The Mid-30s Guide to the Orchestra

I have a concert coming up. It’s quite a special concert. It’s me performing my comedy songs with a symphony orchestra on Sunday November 24, and I’m calling it The Mid-30s Guide to the Orchestra.

The Oistrakh Symphony of Chicago and their music director Mina Zikri have given me this extraordinary opportunity. I’m the composer, lyricist, arranger, host, singer, pianist, bass guitarist, and very occasionally conductor and ukuleleist ukulelist string-strummer.

You’ll hear songs from my album Pumpkins with technicolor sound: “Symphony No 1 in Eb”, the “Root Vegetable Opera”, “Book Club”, and “Love is a Four-Letter Word” are all in there. read more

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Podcasts lately

Hey! I’ve been on some podcasts lately. They range from a straight up public radio interview, to beer tasting, to musical ramblings, to musical and actor ramblings, to one epic theme tune. Enjoy and listen!

Nine To Noon

A tonne of people in New Zealand heard this radio interview at 10 o’clock on a Friday. Kathryn Ryan of RNZ National asks me about my album Pumpkins, being a music director for Second City and other theatres, and also working in radio in the States. From July 2018.

(Info | RNZ audio)

A Brew with You

Blake Mikol – who designed my album cover art – invited me on to talk with him and Jeff about beer, the All Blacks, New Zealand, and my album. From June 2018.

(Soundcloud | YouTube | iTunes)

J-Train

Fellow musical comedian Jake Dewar has this podcast about “the improvisational ramblings of the human mind”. We come up with witches, talking stomachs, and French lounge music. From August 2018.

FYI: Jake has an album coming out in October 2018 and I have contributed to that too. More details soon.

(Machine Culture Collective episode page | iTunes)

Me, Anna Gaetke, Ansel Burch and Arne Parrott. Source: starlightradiodreams.com .

Starlight Radio Dreams

Conceived as an old-timey radio variety show, I got to adopt a bunch of characters: stunt jazz pun-pianist, Scottish shepherd aka MacMiyagi, Basically David Bowie, and something close to myself. There are two serials in here: Celtica (set in Roman Britain) and NPC (a menu-based adventure game). From September 2018.

(SRD episode page | iTunes full episode | iTunes Celtica serial | iTunes NPC serial)

How ‘Bout This?

These three Australian improvisers are long-time friends of mine. In advance of their podcast reaching 200 episodes, I put together an epic 5+-minute theme tune with recorded messages from 20+ listeners, or Thiseners as they’re known. I also called in near the end of the episode via Facebook Messenger. From August 2018.

(Soundcloud | iTunes)

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Pumpkins everywhere, including The Den on April 15.

Dear world,

My debut album of comedy songs is out! It’s called Pumpkins.
– Listen on Bandcamp, and buy CDs, downloads and T-shirts there!
– Listen and download on iTunes & Apple Music!
– Stream on Spotify!

And come to The Den Theatre in Chicago on Sunday April 15 for an Album Party! Doors open at 6:30pm, and it is FREE.

Here’s the Facebook event – I’ve got Jake Dewar, Abby Vatterott and Witty Cindy opening. The three of them are covering songs from Pumpkins: Track 6 (Bike Lane), Track 10 (I am a Cat) and Track 4 (An Icelandic Psychedelic Rock Song About Poland) respectively.

I have even more friends covering my songs, including six people from Riff: Chicago’s Improv Party. Also on the bill: Arne Parrott aka Mister Arne, who in addition to covering Track 7 (Ukulele Comedy Song) is joining me for this one-off number we co-wrote last year:

Come out for a fun night at The Den (1331 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago):
– Doors 6:30pm
– Absolutely free!
– Except if you want to buy CDs, downloads and T-shirts.
– Oh by the way there will be T-shirts.

Pumpkins everywhere!

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New album. (Not mine. (Yet.))

Hello world, here’s an update.

After an emotionally turbulent yet ultimately successful crowdfunding campaign, and a packed seven-week trip to Australia and New Zealand; my album is recorded. Not yet edited or mixed or mastered or promoted, but at least recorded.

In the meantime, there is an album already out with a piece of mine on it.

Available on Rattle Records.

