April 2022: I'd like to thank so many of you who have reached out to me in the last two months since Putin began his brutal assault on Ukraine. Your messages of support and hope have been an incredible buoy. I've especially been heartened to hear from fellow musicians and music venues who have asked specifically how they can help with their talent, space, and platforms. And so, I've started a new music series whose main aim is to raise aid money to send to Ukraine. The series is called Musicians for Ukraine, and it kicks off this month. It features musicians of various genres from the Ukrainian diaspora and its allies, with stories from and about everyday Ukrainians. In an effort to bring Ukrainian music to new audiences, I'm asking each group to include at least one or two Ukrainian songs in whatever genre fits the group best, be it folk, rock, classical, hip hop, electronica, etc. If you or someone you know would like to be a part of this series, please check out the microsite above and send an email to mfuamn -at- gmail -dot- com to let me know how you'd like to help. Note that this is a volunteer-led effort, and all involved donate their time, talent, and space so that the most money as possible can be used toward humanitarian, medical, refugee, and other aid in Ukraine and amongst those displaced by the war.
The first eventa duo-based show called "Duets for Ukraine"is presented by Womenfolk Radio at the 331 Club in NE Minneapolis April 25. I'm thrilled to have my friends Lev & Olga and Soul Trouvère (including my OBI bandmate, Colleen Bertsch) play a couple of sets, with Scott Keever and I rounding out the last duo. The event will also be livestreamed for those unable to join us in person. Huge thanks to Ellen Stanley from Womenfolk Radio for inspiring this series and presenting the inaugural event!
Come May 6, the Musicians for Ukraine series will head to The Dakota in downtown Minneapolis for an evening of Eastern European music by SlovCzech, Orkestar Bez Ime, and Ukrainian Village Band. We're also working on a date soon at Celtic Junction, featuring some special guests. I'll be sure to add the dates to my events page, but also keep checking the Musicians for Ukraine microsite for updates. If you can't make any of the show dates and would like to donate aid money, I've listed several organizations below in my March 2022 post that could really use your dollars. Please give generously to help people like you and me have a fighting chance at freedom without terror. Big, big thank you!
March 2022 (with periodic updates throughout the month): As the world watched the unthinkable last week when Putin's forces invaded Ukraine, my family and I braced ourselves for an all too-familiar scene of our homeland and culture once again being threatened on the most fundamental level. It's unthinkable that in 2022 a force still exists that wishes to wipe out an entire sovereign nation. With friends and family still living in Ukraine, my hurt and anxiety are palpable.
The bright spot during this nightmare has been the outpouring of support from friends around the globe. If you reached out, thank you. I feel so lucky to have a network of friends from all over the world and from so many different nationalities who are offering me their support. I've also been inspired by the fighting spirit, cleverness, and determination of my fellow Ukrainians in Ukraine; I couldn't be more proud to be Ukrainian, especially during this dark hour.
If you're the praying type, please pray for Ukraine and its people; even if you're not the praying type, please send positive energy/wishes/thoughts to the millions of Ukrainians who are defending themselves and their homeland. If you're looking for more proactive ways to help, here are some great ways to be an ally:
I'll admit, when I started writing this post, I had only intended to write a few sentences. I've been reluctant to have any public appearances right now, but I've agreed to two this month after having been assured by my hosts that they will highlight some of the aid organizations that are helping get much-needed resources to Ukraine. If you purchase any albums from me this month, all the proceeds will go directly to humanitarian and refugee aid (note that Bandcamp is a pay-what-you'd-like model). As the kid of two refugees, I can't think of a better use for that money right now. Thank you for your friendship and allyship. Slava Ukrajini! Herojam slava!
January 2021: Friends. May I offer a round of deep breaths in the name of collective healing? Globally, we all know what a challenging year 2020 was, as has been the beginning of 2021. In the last 10 months, those of us in the States have not only experienced a pandemic and its unfathomable consequences hitting all aspects of society, but layered on top of that has been continued brutal violence toward our BIPOC friends and neighbors and an unconscionable domestic insurrection against our nation's capitol. The grief is overwhelming. And yet, we soldier on in whatever ways we can. Breathe in. Breathe out.
You've heard little from me these past several months becauselike so many other empathsI've had to refocus my energy and tend to my own well-being. In my case, this is a very new experience: I've been a life-long workaholic, community contributor, helper, educator, calendar-filler, and yes-girl such that I'd never really known before now what it means to take care of myself. Strangely, part of my self-care has been linked with taking somewhat of a sabbatical from music. Before you panic, let me explain.
When theater and music venues shut down in March 2020 and rehearsals ceased for the foreseeable future, most of us didn't know how long the collective lock-down would last. I took advantage of this forced break in my performance schedule to slow down a bit, get onto a regular sleep schedule, start reading books for pleasure again, use my backyard for the first time ever (I've been in this spot for 11 years!), learn to grill, pick up my embroidery projects, and just plain learn to relax. And I do mean learn: While many of my peers were already well-versed in bingewatching, I actually found myself feeling guilty if I'd watch more than two episodes of a TV show in a row without doing something "useful"anything usefulat the same time. (I think the guilt started to fade right around October or November, if that tells you anything.) During this time, I'd been keeping busy with my design work during the day and blissfully forcing myself to do nothing in the evening and on weekends, save for the occasional virtual happy hour or random jam session with my husband, Scott. As the overwhelm in our community ramped up, I found myself clinging more and more to this new thing called "self-care" in order to cope with the world around me and stay healthy. That meant music had to take a back seat: With the exception of some small recording projects, a couple of virtual university guest lecture-demonstrations, and Scott's monthly YouTube solo shows where I've made regular guest appearances, I've barely sung at all these last few months, nor have I done a lick of composing. It's not for lack of love for the artforms, but rather, I realized I needed a break to recharge. Ten months later, and I'm only now starting to consider ramping up a bit again, albeit slowly. I've learned more about myself in these last few months than some people learn in a lifetime, and I'm thankful for it.
