Mixed Media

Experimental Sounds

Wooden Cities challenges stereotypical notions of classical music

Wooden Cities performs at Pausa Art House in Buffalo.

Wooden Cities performs at Pausa Art House in Buffalo. Photo: Megan Metté


By Devon Karn

Avant-garde classical group. Improvisational ensemble. New-music collective. Definitions aside, Wooden Cities and its UB-heavy roster of musicians are steadily expanding the boundaries of classical music through their innovative approach to sound.

Formed in August 2013 by director and percussionist Brendan Fitzgerald (MM ’11, BA ’08), the nine-person mix of composers and performers all play a multipart role in creating and presenting each contemporary piece. The result is a DIY mosaic of sound that might feature haunting, wordless vocals and purposeful stops and starts one minute, then segue into a piece that’s the frantic, auditory equivalent of a chase scene.

Equally compelling is their approach to performance. Rather than packing up and heading out after the last note, Wooden Cities invites audience members to participate, ask questions and share feedback after—and sometimes during—a performance. The ensemble hopes the result is a sense of accessibility that helps widen the circle of contemporary music appreciation.

The ensemble’s members, all of whom perform regularly as solo artists and with other groups, include Jacob Gotlib (PhD ’14), electronics and composer; PhD student Esin Gündüz, voice and composer; PhD student Ethan Hayden (MA ’11), associate director and voice; Nathan Heidelberger (PhD/MA ’14), horn and composer; PhD student Zane Merritt, guitar and composer; Evan Courtin, violin; Megan Kyle, oboe; and Michael McNeill, piano.

Wooden Cities performs regularly at eclectic venues throughout Western New York, from local churches to Pausa Art House, a performance space in downtown Buffalo. The group embarked on its first multicity tour through the Midwest this past summer.