March 5, 2016

We are wrapping up our February Cabin Fever Practice Derby in my teaching studio.  We used code names on a leaderIMG_3335board and tracked our practice over the course of the month using sparkly stars.  Prizes included symphony ticket vouchers, CD’s and rosin. Everybody gets a giant pencil for participating.

The best part was the first week of lessons when we brainstormed about practice.  Why do you practice?  What do you do when you practice?  What do you associate with bad practice days and good practice days?  It led to some good insights into practice routines and I learned quite a bit about each of my students.  It turns out they don’t all have the sticky blobby baggage ridden complicated relationship with the practice routine that I have.  Huh.

Every single one of them answered the first question “Why do you practice?” with “to get better”.  As I started to move on to the next question so we could talk about ways to get better, some of them kept going:  “to learn new pieces”,  “it’s calming, it relaxes me”.

Thanks to some wise grasshoppers, I’ve started seeing my own practice as time to get work done – as usual – but also as time to explore new things and a chance to make a calm centered space to work in.  Thanks, guys.



A few of the great things that have happened since my last post:

Milkhouse Radio played a barn wedding last summer and we played my tune Port Charles Waltz for the groom-and-his-mom dance.

Last fall I got the chance to hop in  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra‘s musical time machine and I am hooked.  How I love playing those mid/low falutin’ ragtime viola parts with these world class musicians.  Good music and great people, I cannot ask for more.  Can’t wait to play some more genuine ragtime music in classic theaters this spring.

Ken Vandermark released Audio One’s final record:  What Thomas Bernhard Saw.   I am really proud of the moments the viola emerges from Ken’s compositions on this record and couldn’t ask for a better souvenir of the incredibly deeply good times I had playing and working with this group.   David Zukowski and Ken did a miraculous job, recording and producing another stellar live album.

July 17, 2015

The summer started with a nice quiet June; a couple bluegrass gigs, plenty of weddings with Quartessence, and an otherwise quiet month.  I was supposed to get a lot of practicing in.  I had this great plan to spend 3 practice days on each Kreutzer etude to cover some ground and keep myself from obsessing over details.  Then I got a dog:


Scout:  Distraction

It’s mid-July and I am on Etude 4.

No worries….the huge wave of gigs and adventures-with-viola on the horizon will get me back on track.

Hey Jen, feeling low and musically slow?  No problem.

Kyle Bruckmann wants to fly Wrack out to LA to play W.A.S.T.E at The Hammer Museum August 13.

How about hosting an evening of the Option series at Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago earlier that week, August 10?

And Fred Lonberg-Holm would like you to be a guest performer with Stirrup in Chicago on Tuesday, August 18.

Throw in Opera in the Park back home in Madison July 25, a recording session for Simply Folk on Wisconsin Public Radio with Josh Gabdaw, playing the Agora Art Fair in Fitchburg with Milkhouse Radio August 15 and 5 weddings with Quartessence during that same 3 week period and you’ve got yourself a summer pick-me-up, or get-your-rear-in-gear kinda month.

I am especially looking forward to the Option show.  I’ll be playing pieces based on the theme (borrowed from the title of one of my favorite books) Design Lessons From Nature.  I will be playing Malcolm Goldstein’s Jade Mountain Soundings. Also Ornette Coleman’s Trinity, written for Goldstein, and named after a river in his hometown.  I will be joined by Anton Hatwich to play an improvisation based on material from Wrack’s W.A.S.T.E.  For the second set I will be joined by old friends and collaborators Kevin Peto on bass clarinet and Jonathon Kirk on trombone and electronics.

I am also looking forward to being part of this year’s Wisconsin Farm to Table Dinner on September 12.  Milkhouse Radio will be playing and EATING (yes!) out on the farm.

Looking forward to fall as usual, but late summer is looking’ good.  Hope to see you at some of the shows. Thanks for checking in.

February 25, 2015

Yep, it’s been cold.  And the winter weather buried our first attempt at the beginning of an exciting new project.  In January, in my new year state-of-mind, I contacted cellist Tomeka Reid with an idea.  About 15 years ago, Leroy Jenkins gave me a copy of a string quartet he wrote:  Themes and Improvisations on the Blues.  I felt it was about time to get to that score.  It’s difficult to round up the right players who possess the right combination of discipline and spontaneity, but I knew Tomeka would be the right place to start.  She picked up on the idea with fresh energy and before I knew it we had a rehearsal scheduled for Feb. 6 in Chicago with a couple of violinists.  I had also mentioned to her that there are recordings of Ornette Coleman string quartets, maybe we could find those.  We both entered into a fascinating search process that mined both of our contact lists and left me with some amazing new finds, but no Ornette Coleman parts.  A winter snow storm grounded me in the suburbs and kept me from our rehearsal….but we have vowed to pick up the project again once things warm up and Tomeka gets back to the states after some travel this spring.  We’ll keep you posted.