So that's where I am. Make no mistake: Music is as important to me as breath; it's still in me, but I won't rush myself into a flurry of projects before I've had a chance to really recharge. I'm taking it slow. To start, I'm picking back up my composition work on "The Last Babushka" with a wonderful creative team that's scattered throughout the US. You'll hear more about this project as we get deeper into it. I'm also reacquainting myself with my voice in preparation for a solo appearance for Music: The Gathering, a weekly Zoom concert series started and curated by my OBI bandmate, Liz Draper. Besides that, I have a couple of non-trad collaborative projects on the back-burner for now as well as a monthly invitation to join my husband for his solo YouTube shows. I've posted some info and links on the Events page. As more ramps up, I'll be sure to keep you updated. Until then, stay healthy and safe, and please continue supporting the work of artists in your community.
April 2020: It's hard to believe it's already been seven months since the "Music from East of the Sun" premiere. I'm overwhelmed by all the positive responses about the concert, the concept, andespeciallythe album. You've been asking for a while, so I'm pleased to announce that "Music from East of the Sun" is now available for digital download from Bandcamp! You can download the whole thing or individual songs. Also available there is a pdf of the booklet with info about the project, each song, and a full listing of credits. I will eventually also have a slicker way to buy physical copies, so stay tuned about that. If you want a physical CD in the meantime, please get in touch with me (natalie -at- natalien -dot- com), and I'll be happy to mail one to you for $18 ($15 for the album plus $3 shipping/handling). During this uncertain time while many of us are on lockdown due to COVID-19, however, digital will be your best bet for the moment. Thanks to everyone for your support and energy around EOTS. I'm thrilled to finally make the album more broadly available!
Speaking of COVID-19 (really, is there anyone not talking about it?), this has been a challenging time for those of us who are used to being among people as performers, teachers, and overall human beings. I don't know a single person who hasn't been affectedsome very, very deeplyby this pandemic. Though I very much miss performing for audiences and collaborating live with fellow artists, I feel fortunate that, so far, I've been able to weather the storm: I've done some online concerts and continue to work on creative projects that are keeping me busystay tuned; more announcements to come. I'm also thankful that I've been healthy, regardless of the fact that I'm in a high-risk category and live in a neighborhood where people are not serious about taking precautions (but that's a story for another day). Until there's significant relief from the coronavirus here, my performance plans for 2020 remain in flux. I've kept some show listings on my Events page, with the understanding that things may change week by week, so it's always best to double-check with the venue to find out if the show is happening. I'll also do my best to keep my listings updated during this time of uncertainty. I hope that we'll soon see performers and performance venues thriving again.
To that end: In between taking some much-needed time for myself, I've been watching and financially contributing to my friends' and colleagues' online performances, from musicians to actors to dancers. I know many people who've lost a significant amount of income due to lockdown, so I really encourage those of us who have not been hit as hard to please find ways to support those who have. On a larger scale, there are two funds I highly recommend that I've contributed to that directly help artists with emergency funding during this time: Locally, Springboard for the Arts is raising money for the Artist Emergency Relief Fund, which has already helped one of the performers on the "Music from East of the Sun" album. Nationally, Creative Capital has joined forces with several other grantmakers to create Artist Relief for emergency funding to individual artists. If you're looking for ways to bump up your support of the arts community, please consider contributing to these funds and definitely help support individual artists by donating through their online shows (many folks have PayPal and/or Venmo) and/or by purchasing their published works. We'll come out of this, and we'll do it together. Hang in there.
January 2020: Come March 7, I'll be making my first appearance as a soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra as part of the Sam and Sarah Concert series. I'm thrilled to have been invited! That night, and for one night only, MN Orch presents "The Russian Century," highlighting music by Russian composers from the 20th and 21st centuries. The piece I'll be singingwhich ends the concertis by talented young New York-based composer Polina Nazaykinskaya, and is called "My Soul Craves for the Sky," written for string orchestra and folk singer. (You can probably guess which role I have.) I wasn't familar with Nazaykinskaya's work before this invitation, so I did a little recon, and HOLY COW, she's amazing, as is her piece I'll be singing. I've been not only impressed with her rich and delicious compositions, but I've also really loved learning more about who she is as a person. If you have 45 minutes to spareafter listening to some of her works at polinacomposer.comcheck out the YouTube interview she did with Edward Pankov to get a sense for her depth and humanity. I look forward to performing her piece and hope to do it justice.
To learn more about the March 7 show and to get your tickets, visit www.minnesotaorchestra.org. The concert features a pre-show happy hour and a reception with musicians onstage after the performance.
April 2019: I'm proud to announce that my full score of "East of the Sun" of will be premiered at Sundin Hall on the Hamline University campus this fall! Three of us have been hard at work on this project since 2015: Laurel Armstrong (co-creator, co-producer/director), Amanda Schnabel (dramaturg, co-producer), and me, making up the creative trio known as Seven Spells Productions. Laurel and I had been planning this piece since we met in 2019 while working on the Flying Foot Forum's "Heaven" (also being remounted this year!). The music ensemble12 instrumentalists and several singers!met for the first time in one room last month to play through the whole score, and the room was absolutely electric. First of all, I get to work with a dream team of incredible musicians, but then to hear these pieces come to life on the instruments they were written for...wow. Just wow. It makes me giddy for the recording project we'll all be doing this spring and summer to put the music down on vinyl (well, CDs). The cast recording will be available at the show on September 28, so mark your calendars and keep an eye out for a crowdfunding campaign to help support the recording project, which will feature 23 amazing Minnesota artists and about 30 pieces from "East of the Sun." The September show will also feature parts of the script, read from the stage by talented actor/singers, some of whom have been with us from the beginning of this project. You won't want to miss it!
