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Meet TEDxFlourCity 2013 speaker: Emily Wozniak!

  • Posted on: 11 February 2014
  • By: Irene

On June 9th, 2013 Emily Wozniak introduced the concept of the unconventional Rochester music ensemble Sound ExChange, of which she is the founder and executive director, to the TEDxFlourCity stage.

Sound ExChange breaks down barriers between audience and musicians, and between the concert orchestra scene and music fans who may find it inaccessible. Spaces the group has performed in include hospitals, offices, at an art installation and the 2013 Rochester Fringe Festival; in some cases inviting audience members to sit in the orchestra alongside musicians. Then, the group was two years old and new to the Rochester scene. A year later Sound ExChange has gained recognition in the community, with Wozniak’s TEDxFlourCity talk garnering over 2600 views on YouTube and the group earning a $100, 000 grant from the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation (Farash Foundation).

Although busy teaching at Eastman and starting work on the grant funded project, Emily was kind enough to make time to sit down and talk about how Sound ExChange has grown in the year since her TEDxFlourCity talk, and give us a sneak preview of what they are working on now.


Can you tell me about the grant you recently received from the Farash Foundation to do a Creative Collision project?

[It was] A total surprise because we are such a young organization. But [we are] so thankful.

[We] Looked at what would be a good collaboration, and talked about how technology could make a good contribution to a concert experience.

[The project is] Centered around technology and music within the concert experience, and build[ing] a hub online for what is created during the concert. [It is a] Partnership with two RIT professors, Microsoft Studios and the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. [The] Goal is to build a network to connect.

How has Sound ExChange grown since 2011?

[I] Started by knocking on practice room doors and asking people to join. Now it’s something people want to be a part of. The group has been through many transformations.

What direction is the group going in now?

We want to be the go to group for cool projects in the community—art, technology—[the] group that’s so flexible and creative that we can adapt to anything. We want to bring in as many people as we can with many different interests.

In your TEDxFlourCity talk you said “I personally don’t want my generation to be defined by facebook and twitter. I think we’re capable of finding more meaningful ways to connect.” Can you talk more about audience engagement using social media and technology during Sound Exchange performances?

[We are] Using this semester as a test phase. RIT students are building apps allowing performers and audience to be connected…Creating a dialogue; [a] way to participate.

Another concept you brought up in your talk: “Creativity is so powerful it can fuel innovation in all areas…” How do you see Sound ExChange fueling innovation in different contexts?

We collaborate as much as possible, collaboration is all about dialogue, the more you communicate between different areas, the more likely you are to find common ground.

Do you see attending Sound ExChange as an exercise in unlocking audience members’ creativity?

[Yes] By bringing the audience as close to the art as possible, flipping the roles and inviting people to step into the creation of the art. We want to challenge people to think.

[We received] Fringe Fest performance feedback: (audience member) “that made me think about my role in something greater.”

You talked about your desire to offer a different experience for your audiences. How do you see Sound ExChange making orchestral music more relevant to different generations?

[It is] A different slant on what orchestra is. [We are] Trying to develop a smaller core team that we can add to or reduce—doesn’t have to be a huge immobile thing. [To be] Flexible enough to go anywhere and do anything—Can be seen as 21st century music.

[Audience members:] “We don’t really know what we’re going to get at a Sound ExChange [concert].” [We are] Depending on the needs of the audience.

You quoted a woman in your audience at the art exhibit at U of R as saying the experience was transformative. How has the energy of music transformed your experiences in life or how you look at it?

[It is a] Constant companion…if I have great music I’m never lonely. I’m passionate about it in a way that I connect with, more than science or technology… It has the power to transport you to different places.

What would you tell audience members to do with this experience and energy?

...If you like it, come see us more, talk to us. The goal is to build a community. We need to audience members to want to build it as well. We are an open forum for your ideas. Take risks with us, help us build a community.

In your TEDxFlourCity talk you said “Music cannot be elite… it is human and breaks boundaries of race, gender and status.” How would you imagine your new definition of orchestras contributing to breaking down those boundaries?

Exposure to and involvement in art can make anyone’s life better. [In a] hospital, homeless shelter, but [it] can be applied to any business, school... There could be a string quartet in Wegman’s! Why can’t you enjoy music anywhere? We enjoy being challenged by weird requests—a CEO asking us to design something for his office… Even that can be exciting!

Who is your favorite modern artist and why?

Clare Chase [of the] International Contemporary Ensemble. What she’s done—she’s such a visionary and a do-er. The growth of that organization is extraordinary. [She] Introduced a totally different model.


Well Emily, we think you’re pretty visionary yourself. TEDxFlourCity would like to thank you for your time and for continuing to stay connected with us. We are looking forward to seeing what Sound ExChange does next!

You can find out more about the details of Sound ExChange’s Creative Collision project on their website here.

If you would like to find out first hand the power of a Sound ExChange performance, starting this month they will be putting on the Taproom Series, a series of free shows for the community. They will be performing at:


Boulder Coffee Co (South Wedge): Feb. 15 @ 9:00 PM

Skylark Lounge: Feb. 28 @ 8:00 PM

Lovin cup: May 11 @ 7:00PM


In addition, two performances introducing the interactive technology Sound ExChange is developing with their grant project will be showcased during the Imagine RIT Innovation Festival on May 3rd.


Don’t miss a beat!


Do you have a request or an exciting challenge for Sound ExChange? Or do you simply have more questions? You may contact Emily at: