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Nathan Thatcher

Terms of Venery (2018)

Terms of venery are collective nouns used to describe groups of animals. Some of these are terms we all know and take for granted: a pride of lions, a herd of sheep, a flock of birds, a pack of wolves. We tend to know that these words aren’t interchangeable; it would sound silly to say a school of ducks. Some others exist more on the fringe of general knowledge, mostly specialized: a clutch of chickens, a pod of dolphins, a  bed of oysters. Still others are either entirely antiquated or too fanciful or particular to find a place in common usage but are often strangely appropriate: a smack of jellyfish, a gaze of raccoons, a murder of crows, a siege of herons, a parliament of owls, a phalanx of storks, a convocation of eagles.

Terms of venery originated in French courtly traditions where they were used in the nobleman’s passtime of  hunting. Many of these terms have made their way into modern English via a book published in 1486 called “The Boke of Seynt Albans” by British noble-born nun and sportswoman Juliana Berners. The book includes an extensive list she calls “The companyes of bestys & foules.” The names of the movements of this piece come from her list:

  • a Dryfte of tame swyne
  • a Mustre of pecockys
  • a Shrewdenes of apys (apes)
  • a Duell of turtylles
  • a Cast of hawkis
  • a Barren of mulys
  • a Labor of mollys (moles)
  • a Dyssymulacon of byrdes
  • an Exaltynge of larkys   

Following the Norman conquest of the British Isles, the French language and customs infiltrated the formerly-Saxon English society. That is, they infiltrated the culture of the gentry and upper class. It  became possible to distinguish those of high and low birth by the words they used. The proper use of terms of venery remained a marker of “education” into the 19th century; to refer to a number of pigs as a “herd” instead  of a “drift” was, to some, uncouth.

The words we use are important. Words can distinguish the objects we refer to, but can also divide us, the speakers. What words do we use to label our fellow-beings?  

NATHAN THATCHER is a composer, performer, arranger, and author. He has received commissions from numerous soloists and ensembles including the New York City-based sextet yMusic, Emblems Quartet, and Converge String Quartet. He has worked as a producer, arranger, orchestrator, copyist, transcriber, and conductor with a wide array of musicians including Nico Muhly, Shara Nova, Sufjan Stevens, Daníel Bjarnason, Nadia Sirota, Son Lux, Sam Amidon, Joshua Winstead, Woodkid, David Byrne, and others. His arrangements have been performed by the Kronos quartet, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the Flanders Symphony Orchestra, and the Grant Park Orchestra and chorus, and appear prominently on the record Away by the band Okkervil River. He is also the author of Paco, a biography and memoir about the discovery of the music of the Spanish composer Francisco Estévez. By the Skin of Our Teeth, an album of Thatcher’s music for string quartet is available June 1. Thatcher completed a bachelor’s degree in music composition at Brigham Young University and a master's degree in the same at the University of Michigan.

Ruth Crawford Seeger

Suite (1953)

Ruth Crawford Seeger's 1952 Suite for Wind Quintet represents her return to composing concert music after nearly two decades of collecting folk songs, developing education methods, raising a giant family, and participating in social activism. By 1934, the peak of Seeger's career, her music was published both for performance and in scholarly journals by leading theorists of the time. Thus, Seeger represents a rare case of a prolific woman composer with a public career who was noted at the time for her virtuosic craft above her gender, a significant notion given the rampant sexism toward women composers whose art went beyond the domestic realm during the 1920s and 30s. Full of masterfully-crafted ostinati and conversational melodies written in a loose 12-tone style, this quintet is a textbook of fresh timbral possibilities for the group. It is documented that Seeger expressed a desire for this playful work to represent the beginning of a new, prolific chapter in her composing work, however, she died only a year after its completion. (Note by Brandon Rumsey)