A huge project like this isn't something that can be done on one's own, and there are a ton of people who have supported "East of the Sun" from the very beginning, whether with discounted rehearsal space, private donations, professional coaching and feedback, and overall moral support. I'd also like to give a huge thanks to two grantmaking organizations that have made the music-related work possible: The Jerome Foundation and American Composers Forum, whose JFund for New Music got the ball rolling for me when I received it in 2014; also, a big thank-you to the Minnesota State Arts Board for the Artist Initiative Grant I received this year to help me pay respectful wages to the incredible music ensemble you'll be hearing perform this fall. This'll be a great year!
Natalie Nowytski is a fiscal year 2019 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State's arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.
May 2018: It's been a busy spring (isn't it always?), and I'm in the throes of three very special projects that are launching right around the same time.
For one, my production cohorts and I from "East of the Sun" have launched an online fundraiser in preparation for our fall public workshop, which will feature some new music and scenes from our in-progress work. If you're interested in seeing the workshop, be sure to follow East of the Sun on Facebook, where you can also find out about the sneak peek we'll be doing in July during the Flying Foot Forum show at Park Square Theater. And by all means, if you'd like to contribute to our fundraiser on Chuffed so we can continue paying quality artists a fair wage for their work, I'd be honored to have your help!
The second project is both a reboot and yet a completely new piece: I worked with Paris 1919 last fall on a very cool ambient piece that leader Chris Strouth has expanded into a remarkable evening of music and multimedia called "For Now...", which has a timely and heartbreaking message about gun violence in our country. We'll be performing at St. Boniface church in NE Minneapolis the Saturday of Art-A-Whirl. It's a beautiful piece that I hope you will come see.
Finally, I'm thrilled to be returning to Theater Latte Da for "Underneath the Lintel", with local superstars Sally Wingert and Dan Chouinard. The three of us workshopped this piece together for TLD last summer with playwright Glen Berger and featuring new original music written by the Klezmatics' own Frank London. This well-respected one-man play has, in this version, taken on a woman as the lead (Sally) and added live music for Latte Da-style unobtrusive and meaningful story support. This is my first project with Sally, and it has been such a pleasure to work with her. And, of course, Dan is among my favorite musicians on the planet whom I've had the pleasure to work with for more than a decade, so getting to work with him again on a Latte Da show has been such a treat. The show runs June 2-July 1 at the Ritz Theater in NE Minneapolis, and you can get your tickets at latteda.org. I hope to see you there!
September 2017: The production teamnow named Seven Spells Productionsfor "East of the Sun" has been especially hard at work this past year as we continue to create and shape a new adaptation of the popular folk tale. With two public workshop showings under our belts now and an upcoming full script reading, a fully staged production is getting closer and closer to being realized. Wow, am I ever excited! We've started a Facebook page, where you can keep track of news on the production, see amazing costume and set inspiration, and hear some of my original demo tracks I wrote for the production. Facebook users, be sure to like us so you can stay up-to-date and get sneak peeks!
October 2016: My fellow Ells (see previous entry) and I have been hard at work on our new production of "East of the Sun West of the Moon," creating several sequences to workshop at Nautilus Music-Theater for their "Rough Cuts" seriesan opportunity for the audience and creative team to have a conversation about a new in-progress theatrical piece. We're staging approximately 5-6 sequences from Act 1 with some of the most versatile and talented performers the Twin Cities has to offer, including some of my colleagues from The Rose Ensemble, Flying Foot Forum, and Orkestar Bez Ime. If you're in town and would like to be part of the magic of seeing and reflecting on a cool, interdisciplinary new work, come to one of the showings on November 14 or 15. See the events calendar for more info. For more on Nautilus, check them out here.
April 2016: Boy, did winter fly by. After December's overwhelmingly successful world premiere of my new compositions, collectively entitled "Perekotypole" (Tumbleweed), I've heard from many singers, conductors, and arts patronsboth Ukrainian and non-Ukrainianthat these pieces have legs. In fact, several individuals have already taken it upon themselves to learn a song or two from the songbook. There's talk of presenting this new song cycle to various communities nationally, though nothing is set just yet. In the meantime, I'm getting requests across the country for a CD of these pieces. For those of you who have purchased a first edition of the songbook (thank you!), you can expect to receive an accompanying CD
before 2016 is out sometimejust send me your address. I'm currently working on recording this, less for casual listening and more as a study aid for those learning these songs. (Casual listeners, you'll either need to buy the second edition songbookwhich will include the CDwhen it's ready late 2016-early 2017, or you'll need to keep an eye out for possible future releases.) I'll post an update here when the second edition of the songbook is ready. In the meantime, thank you for all of the wonderful support I've received in response to this project. It's truly humbling.
If you follow my event calendar, you may have noticed a lot of performance listings with The Rose Ensemble this year. Primarily known as an Early Music chamber ensemble, the group has steadily added some stunning programming over the last 20 years that stretches those boundaries. I've known the director and many of the singers for years and have even served as a style and linguistic coach on the group's Ukrainian pieces in the past, so it's been especially rewarding to actually get to sing some of these pieces with them this year. Twin Cities-based audiences haven't had much of a chance to see me in action with Rose, however, as the three programs I've been involved with this seasonLand of Three Faiths, Roots of Bluegrass, and Slavic Wonderare popular touring shows. This month, all three shows are on the road at various times, with only one performance of each program in the Twin Cities. The programming for all three of these shows is a real joy to sing. I look forward to seeing how they evolve over time. And I extend a hearty "mnohiji lita" (many years) to my Rose colleagues in this 20th anniversary season.