The Jade String Quartet is made up of players from the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Their debut release is called Parlour Games. It’s entirely New Zealand works that they have premièred over the past few years, including my 2015 piece Fragments of Noir – written while inspired by Chicago, just as I was new to Chicago.

More info about the recording and how to acquire it at Rattle Records. There are also pieces by David Hamilton, Peter Adams, Kenneth Young, Peter Scholes, Leonie Holmes, Karlo Margetić, and John Elmsly – folks who’ve been my colleagues, my teachers, and my co-performers.

As for my own album… I wanna say February or March 2018 for a release. Stay tuned.

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A big target.

Good afternoon, blog world. I have just launched a crowdfunding campaign to make an album of my comedy songs.

My ambition is substantial: NZ$9,000. The reason: I want to record real musicians in real, well-equipped studios. I’ve got it all planned out!

My greatest hits will include:
Book Club
Dry July
Flat White
Love is a Four-Letter Word
Malört
Root Vegetable Opera
Symphony No 1 in Eb
and more!

There’ll be a rich sound of strings, winds, brass and rhythm, and it’ll be made freely available on Spotify. But I can only make this if you support my fundraising campaign.

I’ve chosen boosted.org.nz, a crowdfunding platform run by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand, who have hosted successful crowdfunding campaigns for friends of mine in the past.

Studios are booked: Ellamy Studios in Auckland and Orange Studios in Christchurch. Players are booked: drummer Jono Sawyer, clarinettist/saxophonist Yvette Audain, and violinist Sarah McCracken, among others.

So will you help me? Donate at boosted.org.nz/projects/robbie-makes-an-album today. My campaign closes at midnight Thursday 14 September NZ time. Let’s get it done!

Fundraiser gig

Hey Chicago! You can also come to a fundraiser gig of mine. It’s on Sunday September 10, 8pm at MCL Chicago in Lake View. There’ll be songs of mine which will feature on the album, plus musical theatre, sketch and more.

I’ve lined up a dozen fellow performers: MC Alex Garday; guest artists Jake Dewar, Catherine McDonnell, Gretchen Eng, Andi Sharavsky, Kathryn Krause, Lucia Rieur and Sarah Antao; musicians Carl J. Lamark, Jesse Greco, Robert Campbell and Aaron Homard; and stage manager Sam Cain.

Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 at the door. You can book tickets here.

And you can give generously at boosted.org.nz. Thank you!

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Soash.

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}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));Are you ready for the first robbieellis.net blog update in nearly two yeeeee

….eeeeaaaars?

Not that big, but two things. Three things. Four things.

One: I updated the look of this website. The main imperative was to minimise the fact that I’m bad at updating a blog. A secondary outcome was to split my professional life into different categories: my work is now sorted by Comedy SongmakerMusic DirectorComposer and Broadcaster. (They’re all in the menu at the top.)

Two: I got myself a Facebook page, finally. I’m Robbie Ellis Musics.

Robbie Ellis Musics

 
Three: I’m now presenting a regular time slot on 98.7 WFMT Chicago. You can hear me on Sundays, 12pm-5pm. (Central Time, obviously. Do your own maths if you live somewhere else.)

Four: I am recording an album of my comedy songs. Finally. Recording will take place in October. I’m paying for a real studio (two of them, actually) and real musicians on instruments I can’t play well, such as fl cl sax tpt tbn gtr vln vla vc. There will soon be a crowdfunding campaign and a fundraiser concert in Chicago.

I’ll leave you with one such comedy song which is kinda new – WFMT has video’d a bunch of them at Classical Cabaret – you can see them here. Book Club (below) is a 2017 song and it’ll definitely be on the album.

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Get your towels ready.

achievement-unlocked-template

I have accepted an offer to be a music director for Second City Theatricals aboard a cruise ship.

When I was preparing to move to Chicago, people told me that this work existed, and that I’d have a good chance at it. Getting this gig was a short- to medium-term goal for me, and I’m pretty damn happy: it’s a recognisable standard for music directors in Chicago and a great basis for landing future projects.

This contract is also a big reason I moved to the US: New Zealand doesn’t have this volume of work for comedy music directors. Chicago really is the centre of the universe for the most niche skill I have.

