A stylized string quartet hold their instruments above the bottom half of their faces

Meet the Finalists of Launch, a New Kind of Music Competition

How do you turn playing with talented friends into a profession? 

For Peter Seymour, co-founder and bassist of the ceaselessly energetic ensemble PROJECT Trio, the first step is just to be aware of how many opportunities exist. “When we first started,” he says, “we didn’t even know what was out there. Where would an ensemble like ours even play? I think I spent the first big part of building the ensemble just figuring out what the business was.”

It turns out that a group like his would play just about anywhere: veterans’ hospitals, retirement communities, school auditoriums, all the way up to performing arts centers the world over and Carnegie Hall. The key was to stay on track with their community-focused mission and to treat the booking process as an art in itself. “You have to have a very large scope for what you’re doing,” says Seymour. “You have to be thinking about the concert in five years.”

Now that PROJECT Trio has gained, to say the least, a little headway – they’re currently booking their 2018-2019 season – Seymour, along with the rest of the team of the 21st-Century Musician Initiative, wants to give a leg up to other groups. Enter the LAUNCH: Emerging Artist Competition. Seymour is the chair, and it’s one of the main events at this year’s 21CMposium. After scouring the country for chamber ensembles that embrace an entrepreneurial mindset, experimentation with genre and community engagement, 21CM invited five ensembles to compete for a grand prize including: a $10,000 contract, a gig at New York’s premier new music venue, (Le) Poisson Rouge, a produced music video, career coaching with iCadenza and the opportunity to develop a business plan with Seymour himself.

Each ensemble performs in a showcase on the Friday night of the symposium, where they will also share their vision for community engagement with the judges, and then the winner is announced on Sunday. Elizabeth Nonemaker of 21CM.org will be there to report on the competition and to announce the winner to our readers; in the coming months we’ll provide updates on how the winning ensemble is progressing. 

In the meantime, the selected ensembles are not the only beneficiaries of the competition. Seymour, for one, is happy already just to have learned about these acts. “I’m a new fan,” he says. “I went and found all those groups. I’m following them on Twitter and Instagram.”

So music aficionados on the prowl for their next fix should take note. Only one ensemble will win the competition, but all five provide a unique vision for what the future of music could look like. That, and they’re fun to listen to. So in anticipation of the competition and in honor of the music that these ensembles are already creating, 21CM invites you to get to know the five finalists of the LAUNCH: Emerging Artist Competition – who they are, what inspires them and what drives them to connect to their audience.

The Final Five

Click the images below to learn about the finalists.



Joe Brent, mandolin/composer/arranger; Sara Caswell, violin; Shawn Conley, bass 

How did they meet? 

9 Horses comes from a collective background that includes classical, jazz, folk and music from around the world. Brent met bassist Conley at the Tanglewood Music Center, and he met Caswell at Carnegie Hall when they were both backing a Japanese pop star.

What’s their music like?

Says Brent: “You could say the musicians of 9 Horses didn’t come together by accident. We wanted to be in a group in which we could express the full range of our influences and which reflected our abiding belief that the future of music will be all about the breaking down of the barriers between ‘fine art’ and ‘folk art,’ to borrow a phrase from Albert Murray.” 

Tell us about … what makes 9 Horses unique?

Brent: “I honestly believe that in spite of the economic uncertainty in the music industry today, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Namely, my generation has the most eclectic taste in musical history, and every generation subsequent to me will be even more so. Think about it: 100 years ago, your taste in music would have been limited by geography, culture, nationalism, financial strata, etc. That is no longer true today, and I love that fact. We reflect this eclecticism in the music we play. I’m thrilled by the virtuosity in classical performance, by the power of a rock concert, and the humor and immediacy of folk music.” 

The alt Default


Nathaniel Wolkstein, guitar/violin/vocals; Hannah Rose Nicholas, viola/vocals; Dave Connor, bass

How did they meet? 

All three met during fellowships at the New World Symphony in Miami. Says Nicholas, they were “asked to perform for an event commemorating World War I. We were expected to perform traditional songs from that time and were totally out of our element. We had a blast doing the performance, singing some of the songs, adding harmonies and making the most of the small amount of repertoire that we had. Afterwards, we kind of knew that we would play together again. It was a bizarre but awesome start to our band.”

What’s their music like?

Nicholas: “We perform everything from Nathaniel’s rock-influenced songs, to Dave’s arrangements of classical and jazz tunes, to my transcriptions of folk music from an array of musical traditions. Throughout our performing careers, we have all been drawn to music outside of the classical realm.” 