If you've talked to me recently, you'll know I've been working on a brand new collaborative project based on the folktale East of the Sun West of the Moon. The brainchild of my friend and colleague, actress Laurel Armstrong, this new stage productionto be fully staged in 2018will be an intersection of aerial performance, percussive dance, and theater, largely inspired by the work of Cirque du Soleil and Flying Foot Forum. The talented Utah-based playwright/screenwriter Melissa Leilani Larson has been hard at work on the script while I've been composing the soundtrack-like music. Collectively, we've been calling ourselves Seven Ells (long story). In my busy-ness over this past year, I failed to mention a very important (to me) and exciting thing that happened, relative to this project: About a year ago, I received a Jerome Fund for New Music (JFund) through the American Composers Forum, which will help pay for the composing time and some of the musician time for this project. At the moment, East of the Sun is a self-produced show, but as we are still in the infant stage, it's too early to bring on a director and production company/theater company, though we are in preliminary talks with several. In the meantime, I've had the pleasure of presenting five of my pieces to a small group in a recent music workshops featuring three of my favorite Twin Cities singers. We'll be workshopping some movement and text this summer, with an in-progress presentation for Nautilus Theater's Rough Cuts series in the fall. This project has become a fantastic composing challenge, as I'm writing more as if for a film soundtrack and, for the first time, with electronic instruments in the mix. Boy, is this ever fun!
November 2015: Hopefully you've already been saving the date! I will be premiering my 13 new Ukrainian songs, set to Nadia Lan's poetry, with Mila Vocal Ensemble at MacPhail's beautiful Antonello Hall, where Lan's daughtermy grandmother(the late Oksana Bryn) was a beloved voice teacher for decades. The performance starts at 7pm and will be followed by a short Q & A and reception. Songbooks&complete with transliterations, translations, and context for each song&will be available for purchase with the hopes that the choral community will take these songs even further through their world music programs. Mila and I are also excited to announce that we'll be making a live album of these songs, to be released in early 2016. We'll be taking pre-orders at the December 4th concert.
On a personal note, this process has been so enriching for me. Though I'm no stranger to composition, writing this particular collection of music has been a very different and personal journey, full of both challenges and joys. I'm so thankful to my amazing friends and colleagues in Mila for dedicating their fall to this project, for working in such a different way, and for participating in the shaping process. You won't want to miss this, so mark your calendars for Friday, December 4th at 7pm!
September 2015: If you know me, you may have heard me talk about wanting to set my great-grandmother's poetry to song. I'm honored to say that, thanks to a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant (see below), I have had exactly that opportunity these past few months, and I am now rehearsing them with my friends at Mila Vocal Ensemble.
But let me back up.
The year I was born, Nadia Lan (my great-grandmother's pen name) compiled decades' worth of her poetry in a collection called Perekotypole (Tumbleweeda metaphor for the Ukrainian culture, especially those who have emigrated). Her poems range from the early 1920s when she was a young woman in Ukraine living under the oppression of a newly established Soviet empire, to her post-WWII years living in a German refugee camp, to her transition as a New American in the 1970s. Thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking, compassionate, sternher poetry is the embodiment of so many people's experiences, not only of her lifetime, but also of today. I thought for many years how much this poetry needed to be sung, so I'm proud to say the time has come. From the "tester piece" Do molodi (To Youth) that my wonderful teen campers at Village Harmony took on last yearbefore I wrote the grantto the two songs I presented to my adult Village Harmony campers this year, to the 13 songs I will be working on with Mila, Lan's poetry has already made a mark on the singing world. My hope is that other choral ensembles will be compelled to carry it even further and incorporate these new Ukrainian songs into their world music programs, sharing stories that we, as humans, seem to forget until history is repeated.
The premiere will be held the evening of December 4 at MacPhail Center for Music's beautiful Antonello Hall, where Lan's daughter, the late Oksana Bryn, was a beloved voice teacher for many decadesincluding mine.
Natalie Nowytski is a fiscal year 2015 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State's arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.
December 2013: Fans of Orkestar Bez Ime, Ukrainian Village Band, Mila Vocal Ensemble, and The Niks got an early Christmas present on December 6: the ultimate supergroup show. Thanks to a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Hamline University hired me to curate the Eastern European portion of their "Roots Music" series, so how could I not hire the best EE folk musicians in town for a supergroup blowout? It all happened at Sundin Hallprobably the best place in town to hear music. Though it was a cold and icy night, the hall was filled with warm applause as each group got a spotlight performance before we started getting crazy with collaborations, culminating in a 24-member ensemble finale. Why none of us have thought to do this supergroup thing before is beyond me, but now we've all been bitten by the bug and are eager to regroup, possibly for a future tour if the finance gods smile upon us. I owe tremendous thanks, not only to all of the artists, but also to Miriam Gerbergherself an accomplished Arabic musicianwho extended the invitation to curate in the first place. Extra thanks also go out to my bandmates in OBI for playing a wonderfully fun dance party the following night (and to Don LaCourse for teaching dances so beautifully!) and for teaching two back-to-back Balkan music workshops earlier in the week. Between this series and my Amerikana CD release party earlier this year, I've discovered that, when I have free reign and money to work with, I really like organizing concerts...as long as I'm in them!
Speaking of workshops and amazing music, I'm excited to announce that I'll be co-teaching a vocal workshop right here in St. Paul with my Vermont-based colleague, Brendan Taaffe. I know, I know! My workshops are usually out-of-town! But now all of you folks who love to sing and want to learn some beautiful traditional vocal music from around the world get to do just that, without having to trek however many states over. So, mark your calendar for January 4, 2-5pm at Unity Church's Robbins Parlor (733 Portland Ave, St. Paul). Brendan will be sharing his expertise in songs from Zimbabwe, the Occitan people in France (*amazing* music if you've never heard it), and America (bluegrass gospel and shape note). I'll have my arsenal of traditional new year and other songs from Eastern Europe. Even if you've worked with me before as a student or collaborator, you'll be learning something new. You can read about the workshop and register here. The fee is a reasonable $20, or $15 for students. Brendan and I hope to see you there!
