MARY ELLEN CHILDS has been acclaimed for creating both rhythmic, exuberant instrumental works and bold, kinetic compositions that integrate music, dance and theater in fresh and unexpected ways. She has created numerous “visual percussion” pieces that embody the concept of music in motion, for her ensemble CRASH. Her repertoire includes Click, a fast-paced, game-like work for three stick-wielding performers; DrumRoll, for four drummers on wheels; Sight of Hand, based on uniquely American forms of body percussion—girls’ clapping games, hamboning, and baseball coaching signals —and Crash, a full-evening work for 6 crash cymbal players on rollerstools and various other rolling means of transportation. The Village Voice deemed Click “a newly born classic, like Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, only a thousand times more virtuosic. Myself, I can’t whistle, but afterward everybody who could, did.” Her output also includes multi-monitor video pieces A Chording To and the award winning Still Life, which captured first place awards at the International Multi-Image Festival and at the American Film and Video Festival.
She writes for a variety of ensembles, including solo accordion, string quartets, chamber groups, and vocal groups. She has received commissions from the Kronos Quartet, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Opera America, the Dale Warland Singers, The Kitchen, the Walker Art Center, Other Minds, Live Music for Dance NY/NJ, Meet The Composer’s commissioning programs, and the MAP Fund. Her full-length works include Dream House for string quartet (written for ETHEL) and multi-image video, based on images of destruction and construction, cycles of time, and rhythms of construction work; Stone Steel Wood Glass Light, written for the Chicago Architectural Biennial and performed at the Farnsworth House (a glass house designed by Mies van der Rohe); and Wreck, created for the Black Label Movement Company, for which she won a 2008 Sage Award. Other recent projects include Now, for Anthony de Mare’s LIAISONS project; Scry for trombone quartet Guidonian Hand, through a commission from Chamber Music America; and an orchestra piece, Sweep, commissioned for GTCYS. She has composed two works for concert band, Green Light and Zephyrus (published by Boosey & Hawkes). Her opera Propeller, commissioned with funds from Opera American and the MAP Fund, received additional developmental support at the Duffy Composers Institute in 2015. One of her favorite instruments to write for is the accordion, and as a result of her close working association with accordionist Guy Klucevsek, she has created nearly a dozen works that include the instrument. “Mary Ellen Childs’s quiet pointillistic Oa Poa Polka had notes peeping from all over the accordion,” observed the New York Times of one performance, “with the oompah just barely winking into view.”
Over the last thirty years she has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a 2011 United States Artist Friends Fellowship, two Bush Foundation Fellowships, five McKnight Foundation Fellowships, a fellowship in support of her interdisciplinary work from Intermedia Arts, and seven Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Awards. Childs has received support from the NEA’s Composer-in-Residence program, Meet The Composer, and the American Composers Forum (Jerome Commissioning awards), a Creative Explorations award from Creative Capital.
Her music has been performed in Europe, Eastern Europe, Japan, and Australia. Her percussion group CRASH traveled to Russia three times, and recently performed in Cuba at the invitation of the Havana International Theater Festival. She has received artists fellowships from the McKnight Foundation, the Bush Foundation and the Minnesota State Arts Board. Compact discs of her work include Kilter (XI label) and Dream House (innova), a remix of Dream House, titled Chamberhouse (Sugarfoot Recordings), Wreck (innova), Documerica(string quartet ETHEL, innova), Liaisons: Re-imagining Sondheim, among others.