Since my last post there have been a few releases that I am very proud to be a part of:

One of my favorite musicians, percussionist/composer Tim Daisy, invited me to play on a project of duos (Review)

October Music Vol. 1, 7 Compositions for Duet.  Tim Daisy.  Relay Recordings 009.

And two releases from Ken Vandermark’s Audio One.  They both got 4 star reviews in October 2014’s issue of Downbeat Magazine:

An International Report and The Midwest School.  (A review) Both on Audio Graphic Records.

This spring has me sticking close to home and getting some work done in Madison.  Quartessence string quartet has me busy playing weddings and special events.  The symphony has some amazing concerts lined up this spring and Milkhouse Radio is keeping things fun and rambling on the bluegrass/country fiddling front.

Huggs and I are working on a few fun projects in the home studio.  Hoping to have some interesting new sounds to share soon.

June 20, 2014. Summer.

“You can only play what you know.  But you can always learn something new on the spot.”    –Joe Morris, Perpetual Frontier:  The Properties of Free Music

Looking forward to wading into an inland sea of world-class improvisers at this weekend’s OKKA Fest 6.  Players who represent worlds of knowledge and wisdom and practice the art of learning new things as they play….can’t wait.  Being gently (I hope) pushed into the deep end for a couple sets with Joe Morris, Kent Kessler, Joe McPhee and Brian Labycz; I’ll be holding my mind and ears open, ready to learn learn learn on the spot.

It’s been a weird slippery slope of a transition into summer.  My brain is in overdrive, piles of books, project ideas overflowing, daytrips calling….the pollen is rattling my brain.  There’s so much I want to do, and my schedule isn’t opening up the way I always imagine it will.  The lingering curse of summer vacations from school days.

I visited House on the Rock for the first time with The Hugg on his birthday.  Just a few miles from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen.  This part of the world has inspired some mighty creative surges.  I’ve now heard about the special energy of southwestern Wisconsin from several sources.  We are going to have to make time to camp a night or two out that way soon.

There was an amazing and inspiring house concert at Kiki’s House of Righteous Music featuring Robbie Fulks and Jenny Scheinman playing (their best, in my opinion) on bluegrass/folk inspired tunes.  These guys are good.  It was tough…during the final Blackhawks game.   Those playoffs were amazing.  Aaaaackckc…see what I mean.  It’s been a wild few weeks.

TIme to settle into the floating-in-an-inner-tube part of summer.  Soon.  Can’t wait.


Spring Stuff 3/27/2014

It’s official.  The freeze thaw cycle is finally tipping in favor of mud and puddles. I am one of the few who are  sorry to see this winter go.  It was harsh.  Coldest cold and lotsa snow.  I tend to like the hunker down mode and long dark nights.  I don’t mind a little sunshine on my shoulders, but I am not a sun lover in general.  More of a squinty shades and hat wearer who takes an umbrella to the beach.

Our second-to-last dangerously cold snap in late January coincided with my week down in Chicagoland rehearsing and performing with Ken Vandermark’s Audio One.  Ken had a pile of charts for us to learn; it was an intense week that ended with two big shows at The Green Mill.  The (vw) Rabbit handled the cold like a champ.  This trip to the city left a stronger-than-usual imprint on me.  I spent some high quality time playing and just wandering around in Andersonville.  It’s a special luxury to be able to drop everything back home and focus on playing, getting around in a great old-friendly city and spending a little time with family for a while.  I bought a sachet of pure lavender early in the week and put it on the heater vent on the dashboard, so it is possible that I was getting a little naturally aromatherapeutically high while I was doing all that driving around with the heater on full tilt.  Regardless, it was a particularly rewarding week.

When I got back to Madison it was time to really commit to playing Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht for a Sound Ensemble Wisconsin performance during sunset in mid-February.  Madison friends, please check out these concerts.  Mary Theodore is putting together some very creative and innovative chamber music programs in beautiful places.  She carefully considers the repertoire, the space, the time of day….it is amazing.  She/we need some more support.

I have a busy spring ahead.  Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte young performer’s concerto competition is this week.  The competition will be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Television on Wednesday night.