RUTH CRAWFORD SEEGER (1901-1953) is frequently considered the most significant American woman composer in this century. Joining Aaron Copland and Henry Cowell as a key member of the 1920s musical avant-garde, she went on to study with modernist theorist and future husband Charles Seeger, writing her masterpiece, String Quartet 1931, not long after. But her legacy extends far beyond the cutting edge of modern music. Collaborating with poet Carl Sandburg on folk song arrangements in the twenties, and with the famous folk-song collectors John and Alan Lomax in the 1930s, she emerged as a central figure in the American folk music revival, issuing several important books of transcriptions and arrangements and pioneering the use of American folk songs in children's music education. Radicalized by the Depression, she spent much of the ensuing two decades working aggressively for social change with her husband and stepson, the folksinger Pete Seeger. (Biography by Judith Tick)

Brandon Scott Rumsey

Emblems (2016)

Although the majority of my works include winds in one way or another, Emblems is my first work for woodwind quintet. The piece was written for my friends, the Austin-, Chicago-, and NYC-based Trade Winds Quintet, who premiered Emblems in Arusha, Tanzania as part of a teaching and outreach project. Trade Winds Quintet's mission is "to empower individuals to express themselves by providing excellent and accessible workshops, performances, and collaborations that explore music as a tool for social change and the arts as a way of life." In four continuous movements, the music of Emblems is inspired by the members' radiant personalities, contagious joy, and dedication to social change through creativity. (by Brandon Rumsey)

BRANDON SCOTT RUMSEY is a composer, bassoonist, and teacher based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His compositions emphasize harmony, rhythm, texture and orchestrational color and frequently explore themes of love, nature, and conversation. Brandon teaches music theory and music management at Madonna University, is a composition teaching artist with the Trade Winds Ensemble, works as an editorial assistant and copyist at the Gershwin Critical Edition, and is the artistic director and bassoonist of the Emblems Quintet.

Brandon’s music has recently been performed by the Contemporary Undercurrent of Song Project (Allie Porter, Amy Petrongelli, and Zach Pulse), New York Festival of Song, Miami Frost Wind Ensemble, sTem Trio, Trade Winds Ensemble at the Umoja Centre in Tanzania, Boston New Music Initiative, Luna Nova Music, and the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. His recent composition for wind ensemble, Wanderlust, was premiered in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia by Jason Noble the Scarsdale Wind Ensemble. Exciting upcoming projects include a collaboration with Trade Winds Ensemble where he will develop a composition-focused series of workshops with the organization RefugeeOne and its partner schools (Chicago, IL), a work for Tony Arnold and Third Angle New Music (culminating piece for the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music), and a solo bassoon work for Jeffrey Lyman. Brandon has received honors from the Universities of Michigan, Oregon, and Texas, American Composers Orchestra, National Federation of Music Clubs, ASCAP, and Belvedere Chamber Music.

Finnur Karlsson

Mirrors (2010)

Mirrors was commissioned in 2010 by the Við Djúpið music festival in Ísafjörður, Iceland. The piece was premiered on the festival by the the wind quintet Nordic Chamber Soloists.

FINNUR KARLSSON graduated with a bachelor’s degree in composition from the Iceland Academy of the Arts in the spring of 2012 and a masters degree from the Royal Danish Academy of Music in the spring of 2015. Finnur’s main composition teachers have been Hans Abrahamsen, Úlfar Ingi Haraldsson, Atli Ingólfsson, Simon Løffler and Niels Rosing-Schow. Finnur is currently working on an advanced postgraduate diploma (Danish: Solistklassen) at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen.

Finnur’s music has been performed by ensembles like the Albion Quartet (UK), Brák Baroque Band (IS), Copenhagen Phil (DK), Decoda (US), Elektra Ensemble (IS), Iceland Symphony Orchestra (IS), Siggi String Quartet (IS), Slowind (SLO), TAK (US) and Ventus (DK/NO). Finnur was the composer in residence at the Skálholt Summer Concerts music festival in 2015, and was nominated to the Icelandic Music Prize 2015 in the category “Work of the Year” for Fold; the piece commissioned by festival. Finnur’s compositional voice has been described as “honest an sincere” and “captivatingly beautiful” (Fréttablaðið).

Finnur is, along with Bára Gísladóttir, Halldór Smárason, Haukur Þór Harðarson and Petter Ekman, a member of the composer collective Errata.

All Content ©2018 EMBLEMS Quintet
Photography by Chris O'Brien and Luis Escareño