Teen Living Programs

At our Blues and Songwriting program at Teen Living Programs, clients will explore the basics of blues music, including the origins of blues, 12-bar blues, and blues poetry as a means of creating their own music and lyrics rooted in blues traditions. Participants will also learn the basics of using audio editing software and recording equipment to create their own loop-based songs inspired by stories from the participants themselves. Participants are encouraged to use Fifth House Ensemble musicians to perform in the songs as well.

The emphasis at Teen Living Programs is on client inclusion. There are often many voices that will contribute to a song, and all of the participants will contribute to the final project in their own unique ways. Our goal for this residency is not just to create songs, but to give the participants the opportunity and the knowledge to distribute their forms of artistic expression to the world. The residency concludes with a presentation for other clients and Teen Living Programs staff, where the participants will tell the stories of how their songs were composed.

“You were my inspiration.”

-Participant at Teen Living Programs

To find out more about Teen Living Program, visit:


Nancy B. Jefferson School

This Graphic Score Residency gives students the opportunity to engage in the compositional process without having previous musical knowledge. Students will learn how to create unique visual representations of sound and be able to justify their choices, using musical terminology. The compositional and visual processes serve as tools for emotional expression, further explored by integrating Social Emotional Learning components into the curriculum. The culminating project trains confident public speaking skills and performance.  Team work on the final project mirrors the model of chamber music collaboration set forth by the two teaching artists in each visit.

“You have made me see my son in a new light.”

-Parent of Nancy B. Jefferson Participant


“Thank you for this program – it makes me feel a little more free.”

-Participant of Nancy B. Jefferson residency

To find out more about the Nancy B. Jefferson School, visit:


Deborah’s Place

At Deborah’s Place, the participants will create Blues poetry and musical pairings in the Blues style to be performed live, accompanied by Fifth House musicians. Participants will learn about rhyme schemes, how to recognize and create iambic rhythms in both poetry and music, the chords needed to make a blues song, and the rich history this musical genre draws from. The participants will direct Fifth House musicians to play as they choose, and it is our goal to provide them with the tools to engage in a fully collaborative project. The creative process will be spread out over five visits in which participants learn some of the musical basics, such as hearing and identifying tempo, dynamics, and articulation. Participants will also learn about different musical styles from jazz to classical, poetic tools such as rhyme and rhythm, and even public speaking skills. The women of Deborah’s Place are encouraged to find their own voice through their creative work which cover such a variety of topics as the empowering journey from homelessness to self-sufficiency, or the struggle with family troubles, and solutions for how to overcome it.

“”I don’t get it perfect but I don’t give up /

I’m staying in the race, though it gets tough.”

-Queen Hayes, Deborah’s Place participant from her poem, Success

To find out more about Deborah’s Place, visit:


Loyola University Center for Urban Research and Planning

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To augment its current documentation and evaluation methods, Fifth House Ensemble has partnered with Loyola University Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) researchers to lead the evaluation of residency programs. One of the most vibrant collaborative research centers in the country, CURL creates innovative solutions that promote equity and opportunity in communities throughout the Chicago metropolitan region.

Deep synergy exists between CURL’s participatory research process and Fifth House’s civic practice model. Collaboration is at the center of both groups’ work, as new projects are developed side-by-side with external partners from diverse disciplines, utilizing the assets and expertise of all parties to produce meaningful results.

The focal point of Fifth House Ensemble’s partnership with CURL is to create responsive evaluation methods for arts-integrated and civic practice work in the field of art music.

Fifth House Ensemble and CURL research has found that throughout the course of a residency, student participants experience:

Mindfulness – staying in the moment and engaging with your surroundings.

Participants are fluid and spontaneous, view residencies space as safe, constructive and peaceful, and work through reactive and proactive decision making processes.

Empowerment – believing you are a valuable member of society and have the ability to cause and/or create change. 

Participants take ownership of the residencies in both content and meaning, and create music-based scenes both inside and outside the residencies (ex. hosting events, collaborations, additional workshops, etc.)

Agency – having the ability to respond in the moment and express one’s ideas.

Participants step to up responsibilities (ex. redirecting focus, volunteering for tasks, etc.), resist teaching artist or curriculum with intention, and give live performances.

Creativity – engagement and flexibility in the presence of obstacles.

Participants actively participate in the residency, stretch beyond their comfort zones, and use the residencies to engage with social and personal problems.

Collective Decision Making – a collaborative process where group members come together and work toward a common goal.

Participants ask questions within residency sessions, work in small groups (ex. dyad and triad tasks within residencies), and use team preparation work for performances within the residencies. 

Fifth House Ensemble and CURL have completed one full year of this project, and have incorporated initial findings into the project plans for 2017-2018. The second year of evaluation is currently underway.


Fifth House Ensemble is supported in part by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Alphawood Foundation, the Arts Work Fund, the MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, and by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.