600-norwegian-dawn-Cruising-NYCI will be on the Norwegian Dawn from 21 February to 29 July 2016, with a one-month hiatus while the ship is in dry dock. In the spring, I’ll be plying my trade on the New Orleans-Cozumel-Roatán-Belize-Costa Maya-New Orleans route, and in the summer I’ll do Boston-Bermuda-Boston.

This is great for a whole bunch of reasons:
– I’ve always wanted to work on a cruise ship – or even set foot on one. I’ve never had the chance up until now.
– Out of all the cities in the United States I haven’t yet been to, the two highest on my list are New Orleans and Boston. And they’re just landing in my lap!
– I get to do improv and sketch full-time… for a time.
– Free board, free food. I should be able to save money pretty well.
– I escape Chicago’s winter in the middle of February. Yes please. Given that winter hasn’t properly started yet and it’s mid-December, it’s probably going to last quite late into April & May. Glad to leave that behind.

In the meantime, I still have plenty going on in Chicago. Come to some of my shows!

Hitch*Cocktails: every Friday 10pm, The Annoyance Theater, It’s an improvised Alfred Hitchcock-style thriller/drinking game. Tickets $20/$15, book here because we often sell out over the holidays.

VAMP: every Friday & Saturday 10:30pm, MCL Chicago. It’s all short-form musical improv. I lead a four-piece band for Saturday night shows, and the rotation of improvising singers are freaking amazing. Tickets $15, book here including for my birthday VAMP on Saturday 12 December, and a free show we’re videoing on Sunday 13 December.

The Great Annoyance Melodrama and Vaudeville Revue: Sundays 8pm, until 27 December, The Annoyance Theater. It’s a traditionally hokey Christmas story about a small town, a tall tree, and a meddling villain. Written and directed by C.J. Tuor of Hitch*Cocktails fame, I’m the composer and music director.Ask-Your-Doctor-Poster-400x499$12/$8, book here, it’s family-friendly!

Ask Your Doctor: Thursdays 8pm, 7 January to 11 February, The Annoyance Theater. It’s a brand new musical about pharmaceutical sales reps and the dodgy shit they do. Written and directed by Jillian Mueller, I’m the composer and music director. $20/$15, book here, we’re currently in previews.

PlayGround Zero: Fridays 7:30, 8 January to 5 February, De Maat Studio, Second City. This is a Writing 6 graduation show, written by students who have done the full one-year course at the Second City Training Center. Directed by Aaron Sjöholm, I’m their music director and composer. $12, book here.

And I’ll leave you with this video.

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Green Card Lottery time!

Hi world.

It has been a long time since I’ve written an update for this site. I’ve got a few things to post (like I really should update my About Me to reflect my various Chicago activities). In the meantime, let me link to the website of someone who does actually put fingers to keyboard: I present Andrew Allen’s excellent and comprehensive article How to Win the Green Card Lottery.

Both Andrew and I come from Auckland, and we were both selected in the 2014 intake of Diversity Visa Lottery winners – in fact our consular interviews were just one day apart. We were connected by mutual theatre friends, and we ended up on the same variety show bill before we emigrated. Andrew now lives in New York City, where he quickly found work as a theatre publicist. I now live in Chicago, where my rent is three times smaller.

So if you were wondering how I won the Green Card lottery, here’s the answer:
– Actually entering. (Entries are open now until November 3!)
– A lot of luck.
– Being meticulous with paperwork.

Go read Andrew’s guide (and my comments at the end) for a full run-down.

Peace!

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Where is home?

The first Google Image Search result for "home", because every blog post is supposed to have an image because of search engine stuff or Facebook or whatever. Source: moneysmart.gov.au

The first Google Image Search result for “home”, because every blog post is supposed to have an image because of search engine stuff or Facebook or whatever. Source: moneysmart.gov.au

Where is home? I’ve flippantly said “Home is where your stuff is”, but that’s not the whole picture.

When you move countries, when do you actually move? When do you comprehensively separate day-to-day ties with your previous country and properly integrate into the new? This is a thorny question given that I came back to New Zealand for a two-week trip less than three months after settling in Chicago.