Tell us about … how The alt Default connects with their audience.

Nicholas: “We love making music with and teaching music to the people in our communities. A huge aspect of our band, and in fact the very way in which we formed, has to do with bringing people together. … Our biggest project thus far has been our “Collaborative Songwriting Workshops,” a series that we created for middle school students to write their own original songs and perform them in different venues.” 

Rela Percussion


Patrick Fitzgibbon, Drew Parent, Thom Monks, Mike List. All four are percussionists. 

How did they meet?

Fitzgibbon and Parent, who have been friends since their high school drumline days, were the group’s founders. When they both found themselves in the Detroit area, Parent introduced Fitzgibbons to his old Central Michigan University classmates Monks and List. Says Fitzgibbon, “After playing together a few times, we quickly realized what a unique set of skills we had collectively and that if we dedicated ourselves, we could develop into a truly one-of-a-kind ensemble.”    

What’s their music like?

“Our repertoire is really determined by our instrumentation and the percussion traditions in which we all specialize,” says Fitzgibbon. “Many of our pieces are written by [me] and use instruments like steel pan, tabla, marimba, vibraphone, drum set, congas, etc., and often include various world rhythms and improvisation. We also have a lot of fun with the odd time signatures, improvised sections and intricate unison licks.” Fitzgibbons adds that an audience favorite is an arrangement of the electronic musician Flying Lotus’ “Putty Boy Strut.”  

Tell us about … what makes everyone in Rela Percussion unique?

Fitzgibbon says, “We have all developed different skill sets. Mike List is a hand drummer specializing in Indian, Persian and Arabic drumming. Thom Monks keeps a busy schedule as a drum-set player in many different genres. Drew Parent spends most of his time with mallet percussion instruments and also has a successful career in the marching percussion world. And my career revolves mostly around steel pan, Caribbean and West African music.” 



Jake Armerding, violin/mandolin/composer; Annie Bartlett, viola; Mina Kim, cello; Zachariah Hickman, double bass 

How did they meet?

All the members were formerly acquainted before they started the group. Bartlett and Armerding decided to collaborate in staging a house show, which they then expanded into a series called the Sheffield Sessions. At that point they asked Kim and Hickman to join them.

What’s their music like?

Says Bartlett, “Jake is the head chef and all-around wizard of ROSIN. His compositions and his buttery tone are the ROSIN muse. [I’m] classical chops fused with born-to-bluegrass heart. Every string quartet needs a virtuoso, and [that’s] Mina. … Zack puts the ‘sin’ in ROSIN. The man, the myth, the moustache, he’s a Bengal tiger disguised as a gentleman bassist with jazz training. …The collaborative process for ROSIN is spontaneous, without ego, and enables each player to bring his or her voice to the table.”

Tell us about … how ROSIN connects with their audience.

The Sheffield Sessions, which was the launching project of ROSIN, “began with a mission to strengthen the local community through music. … Over the past five years, the Sheffield Sessions has hosted over 50 concerts featuring local artists across multiple genres in an effort to make music more accessible. In addition to hosting children’s outreach and fundraising concerts, the Sheffield Sessions also matches all door proceeds and donates them to many local nonprofits.”



William Wytold Lebing, electric cello/composer/arranger; Ethan Foote, bass/composer/arranger; Chelle Fulk, violin; Gina Sobel, flutes/saxophone/guitar 

How did they meet? 

Wytold, Foote and Fulk crossed paths in the Washington, D.C., music scene when they were all playing in a world music-influenced hip-hop band. Then Sobel joined the group after she and Wytold met at a songwriters’ showcase.

What’s their music like?

Says Wytold, “Wytold Ensemble plays primarily original music that blends classical technique and inspiration with contemporary song structures, jazz improvisation and progressive world rhythms. I began writing this style of music on the six-string electric cello, hoping to blend my classical cello roots with the improv, chord-strumming, finger-picking and songwriting techniques that I learned on the guitar in college.” The group also makes use of looping pedals; pop, rock, and hip-hop influences; and classical remixes. 

Tell us about … how Wytold envisions their audience impact.

“Wytold Ensemble’s artistic mission is to help audience members dream, imagine and find comfort, inspiration and even healing through [our music]. We also aim to inspire deeper passion and long-term commitment in children who are learning to play classical instruments by directly connecting the types of classical music that they learn in orchestra with the rhythms, improvisation and song structures that they hear on pop/rock radio.”  


You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *