 where she began specializing in the vocal styling of traditional Central and Eastern European music. Her work with EDT ultimately lead her to direct Mila Vocal Ensemble until 2005. She has traveled to Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Serbia, and Ukraine to study culture and folk music from professional musicians and villagers alike, including Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares soloists Svetla Karadjova Ivanova, Lilyana Galevska, and Tsvetanka Varimezova. Natalie sings in approximately 50 languages and in nearly 20 distinct vocal styles. She's often sought out for specialized, multi-level vocal workshops—including for New England-based Village Harmony—and has served as consultant for various choirs, including The Rose Ensemble, Mila Vocal Ensemble, and KITKA. Through her performance and research, she has become respected as a master artist of Eastern European vocal styling. Natalie, as part of Orkestar Bez Ime, is a winner of the 2011-2012 McKnight Artist Fellowships for Performing Musicians administered by MacPhail Center for Music. The same ensemble also received an American Composers Forum Minnesota Emerging Composers Award in 2012. In addition, Natalie is part of a team that won the 2011 SAGE Award for Dance for Outstanding Design (music and score for the Flying Foot Forum's production of "Heaven"). She is a 2012, 2015, and 2019 recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and was also awarded a 2014 JFund for New Music from the American Composers Forum and Jerome Foundation. Her compositions have been performed at such esteemed venues as The Guthrie Theater, The Cowles Center, University of Minnesota, The Southern Theater, and MacPhail Center for Music.

Natalie's performance credits include appearances with The Minnesota Orchestra, Olga Bell and Angel Deradoorian (of Dirty Projectors), Peter Ostroushko, Ruth MacKenzie, Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, The Rose Ensemble, Paris 1919, Ethnic Dance Theatre, Ukrainian Village Band, Szászka, Nomadi, Sâmbra Oilor, Lau Hawaiian Collective, and others. She has performed on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion and at the prestigious Koprivshtitsa folk festival in Bulgaria, both with Mila Vocal Ensemble. Although she calls the voice her main instrument, Natalie plays nearly a dozen folk and classical instruments: She is the vocalist/percussionist/flautist for local folk dance band Orkestar Bez Ime (OBI), vocalist for the traditional Bulgarian dance band Traki, and bassist/backing vocalist for the John Denver cover band Country Roads. In a departure from her folk music life, Natalie also bridges the indie rock/pop/electronica scene: She writes, performes, and records with Reid Kruger as AM Supper Club, creates ethnic-referenced rock with multi-instrumentalist David Burk, and develops original downtempo and acid jazz songs with her husband and guitarist, Scott Keever. As a composer, Natalie creates genre-blending works for theater, dance, choral ensembles, and chamber ensembles.

artist statement

I believe the human voice—even in the absence of language—is the ultimate and most ancient communication tool: It links intangible thoughts and emotions to a tangible, often visceral, expression of need, desire, and commentary. It is the connective tissue that can bring disparate communities together. In performance, it serves as a translator for the audience and as the vehicle for a deeper musical and cultural concept.

As a vocalist steeped in exploring the range and capabilities of the human voice, my work focuses on connecting the artist and the listener in a tactile two-way communication between voice (heard) and soul (sensed) and imparting an experience that further connects both with traditions and viewpoints that are not necessarily their own. In particular, I strive to create meaningful ways of perpetuating Eastern European traditional music and folk arts through performance and education, and I seek out opportunities to fuse these sensibilities with other traditions and art forms in new, innovative works through collaborations and composition.

I'm the daughter of two Ukrainian immigrants, so traditional Eastern European music has always been an integral part of my life. I was raised singing Ukrainian folk songs and have since intimately learned, performed, and taught the folk music of more than 50 nationalities across the globe, specializing in music from the Balkan Peninsula and the Carpathian Mountains. With an early foundation in Western classical music, a longstanding career in world music, and a love of film soundtracks and popular music, I draw compositional inspiration from these diverse influences, particularly as an improvisatory palette. I create diverse works for dance, theater, aerial arts, performance art, film, choirs, and chamber ensembles.

Although I write both for the voice and for human-made instruments, my primary creative focus is on vocal compositions. I'm drawn to composing to foreign text, especially for languages that use softened consonants and pure vowels, naturally adding a layer of musicality to the piece by virtue of the natural linguistics. Informed especially by village singing techniques from the mountains of Eastern Europe, my favorite compositional tools include a pointed use of dissonance (and non-Western harmonic structures in general), drones, ornamentation, strident vocal techniques, improvisation, and complex meters. I sometimes juxtapose these more "traditional" aesthetics with "modern" ones like Western popular songwriting structures, warm/intimate vocal timbres, and electronic instruments.

at-a-glance stats

sung languages

Albanian, Egyptian Arabic, Lebanese Arabic, Armenian, Austrian German, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Carpatho-Rusyn, Corsican, Croatian, Czech, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, French Canadian, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, Georgian, German, Greek, Hawaiian, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Iranian/Persian, Italian, Karelian, Ladino, Latin, Latvian, Laz, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Megrelian, Montenegrin, Norwegian, Occitan, Polish, Rromany, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Svan, Swedish, Tibetan, Turkish, Ukrainian, Yiddish

voice (primary instrument)

additional competency in:

dumbek, hand/frame drums, tâpan (Balkan drum), taiko (Japanese drum), bass (electric and upright), piano, flute (classical), folk flutes (frula, dvoyanka/dvodentsivka, sopilka, kaval, penny whistle), gaida (Bulgarian bagpipe), bandura (Ukrainian lute-like string instrument), guitar, gamelan, accordion, didjeridoo

select compositions

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