Then I am off to Chicago and Milwaukee for some Wrack-age.  Wrack will  be releasing a beautiful letter-press covered CD of “….Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire (a free jazz phantasmagoria inspired by the novels of Thomas Pynchon)”.  This piece features the usual Wrack lineup:  Kyle Bruckmann, oboe/mastermind/composer; Jason Stein, bass clarinet; Anton Hatwich, badassbass; Tim Daisy, drums and myself PLUS Darren Johnston on trumpet and Jeb Bishop on trombone.  They both blow some of the sweetest and soulfullest music in this piece…..come hear it if you can.  I can’t wait to hear it again.  We toured on the West Coast and recorded it in San Francisco last spring.  We’ll be playing at Elastic in Chicago on Friday night and on the final night of UW-Milwaukee’s Unruly Music Series on Saturday.  I also get to sit in with The Echelon String Quartet for a rock and roll (they are calling it a hipster) wedding ceremony on my way up to Milwaukee.

Madison Symphony then begins rehearsals for a concert featuring Mozart’s Requiem.  I also have a Faure Requiem the following weekend at First Unitarian Society.

Bluegrass band Milkhouse Radio will be debuting our new lead singer/guitarist, Mike (I don’t know his last name but man, he can play and sing…I’ll find it and pass it on…or just come out and meet him).  I’ll post dates soon.

Audio One will be heading to the Victoriaville Jazz Fest in Canada at the end of May.  I am looking forward to rehearsing with the fellas again and then traveling as a 10-piece band.  It may be hard to sneak my viola into an overhead bin on that flight, but there is a chance the instruments outnumber the rolling suitcases, so we may be all right.  If we get stuck on the runway we’ll be able to play them some Braxton or something.

I have been asked to play in two trios this summer for OKKA Fest 6 at The Sugar Maple in Milwaukee.  Saturday 6/2 with Joe Morris and Kent Kessler, and Sunday 6/3 with Joe McPhee and Brian Labycz.  I recently spent an evening reading interviews and listening to these guys and I am really looking forward to doing more of that as well as meeting and playing with them.  It will be an incredible weekend of music; I feel incredibly fortunate to be invited to participate.

I took a blog writing break and went on my first bike ride of the season.  That sun isn’t so bad.  And I still get to bundle up.  In honor of my bike ride I am posting a previously rejected take of my Bike Song (not totally original, you’ll hear if you listen) on tenor guitar.  I made it up last spring when I got my new bike and recorded it in August.  The original plan was to make a video to go with the recording….if it happens you’ll see it here.  In the meantime, here is a technically imperfect but somehow just-right-with-a-few-late-summer-background-birds version of the tune on SoundCloud.  I posted some other random things there for some applications and interviews.  Feel free to peruse those also.

I intend to fill in performance details before I post this, but if I didn’t please check the calendar page!  See you out there, and thanks for listening.

January 11, 2014

All right, made it to 2014.

Look what this lucky gal got for Christmas.  A Regal Octofone circa late 1920’s.  Huggs, my bosses and my co-workers at Spruce Tree pulled a fast one and surprised me.  I had no idea.  It’s tuned like a mandola.  I am in heaven.  I don’t know if you can see it, but someone played the heck out of it at some point.  It has a lot of soul in it already; it sounds and looks beautiful.  Thanks Huggs and also Wil, Julie, Ed and Doug.  You got me good.  I am trying to get some pals together to play some string quartets with 2 mandolins, Octofone and cello.  We’ll let you know if it sounds good and get some sounds out to you somehow.


A couple colds, the holidays and the deep freeze really put the brakes on some of my practicing, so I am doing my best to get back in the swing of things.  Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht in an upcoming Sound Ensemble Wisconsin concert ( is keeping me honest and on my toes.  I am also working on a personal practice project, learning Campagnoli Etudes and John Harbison Violist Notebook movements (which he says were influenced by Campagnoli in the introduction to the Notebook).  Loving that.

I am most looking forward to working with my favorite Chicago musicians this spring.  Starting with Ken Vandermark’s Audio One at the Green Mill in Chicago at the end of January.  How does a violist fit into all that? I don’t know; but I sure have a blast making my way through Ken’s charts with all those guys.  Huggs also got me a new pre-amp for Christmas – it’ll give me a little extra juice and the confidence to put the volume-pedal-to-the-metal.

I also get to regroup with the Wrack fellas at the end of March for another go at …Awaits Tristero’s Silent Empire; Kyle’s latest and greatest free jazz phantasmagoria.  We’ll be charming the midwest with the piece that rocked the west coast last summer.

