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'The newest reed quintet out there': Fivemind Reeds plants music in northern Michigan

 Fivemind Reeds performs in a garage
Members of Fivemind Reeds perform as cars are repaired in a garage

Thacher Schreiber, Darren Liou, Alex Lee, Matthew Rasmussen and Jacob Freiman are planting music in unexpected places this summer through IPR's Sound Garden Project.

If you've seen an oboe at the grocery store, a bassoon on the golf course or a saxophone at the drive-through window this summer, then you've probably encountered one of IPR's Sound Garden Project ensembles in action.

The three resident ensembles have been planting music in unexpected places across northern Michigan this summer.

One of those ensembles is Fivemind Reeds, an ensemble that originated in Los Angeles and whose members are now located from coast to coast.

The members of Fivemind Reeds this summer are Thacher Schreiber (oboe), Darren Liou (clarinet), Alex Lee (saxophone), Matthew Rasmussen (bassoon) and Jacob Freiman (bass clarinet).

They visited IPR's Studio A (one of their more traditional performance venues this summer) to play music, discuss the history of the reed quintet as an ensemble and talk about what it's been like planting music across the region.

Members of the Fivemind Reed Quintet play oboe and saxophone at Tom's.
Members of the Fivemind Reed Quintet play oboe and saxophone at Tom's.

The quintet formed by sheer luck: they were assigned together as an ensemble by their music professors at UCLA. But they worked together so well that they have continued to play together even as members have graduated and moved across the country.

"We're really ramping things up and trying to establish ourselves as the newest reed quintet out there," saxophonist Alex Lee explained.

The reed quintet as an ensemble type is actually quite new. The first professional reed quintet was Calefax, a Dutch quintet formed in the 1980s.

One of the complications with playing in a newer type of ensemble is that there hasn't been much music composed for this particular configuration of instruments: clarinet, oboe, saxophone, bassoon and bass clarinet.

"Most of our major repertoire has been composed in the last 15 years," oboist Thacher Schreiber said. "If we want to play something old, we have to arrange it ourselves."

To that end, the members of Fivemind Reeds have commissioned new pieces and also arranged older pieces for themselves.

In their Studio A session, they played a transcription of a Mozart serenade created by the group's bassoonist Matthew Rasmussen.

They also performed selections from "Postcards," a piece by composer Madeline Barrett that Fivemind Reeds both commissioned and premiered.

The quintet met Barrett at UCLA, and she was open to writing music for their ensemble.

"She's a delightful person, and we wanted some delightful music from her," Schreiber said.

The members of Fivemind Reeds met in Los Angeles, but they're here in northern Michigan this summer as one of IPR's Sound Garden Project resident ensembles.

They've played music everywhere from golf courses to grocery stores, an approach they say makes classical music seem more human and accessible to their audiences.

"There's a tradition in classical music where we as the performers are up here, and you as the listeners are down there, clapping for us," Lee explained. "But this approach makes the entire experience more interesting for everyone."

 Fivemind Reeds performs at Oliver Art Center. Matthew Schlomer takes a photo.
Fivemind Reeds performs at Oliver Art Center in Frankfort

In addition to their performances in drive-through windows and garages, they've given some slightly more formal concerts.

But even in those concerts, the audience may start out sitting in a seat with the ensemble playing in front of them, but they won't stay that way for long.

At a recent performance at Oliver Art Center in Frankfort, audience members were invited to move through the gallery and choose a work of art that best exemplified the piece of music that Fivemind was playing. They were also encouraged to photograph the work of art and compare it to those that their neighbors had chosen.

"There were a lot of agreements between people who hadn't even been sitting near each other in the audience before," Lee said. "It was really interesting and fun for everyone involved."

IPR's Sound Garden Project is made possible in part thanks to the generous support of Golden-Fowler Home Furnishings.

Kelley DiPasquale engineered this recordings heard in this podcast.

Alexandra Herryman provided additional support.

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.