September 2013: It's a blessing and a curse, doing what you love, especially if people happen to think you're pretty good at it. It means you stay busy, sometimes very, very busy. Like this fall. Thankfully for me, the blessing of doing what I love outweighs the temporary discomfort of having a schedule that is a biterchallenging. I'm so proud to be part of two unique productions running almost concurrently this fall: The Flying Foot Forum's Three and Three at The Cowles Center and Theater Latte Da's Steerage Song at The Lab Theater. They both remind me why I chose a career in the arts...and why I never look back.
I've had the pleasure of working with Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum many times over the years, most recently on an especially inventive staging of "Alice in Wonderland" during a residency at St. Olaf in January. The work I got to do with the St. Olaf students inspired Joe and me to develop a collaborative piece that will be premiering on September 20th at The Cowles Center in the Flying Foot Forum's repertory show, Three and Three, which all of Orkestar Bez Ime will also be a part of. My piece, titled "Love-Gift," sets Lewis Carroll's text against a flurry of musical influences that have informed my work as a musician (yodeling, Bulgarian village singing, Arabic modes, Taiko drumming, Korean drum dances), and wraps the entire package in a dreamscape that is both magical and yes, even a little disturbing. Thanks to the handy work of Dean Hawthorn of Savage Aural Hotbed, we even got a modular instrument built for "Love-Gift!" Though I've technically done commissioned work, somehow this piece feels like a milestone in my careerit's certainly me at my most vulnerable. A lot of artists try to avoid that vulnerability, but I've found that it's the thing that feeds the most engaging art. I hope that rings true for "Love-Gift."
Later this month, I'll be in a 3-week run of Theater Latte Da's "Steerage Song" at The Lab Theater (opens September 28th). If you've been keeping track over the years, I've been in a few versions of this docu-musical since 2011, but none have been so complete and robust as this one: For the first time, "Steerage" is being fully staged, complete with sets, costumes, and choreography. The production, which traces European immigration into Ellis Island from the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, focuses on documented stories from the immigrants themselves, from undercover journalists traveling in steerage, from newspaper clippings and presidential speeches, and from other sources to piece together different perspectives on immigration in America. It's a story that resonates even today. In preparing for for this show, I've been reminded of my own family's immigration experience from Ukraine toeventuallyEllis Island: how my great-grandmother fled war-torn Ukraine with both of her kids and thought for many years that her son had perished after he was lost mid-flight (years later, the family learned he had survived and was back in Ukraine); how my mom's side of the family spent years waiting in a German refugee camp before getting the green light to board the Marine Tiger and set sail for a better life in America; how my mother, having spent her fifth birthday on the boat, wanted nothing more than to take a hatchet to it at the end of the month-long trip in steerage. It's these stories, these familiar faces, that are informing my performance. "Steerage Song" has always been a very personal production for me, and nowhere is it more personal than in my family's eyes. I feel honored to be able to tell their story through my work.
May 2013: I feel so blessed, not only to have had a successful CD release party (nearly twice as many people showed up as what I had hoped for!) with a generous audience and top-notch musicians, but also because without so many people's help, "Amerikana" would not have been possible in the first place. To all the wonderful folks who contributed to my RocketHub campaignwhether via the site or in personI tip my hat to you:
Andy & Slava Bryn
Olenka & George Cooley
John & Theresa Czichray
James E. Holdman
Pat Jakobsen & Lloyd Griep
Amy & Craig Jarrell
Emily Jarrett Hughes
Melissa & Tony Johnson
Paul Keever & Lorraine Irmen
Jim Kiehne & Linda Fritschel
Donald La Course
Nadia & Slavko Nowytski
Katie & Paul Riddell (twice!)
David W. Schroth
Esteban Julio Vázquez
Jo Ann Vano
Tim & Carol Wahl
Dayna Jean Wolter
I'd also like to extend a special thank-you to the Black Dog Coffee & Wine Bar, which generously provided bonus gifts during the RocketHub campaign; to the Minnesota State Arts Board for their Artist Initiative Grant that funded the bulk of this project (see below); to all the folks that helped make the CD release party possible, including Sokol Minnesota, Joyce Tesarek Petrik, Ed Hammernik, Jitka Sebek & "the Czech moms," Beatrice Flaming, Katie and Paul Riddell; and finally, to all the amazing musicians who oozed magic throughout the album and the CD release party: Dan Gaarder, Steve Kaul, Scott Keever, Adam Kiesling, Peter Ostroushko, Jim Parker, and Gabriela Sweet. THANK YOU ALL!
March 2013: Ok. Two things: (1) Eeeeeeek! (2) Yaaaaaaaay!
Translation: (1) My first solo album, Amerikana (see below), is in its final stages of production, and I have a CD release party scheduled for April 20 at the CSPS Hallthe Twin Cities home of the very people whose folk music I bent into American folk styles. I've been blessed to have some of the best folk musicians in town playing on this albumSteve Kaul (also my co-producer) from The Brass Kings, Adam Kiesling from Pert' Near Sandstone, Peter Ostroushko, Jim Parker (once my Ukrainian Village Band bandmate), Scott Keever (my Orkestar Bez Ime bandmate), and Gabriela Sweet (my voice-mate in Mila many years ago). Together, we have put together an incredible body of work that includes folk songs from Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Rusyns in Easetern Slovakia, all set to American bluegrass, old time, country, and Americana. (Why the "k" in the title, you ask? Because that's how an Eastern European would spell it.) This is a project that's been on my mind for over a decade now, so I'm thrilled that it's finally coming to fruition! The CD release party is $12 ($10 for Sokol Minnesota members) and begins at 8pm. No opening band, just us. Download, print and post this flyer if you know of some people and places that would appreciate Central and Eastern European bluegrass. It is also, handily, quite emailable as well.
