To Eighth Blackbird, ‘new classical’ means everything, nothing

Eighth Blackbird will appear at a number of related events in conjunction to their April 2 concert at Schwab Auditorium.
Eighth Blackbird will appear at a number of related events in conjunction to their April 2 concert at Schwab Auditorium. Photo provided

The Grammy Award-winning group Eighth Blackbird has found the ideal musical genre to showcase their talents. A contemporary music sextet based out of Chicago, Eighth Blackbird boasts graduates from some of the finest musical schools in the country (Oberlin, Juilliard and the Curtis Institute) with the talent, ambition and willingness to experiment that throws a wrench at the common misconceptions that plague their art.

State College will have the opportunity to experience this fascinating sonic adventure that has garnered accolades from around the world when Eighth Blackbird performs at Schwab Auditorium.

If “contemporary classical music” gives you pause, it shouldn’t. According to flutist Tim Munro, it’s a nonfactor.

“The wonderful thing about ‘contemporary classical music’ or ‘new classical music’ is that it means absolutely nothing,” Munro said, “In other words, it means all things and everything. As an ensemble, we’re excited to reflect the diversity of the musical world in 2015, whether that is indie rock, African drumming, ’70s funk, folk ballads or 18th-century music.”

Munro said Eighth Blackbird has been fighting the stuffy notions of the classical music genre since the group started.

“Audiences are still apprehensive of us,” he said. “Our intention is to create shows that will engage audiences from all backgrounds, whether they walked in off the street with no idea of who we are, or whether they have our complete back catalog. There are plenty of fun, easy-pleasing bows in our quiver, but we also want to jab people occasionally, give them a little friendly provocation, just as you might add hops to a beer, or give a short story a twist in its tail. We like to think that our programs balance the sass with the sweet.”

The sort of music that Eighth Blackbird plays is inherently complex. As if Eighth Blackbird’s live shows weren’t already exciting enough in their unpredictability, the musicians also pride themselves on studying and knowing every musical note.

“One of the marvelous things about the music world now is that absolutely nothing is off the table for any ensemble,” Munro said. “One unique thing that we bring is a willingness to memorize quite difficult music, which leaves us flexible and free to incorporate physical movement into our performances.

“Some potential audience members might write us off as ‘avant-garde’ musicians, producing music that screeches and grunts and is full of dissonance and wildness,” Munro said, “but I might encourage them to come and experience Eighth Blackbird live, because we might be many things, but we are not stuffy and self-serious.”