I’ve got all sorts of contending dates.
– 27 December 2014: when I entered the United States on an immigrant visa and became a resident alien.
– 5 January 2015: when I reached my new home city of Chicago, and the room in my apartment.
– 7 January 2015: when I bought a bed in Chicago
– 14 January 2015: when I spent $573 at IKEA in Chicago on furniture and pillows and kitchen stuff
– 6 February 2015: when I did my first paid, taxable gig as a US resident
– Today, 22 April 2015: when I fly back to the United States after a short New Zealand return trip, and when I henceforth have no fixed future plans to return to New Zealand.
– 1 June 2015: the date from which I (hopefully) have Affordable Care Act health insurance, as opposed to travel insurance
– (unidentified future date, but probably some time in June): the date from which I’m earning more income from United States sources than New Zealand sources. I’m actually doing alright at this freelance composing malarkey, although I’m aware that may not last when I’m not showing my face at concert venues up and down the country.
– October 2015: when this year’s commissions have all received their first performances in New Zealand: the various Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano people; the Jade String Quartet; and the Westlake Boys High School choir Voicemale performing the full version of Howler Monkey at Prizegiving
– (unidentified future date): when I stop regularly listening to most podcasts from Upbeat and Standing Room Only
– (unidentified future date): when my Facebook algorithms serve me far more US/Chicago content than New Zealand content
– (unidentified future date, TBA when): when I have more Facebook friends in Chicago than in Auckland
– (unidentified future date, heaven knows when): when I intercontinentally relocate all my books from my parents’ house in Auckland
– (unidentified future date, possibly never): when I have more United States Facebook friends than New Zealand friends
– (unidentified future date, possibly never): when I intercontinentally relocate all my stuff currently in storage at my parents’.

Tell you what, it doesn’t feel like it’s today. Five hours ago I finished a concert in Hamilton, and boarding is right now imminent at Auckland International Airport. Less than 24 hours after I land in Chicago, I’m doing a gig in the Chicago Improv Festival.

This week, I have rehearsals or gigs Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There’s a date line separation in there, but it really just feels like a busy week with a couple of flights and an intercity return trip thrown in.

And you know what… that’s pretty awesome.

I’m a jetsetting freelance arts person. Granted, I will probably need to find some form of stable day job once I return to Chicago (at least part-time), but you know those Chicago gigs this week? Most of them I was asked to do =&0=&. People are remembering me in Chicago and obviously think I’m half-decent at what I do.

That’s pretty baller. International arts freelancer right here. Feels pretty good.

Feels better than Economy Class, anyway.*

* And thanks to the very kindly Air New Zealand check-in lady who let me get away with 23.7kg. You’re baller too.

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A quick trip home!

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

I moved to Chicago on 5 January 2015. Three months on, I’ll be back in New Zealand for a couple of weeks.

To clarify for both Chicagoans and Kiwis: no, I’m not moving back. I still definitely live in Chicago. This trip is to fulfil a long-standing commitment with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra because they’re playing my Relish in Immature Bombast again.

If you’re unfamiliar with this piece, it’s for huge-ass pipe organ, full-on funk/rock/jazz drum kit, and symphony orchestra, take a squiz at this video:

The APO is performing this at Open Orchestra Central, at their home venue of the Auckland Town Hall. Reprising their roles are original soloists Tim Noon (organ) and Jono Sawyer (drum kit) – in fact, it’s ten years since Jono and I first worked together in ska band Jonny Doom & The Forcefields. I’ll be introducing the piece as MC and composer, interviewing some of the performers, and also MCing the rest of the afternoon’s proceedings.

Best of all, this event is totally, 100% free. Come to the Auckland Town Hall at 2pm on Saturday 11 April, and hit “Going” on the Facebook event if that’s your thing.

I also have a fundraiser concert!

Sir James Wallace has been quite generous with both his funds and his home – I’ve got a couple of Wallace Arts Trust-funded compositions in the works, and on Sunday 19 April he’s hosting a house concert for me. Poster:

Robbie-Ellis-Rannoch-RGB

I’ve invited two other composer-performers to join me:

Corwin Newall isn’t all that well-known outside of Dunedin, but he and I got to work together quite a bit during my Mozart Fellowship year. He’s got a new song cycle called Scientists read more

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