(2) On a related note, I've launched a RocketHub campaign to help raise the last of the funds to cover the 3 Ms: mixing, mastering, and manufacturing the CD. Folks have been wonderful about contributing and sharing the link with others; I hope you will consider doing so as well! I'm offering some fun and unusual incentives, like singing an Eastern European greeting into your (or a friend's) voicemail, giving voice lessons and group singing workshops, signed CDs and free tickets to the CD release party, and lots of other great gifts to show my appreciation for all funding levels. The campaign only runs until April 2, so if you'd like to support my project, please head over to my RocketHub page and make your selection. While you're at it, you can read more about Amerikana and check out the video for a sneak peek at some of the music that will appear on the album!
In the meantime, put April 20 on your calendar for an evening of unique music performed by some of the best musicians in town. Come to the show! It would be great to see you!
Natalie Nowytski is a fiscal year 2012 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State's arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.
December 2012: The folks at Village Harmony and I have been plotting for a couple of years about starting a Midwest-based teen traveling camp, and I'm pleased to announce that it is finally on the books! I'll be co-leading Village Harmony's first-ever Midwest camp June 22-July 7, along with amazing singer-teachers Mollie Stone and Will Thomas Rowan. If you are ages 12-19 and love to singor if you know a teen who loves to singsign up now for two of the most fun weeks of your life! We'll spend the first week rehearsing in the beautiful Michigan-based Ronora Lodge, working on songs as diverse as the leaders' expertise: South African dance-songs, American gospel, Renaissance motets, Eastern European village music, Corsican paghjella, Occitan songs, and original compositions. Week two will be chock full of touring between Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin; the campers get to perform all of their cool new repertoire each night in a different venue. This will be the third camp I've co-lead, and I can't wait! I wish I had known about Village Harmony camps when I was a teenager: They are absolutely life-changing and exhilarating, not to mention a great environment in which to be yourself. Midwestern teens, I hope you'll join me for this awesome adventure! Please print out and post this flyer wherever young singers areschools, churches, cafes, music studiosand email it around to help the first ever Village Harmony Midwest Teen Traveling Camp get off to a great start!
August 2012: This has been such an incredible, fulfilling, musical summer that I hardly know where to start! I've had the wonderful experience of teaching at Village Harmony summer teen camps and workshop weekends for the last two years, but this summer's session was particularly special: For three weeks, VH founder Larry Gordon and I had the sonic pleasure of teaching and listening to Village Harmony alumni perform songs that some professional choirs have trouble tacklingas in out-of-left-field Bulgarian songs, stylistically demanding Romany arrangements, grow-gills-because-there's-no-place-to-breathe Latvian choral gems. I love how, even though I threw complicated pieces at themwhich they learned in a week, by the wayin a handful of languages some of them had never heard much less sung in, they rose to the challenge gracefully and with an upbeat spirit that made the performances that much more fun. I believe a selection of these performances will be available on a forthcoming "Best of Village Harmony" CD. You can bet I'll be buying one.
Orkestar Bez Ime experienced a very big biggie this summer as well. You know that McKnight Fellowship we won (see below)? Well, we couldn't have used it on anything more instructive and valuable than traveling to Serbia and studying as a band at the Amala School of Romany music and language in Valjevo. Wow, was it ever an intense two weeks! We spent around 6-8 hours a day playing/singing, most of that time in lessons (mornings were filled with individual lessons, while afternoons focused on ensemble plus language and culture lessons). We had the good fortune to study with world-class musicians from ensembles like Kal and Earth Wheel Sky Band and to learn about Roma culture from community members who offered various perspectives, from the music industry and touring to politics to human rights to linguistics. Though I came to Amala with the intention of studying voice, I spent most of my studies on dumbek (as the school's director said, exasperated, after my prompting him for voice lessons, "Honey, what can I teach you?!"yay for validation!). Our teachers were impressed with us and took especially to our Bulgarian material to the point where we performed for just about every guest that came to visit. The instructors were tough while still remaining encouraginga combination we had both hoped for and expected (having studied with non-Minnesotans in the past). I even managed to learn a little Serbian while I was at it: I tried out my broken Serbian on a few folks, including my friend and former Mila Vocal Ensemble colleague, Sanja, whom I visited before camp in her new home in Vojvodina. The bottom line is that each of us in OBI had different experiences of Amala, but all six of us agree that it was money well-spent as an investment in our ensemble. When you have an experience like that, it's hard not to changewe've become even better. Our studies aren't nearly done, but we will continue to incorporate into our Romany material all the delicious stylistic elements that are embedded into that vibrant culture. There is already talk of going back. So if anyone reading this is looking for a new musical opportunity in a foreign land and has a thick skin, I highly recommend it. The experience was unforgettable, from our gracious hosts, to our ridiculously talented teachers, to the beautiful scenery, to the tomatoes. Oh my. Those tomatoes!
March 2012: Apparently, I'm on a roll. Yes, it's a grant. No, it's not for a group....It's for ME! Okay, backing up: Since 2005, I've been sitting on three really wonderful recordings of Czech and Slovak songs that I sang along with Jana (Stow) Velo, to the Americana-inspired sounds of instrumentalists Steve Kaul, Gabriela Sweet, and Leo Whitebird. This was a concept that developed out of a collaboration between Steve (a self-described "folk revisionist") and Mila Vocal Ensemble (when I was director) for the Resophonic Guitar Festival at the Cedar Cultural Center a few years before the recording took place. Between that experience and my memory of Czechs going wild over Ethnic Dance Theatre's American material during our 2001 tour in Czech Republic, I knew this was something that needed to be expanded upon. I've been wanting to develop that concept of Czech-Slovak-American folk fusion into a full-length album for some time, and the opportunity came when I decided to apply for an Artist Initiative Grant through the Minnesota State Arts Board. As of a couple of days ago, I am an Artist Initiative Grant recipient, which means I can move full steam ahead on this thing with some of the best American folk musicians in Minnesota! On a personal level, this project is especially important to me because it will actually be my first solo album. I'm so excited and incredibly thankful to have this opportunity. I'll share more about this project (working title: "Amerikana") as we get further into the process, but the goal is to have it done before the end of the year. If you'd like to hear a sample from the 2005 session, check out #11 (Tece voda tecea Czech favorite) on the samples page. In the meantime, let me just say to the Universe: Thank you...and keep 'em coming!