Milkhouse Radio is currently seeking a new vocalist/guitarist.  Russ Cannon, heart and soul of the band, is now a resident of Seattle, Washington.  Our final two shows in December were bittersweet….especially because I had no voice on account of a bad cold.  Apologies to all who attended,  because I sang anyway.  Couldn’t miss out on my last chance to sing with Russell.  I tried to stay away from the microphone.  Bruce pointed out the memorable scene, looking down at the base of each mic-stand:  beer…beer…beer…beer…hot-tea-and-a-pile-of-cough-drops.

Hugg and I spent New Years on a home recording spree.  We came up with some silly stuff and some interesting stuff.  We will be posting some on Sound Cloud in the near future.  It seems we may be best suited to be in a power pop instrumental trio with only two members.  I did some vocal takes even though I had a seriously stuffy nose.  (The Congestion Sessions.)  I nearly lose it every time I plug my electric mandobird into distortion effects and delays etc.  I should have done my dissertation on what happens in the brain of a long-time acoustic musician when they plug-in and turn it up.  It blows my mind how such a tiny movement can create such a wall of fascinating sound.

I have plans to record the first Bach Cello Suite on my variety of tenor instruments.  First movement is coming soon.  What became clear on New Years is that I need a little more practice!

How lucky can a gal be?  Cold nights, icy roads (stay home!), a pile of great books (on Cage/Zen, AACM, Morton Feldman, Blues Mandolin, Cowboys and Cossacks, Baroque arrangements for Ukulele) a lot of practicing to do, an Octofone, a recording engineer/songwriter/guitar guru roomie.  Gettin a touch of the cabin fever, but I am surrounded by great distractions.  Take care, and be careful out there.


November 23, 2013.  Welcome to the blog.

What’s up right now?  It’s the wild and wooly holiday season.  I am lucky this year.  Craziness the past few weeks, with a little lull right now….aaahhhh…..then a little more crazy until mid-December.  After that, I get to relax and coast into the new year with normal work and teaching schedule.  Spruce Tree gets a little extra busy with ukulele sales and musical gift shoppers.  I always enjoy the extra action in the shop.  Nothing yet tops the Black Friday black flying-v ukulele that I got to restring on my first Spruce Tree Black Friday.

The Madison Symphony Holiday concert takes place Dec. 6, 7 and 8.

Tuesday December 10, Milkhouse Radio will be playing The High Noon Saloon with Daylight in the Swamp.  Milkhouse hits at 7:30, then hangs around to join Daylight in the Swamp after their set.

Wednesday December 11 will be Milkhouse Radio’s final Mason Lounge show (416 S. Park) with the heart and soul of the band, Russ Cannon.  Come on out to hear our last official show before Russ leaves town.  (I am in denial of this fact, and will be bitterly disappointed by his apparent refusal to show up for rehearsals and performances after the first of the year.)  We start around 8:30.  There will be AT LEAST one Christmas on the Isthmus played….and a few more brand new originals.  Our studio session may be ready for some kind of dispersal as well, I’ll keep you posted.

I’ve got some holiday parties to play with Quartessence string quartet before I get to settle in to my regular teaching and work schedule for the rest of December.  Somewhere in there we will be editing and mixing some new Milkhouse tracks from our sessions at Trailing Edge Studios in October/November.  There are some sweet new Russ Cannon originals along with a studio version of Christmas on the Isthmus complete with sleigh bells and reindeer hooves.

My students and I are working on a Winter Songbook.  We are composing in lessons and compiling artwork and written content, too.  I can’t wait to put it together over the holiday break.  We don’t get many chances for group lessons, so this is our way of getting to know each other.  The tunes I’ve gotten so far are fantastic.

Huggs and I are preparing some holiday music for both of our families.  We haven’t gotten any formal requests for our Leonard Cohen Halleluja with guitar/ukulele/ottomatone, but we know they all want more.  We are also planning an extra day in the Quad Cities so we can bowl at the hotel; eat Rudy’s tacos; Fat Boy’s, Harris AND Happy Joe’s pizza, along with hopefully catching up with some of our old Bev bandmates.

Then it’s on to 2014, which includes a Wrack CD release and Midwest mini-tour along with a few more shows with Ken Vandermark’s Midwest School Ensemble, as well as a Sound Ensemble Wisconsin concert that seems to be featuring 20th century chamber works with 2 violas….yes!  There may be a different theme on the program and posters.  More on all that as it approaches.