The week-long residency of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) at the Bienen School of Music’s Institute for New Music included a unique educational workshop for public school teachers on February 4, 2015.

The group of K-8 music teachers from Evanston/Skokie district 65 experienced The Listening Room, a team-based composition and graphic notation exercise designed by ICE to lead participants in the creation of new musical works.

ICE’s Jacob Greenberg (piano), David Bowlin (violin), Kivie Cahn-Lipman (cello), and James Austin Smith (oboe, NU alumnus ‘05) began by demonstrating some extended techniques of their respective instruments and inviting teachers to draw their visual interpretations of those sounds.

The teachers split up into small groups to create their own graphic scores using colors, shapes, and symbols in various formations. Each team presented their vision for the piece before ICE musicians performed their score for the audience.

Jacob Greenberg, pianist and director of education for ICE, said these composition activities nurture students’ collaborative creative skills and help them build an appreciation for new music and musical experimentation.

“What we’ve found is that students up to about sixth grade are more open to creating sounds. After that, they can be intimidated,” he explained.

The Listening Room activity allows these students to explore instruments in new ways and think outside the box, all while giving them the power to create. ICE has conducted the activity about 20 times for students of all levels, from first grade up to high school. This was the first time a group of teachers participated in the program for professional development.

District 65 began a professional development collaboration with Northwestern University through a joint session on the National Core Arts Standards and improvisation last year. Stephanie Abudayeh, vocal music department chair for district 65, said the teachers were honored to be invited back to participate in The Listening Room.

“We were able to participate in a very experiential way and share ideas and questions on how best to apply their model in our own classrooms. It opened many of our eyes to new ways to frame composition for our students, and how to make composition accessible to all,” said Abudayeh.

Maud Hickey, associate professor and coordinator of music education at the Bienen School of Music, said there is an open-doors relationship between the Bienen School and district 65. While the Bienen School offers professional development opportunities for teachers, the district provides partnerships in student teaching and observation for Northwestern students in district 65 music classrooms.

“We hope to continue to build this relationship between the district music teachers and our own faculty and students in the Music Education program,” said Hickey.

In addition to the education workshop, ICE presented several concerts during their residency with the Bienen School, including a collaborative performance with Northwestern University’s Contemporary Music Ensemble and a concert featuring Bienen School student compositions.

To learn more about International Contemporary Ensemble, visit

To learn more about the Bienen School’s Institute for New Music and to see upcoming events, visit

  • Maud Hickey
  • music education