October 2011: Holy cow! From start to finish, 2011 has shaped up to be "The Award Year," and it is marking a major turning point in my artistic career and visibility. In May, Orkestar Bez Ime (OBI) was honored with a McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians (administered by MacPhail Center for Music) after going through several rounds of tough competitionpanelists sifted through more than 200 applicants, narrowing down their choices from two different rounds of sample recordings, one round of written grant applications, and one round of auditions in front of out-of-state judges before the Fellowships were awarded. OBI was one of four performing musicians that received the $25,000 award. We wrote the grant with the intent to travel and study together. Right now we're putting our heads together as to which culture's music we most want to immerse ourselves in, and we'll go from there. The McKnight is a very prestigious award and a high honor for people in the arts. We're thrilled beyond belief and so thankful to have been recognized for our work!
The other biggie this year came in response to the Flying Foot Forum's production of "Heaven," which I mentioned in an earlier post. We staged this music-dance-theater piece in March at the Guthrie Theater to critical acclaim. So much so that the dance community honored the production teamwhich includes Bob Hammel & Steve Campbell (video), Marcus Dilliard (lighting), and Chan Poling and me/Peter O'Gorman/Victor Zupanc/Joe Chvala (score and music)with a SAGE Award for Outstanding Dance! Although there were numerous people who contributed their talent to make this production a success, It is Joe and Chan who made it possible in the first place: Without their dedication to this project over the last 10 years, it wouldn't have been possible. I'm completely humbled to have been part of such a dynamic and important piece of work...and really tickled that I get to share an award with a Suburb(!). To read Caroline Palmer's review of the show, visit StarTribune.com.
May 2010: Wow, I didn't realize how busy this spring and summer looked until I actually wrote it down. I love being a musician, because you get to have a new adventure every time you play and sing. I had a blast with Orkestar Bez Ime (OBI) this May when we took a minitour through the Midwest, playing in Madison, Chicago, and near Battle Creek in Michigan. We made some new friends and connections and had a chance to really bond as a group (it's hard not to when you're stuck in a van together for a week). We've recently recorded a new studio album (in the final mixing stages now!) with none other than my dear friend and favorite engineer, Reid Kruger. "Mahala Drive" is slated to be released in July, and it will include a lot of new songs as well as a couple of rearranged favorites. Being in album mode with OBI is making me itch to head into the studio myself for some other projects. But more on that when there's something tangible to tell.
With my OBI pals, we have a couple more Wisconsin-based events waiting for us yet this summer, first in Beloit in June, then July in Door Countyprobably one of the prettiest areas I've seen in the States. In addition to us playing the dance parties a couple of nights, I'll be conducting a total of four vocal workshops at the Door County Folk Festival, which I'm really looking forward to. So, if you'll be there and you want to learn some fun Eastern European singing techniques, come! I'll be doing two sessions each day Friday and Saturday (see events page for more info), one called "Singing for Dance," and one called "Finding Your Village Voice" (the sessions repeat both days). I always love conducting vocal workshops, because the energy in the room and the transformation in sound is so amazing to experience, whether the attendees are new to singing or are seasoned singers. Or maybe it's just that I love getting a room full of adults making Xena Warrior Princess sounds at one another. In any case, no one walks out of these things without having had the time of their lives.
For the past year or so, I've been working with my buddy Joe Chvala on a piece he co-wrote nearly ten years ago that is finally coming up from the ashes and slated to be staged at the Guthrie Theater in spring of 2011. It's a musical dance theatre piece set in wartime Bosnia in 1994. We recently started rehearsals for it, as it is probably the largest piece he has staged and is quite complicated. Besides working with a phenomenal cast of actors, dancers and musicians (including Chan Poling, Peter O'Gorman, and my own OBI bandmates Colleen Bertsch and Dee Langley), I'm excited to be so involved in the entire process, between planning, working with our Bosnian consultants, and even composing a piece for a particularly dramatic moment of dance in the show. Working with Joe is always inspiring, between his ability to balance drama and humor, his trademark-worthy dance moves, and his collaborative nature. Stay tuned for show dates as we get closer to it!
Finally, my music duo life is picking up again, not only in that AM Supper Club is rehearsing and recording some new material (yay!), but also in that...well, I've done it again: I've found a new project to add to my arsenal. Most people know David Burk for his work in The Rose Ensemble, among other groups around town. He is a phenomenal musician and a really neat person. We had a chance to work together this past spring for Ethnic Dance Theatre's spring show, "Ports of Call," which ended up setting a slew of new ideas in motion, one of which is an "ethnic-referenced" rock project, among many others. With his background in Persian and Arabic music as well as early music, plus mine in Eastern European folk music, and our mutual interest in rocking out and writing new material, we've decided it would be ridiculous not to work together on SOMETHING. So we've set up a few play dates to just jam and see what we come up with (the first jam had him playing electric saz...how cool is THAT?). In the meantime, we'll also be working up some traditional material from our respective areas of expertise. It's too early to know where it's going yet, but if the first jam session is any indication, this could be a walloping good time!
November 2009: For those of you who have been following the Natalie and Reid saga, as pertaining to our name, we finally selected a winner with the help of friends and family who know us and have heard us. Call us AM Supper Club! You can find us all over the place: Facebook, iLike, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube (videos coming soon), and HearItLocal.com. And soon (but not yet) on our own home-base of a site. This fall, we started rehearsing with drummer Reid Kennedy to experiment with our live sound experience. You can hear the three of us rock out at Club Underground December 7th. Stay tuned for an early 2010 live date as well.
I'm amazed the new singers in Mila don't have whiplash yet! It's been a whirlwind half-year for the new line-up, and they've been meeting the challenge head-on with energy and grace by hunkering down in the rehearsal room and learning to sing in unusual and cool ways while analyzing how cultures differ in their pronunciation of the letter A. On Mila's invitation, we put our heads together for a couple of guest lectures on Eastern European folk singing this fall, one for a course Jen is teaching at Macalester, one for the Thursdays at Four series at the University of Minnesota, arranged by former EDT (pre-Mila) singer, Susannah Smith. You can catch the U of M lecture online, which was part-performance and part-discussion. (Check out the spiffy map Jen whipped up!) The ladies did a lot of fast-forward work to make this a success, and they did great! I'm really proud of how far the new ensemble has come in such a short amount of time. Rumor has it that Jen and I will be working on a related post-lecture Q and A for Bat of Minerva. I'll let you know more as we get there.
June 2009: OK, so the headline doesn't quite feel as good to say as the Wizard of Oz line, but hey, it sums up my musical life beautifully.
January 2008: Happy new year! After nearly three years of jamming, writing and recording, Reid Kruger and I are finally performing as a duo. Our motto since our first meeting in '05 has been "walk in with nothing, walk out with something." What's resulted has been an amazing and eclectic mix of indie pop, acoustic rock, electronica, and unclassifiable soundscapes (with nods to the world of opera and world music)all improvized from the get-go. We've kept much of our work true to the original off-the-cuff versions, with a few thoughtful revisions. We'll be debuting some of our original material on February 1 in Linden Hills. I CAN'T BELIEVE WE'RE FINALLY DOING IT! It seems so strange that, even though I've been a performer all my life, this is that pivotal point I've been looking forward to since I was 12. It's not only a chance for me to perform something I created (and debut on guitar...eek!), but it's a chance to do something I don't know that I've ever done: sing in my own voice. I'm so used to refining a style to its most minute detail, preserving that authenticity of timbre, ornamentation, pronunciation, you name it. But being myself? Nope. Haven't really tried it. This project has been so good for me on so many levels. It's challenged me to become a better instrumentalist, a more disciplined writer, a proactive collaborator. It's also taught me how to sing like me, not like somebody else. That's pretty freaky. The whole experience has been really humbling, and I'm giddy just knowing that this is only the beginning. (Check out numbers 10 and 12 on the samples page or listen to "Coming Home" on MySpace for a preview.)
December 2007: I always love the end of December because, at least for the last five years, I've had the delightful and peaceful experience of sharing the stage with one of my favorite peoplePeter Ostroushko. We just did his annual Heartland Holiday concert on the 22nd at the Fitzgerald Theater, and as always, it put me in such a great mood...even with the addition of Teddy Bear's Picnic. (Insert emoticon of choice here.) Every year, the previous year's show gets broadcast on National Public Radio. This year I had the extra treat of being interviewed with Peter by Julie Amacher for the 2007 broadcast. If you're listening in Minnesota, tune into The Current on Christmas Eve. One thing you'll hear is the world premier of a carol I wrote. Shcho to za predyvo, sung by my sister, Olenka, and me, appears on our debut album, Zyma (Winter). It's a melody I wrote to existing$#151;very archaiclyrics. I'm thrilled it made it onto the broadcast this year! And I'm thankful to close out another year with some of the neatest, most talented musicians I've ever had the pleasure to work with.
Fall 2007: I think "variety" is a keyword this season. After a busy summer that included a foray into the Circus (Juventas, to be exact), what had initially looked like a fairly straightforward fall became a mass of exciting and demanding music projects. I had the good fortune to work with my pal, Ruth MacKenzie, and an all-star cast of musicians on the 10-year anniversary of her epic work, "Kalevala: Dream of the Salmon Maiden." This enormous undertaking had me kulning, buzzing and making all sorts of noises to kick off the annual Nordic Roots Festival here in Minneapolis. But being done with that only meant diving head-first into the completion of Orkestar Bez Ime's endcap of the popular "Nice Driveway" trilogy. We'll be celebrating the release of our third volume, "Rogarian Baba-que" on October 13 at the Cedar (check out the events page for info. That place is starting to feel like home! Although the fun with OBI never stops, once the Big Day is behind us, I'll be heading straight into prepping for the first-ever "art day" show. My duet buddy, Reid Kruger, and I nearly have our live arrangements figured out for our most recent tunes, and yes, there WILL be looping involved! No word yet on a final name for the band, however. Why does it have to be so easy for some and so hard for others?
Ever since "The Dreaded Nowytski Sisters" were little, we knew we had to record together. Thanks to some prodding from friends and family (and perhaps good planetary alignment), Olenka and I have just released our first-ever duet album. Winter (Zyma), which was released December 8, features a cappella Christmas and New Years carols from Ukraine...and even one composed carol by me! Check out www.sisters.natalien.com to order online and learn more about this first installment in our larger music preservation project. Needless to say, our parents are very proud...and our supporters are wondering what took us so long.
I've spent the last several months with my friend and engineer, Reid Kruger, cranking out some of the most creative, crazy and fun material either of us have done in a long time, if ever. Every art day begs a new approach to improvising, writing, making, recording and editing music. We've been picking up whatever instruments are around that day and throwing down vocal tracks with lyrics fitting the day's mood. Considering I haven't solidly written in years, this project is as challenging as it is rewarding. The end goal will be a new CD and and eventual tour. Until that time, you can hear snippets from two of our latest off-the-cuff tunes on the sound samples page. Stay tuned for more good, clean fun.