Voices from the Dust Bowl Program

Fifth House Ensemble and Henhouse Prowlers Present

Voices from the Dust Bowl

Sunday, May 1st 2016, 3:00pm
Old Town School of Folk Music
4544 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL

Sunday, May 8th 2016, 8:30pm
3111 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL

Amazing Grace – John Harbison
Emily’s Reel – Mark O’Connor
Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, L’autunno, mvt. I: Allegro – Antonio Vivaldi
Voices from the Dust Bowl – Steve Snowden
Ain’t It a Shame – James Weigel, arr. Henhouse Prowlers
Shallow Streams, Deep Rivers, mvt. III – Dana Wilson
Flatiron, mvt. V: Mahogany – Marc Mellits
I Don’t Want Your Millions, Mister – Pete Seeger
Deportee – Woody Guthrie
Rosebud Rounds the Yard – Ben Wright, arr. Henhouse Prowlers
Umoja – Valerie Coleman, lyrics by Chisanga Simwenwa
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? – John Harbison
Workers Union – Louis Andriessen
Carolina Moon – Hugh Broughton, arr. Henhouse Prowlers

Fifth House Ensemble premieres Voices from the Dust Bowl, a concert collaboration with the Chicago-based bluegrass band Henhouse Prowlers presented May 1 at the Old Town School of Folk Music. The two groups will present original arrangements of classic songs by Joe Burke/Benny Davis, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie, alongside favorites from Henhouse Prowlers and chamber music works by John Harbison, Louis Andriessen, Valerie Coleman, and Antonio Vivaldi. A centerpiece of the show is Voices from the Dust Bowl, a new work for Fifth House Ensemble by composer Steve Snowden based on the words of migrant workers during the Dust Bowl Era, as captured in the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection housed within the Library of Congress.

To highlight the lasting impact of this pivotal period in American history through the modern day, 5HE and Henhouse partner with two Chicago-based worker rights advocacy organizations: Latino Union, who defend the rights of low-income workers and fight to improve their social and economic positions; and Interfaith Worker Justice, which has been organizing, educating and advocating for worker rights since 1996. The performance includes personal stories from workers and staff from both organizations, as well as labor rights advocacy groups nationwide.

In creating Voices from the Dust Bowl, which incorporates historical audio interviews with migrant workers during the 1930s Dust Bowl era, Steve Snowden says that he “felt it was imperative to reflect the honesty and vulnerability that is so apparent in these hundreds of recordings.” For farmers hoping to escape the ravaged and barren heartland in the wake of the Great Depression, California was often seen as a veritable promised land. However, for the millions who traveled there to find work, that fantasy was short lived. Even in cases where an entire family was working, wages were often not high enough for them to support themselves.

In an effort to improve poor sanitation conditions and relieve stress on local infrastructures, the federal government established labor camps to house these migrant workers. These camps not only helped to improve the day to day lives of the workers; they also provided them an opportunity to rekindle their sense of community and, because of the diverse backgrounds of the inhabitants, became unique intersections for cultural exchange. Snowden describes Voices from the Dust Bowl “as a kind of nonlinear storytelling; a patchwork of hopes, fears, and memories with its own distinct emotional trajectory.”

After working with Steve on the concept for his work, 5HE connected with Chicago-based worker rights advocacy organizations through the ensemble’s ongoing partnership with Loyola University’s Center for Urban Research and Learning to learn more about the working and family lives of day laborers and immigrant workers in the modern day. Although the settings have evolved over time, in many ways the challenges faced by both domestic workers and day laborers served by these organizations have remained unchanged in the decades since these historical interviews were captured.

5HE Programs Manager Eric Snoza says, “Through these interviews, we learned that many people immigrating to the US to support their families abroad gave up positions of high status in government, engineering, or the medical field in their home countries to take jobs as janitors, taxi drivers and house cleaners in the US. These situations often leave them vulnerable to problems such as dangerous working conditions and wage theft. We also heard workers’ personal stories, including what it means to watch their children grow up over FaceTime while sending up to 80% of their income overseas. We hope that Voices from the Dust Bowl will be a platform to raise awareness about the important work being done by organizations like IWJ and Latino Union, and to honor the stories of the workers they serve every day.”

5HE and Henhouse Prowlers underscore these powerful stories with a program that spans newly commissioned works, classic folk songs, and Baroque repertoire, drawing connections between past and present. Woody Guthrie’s Deportee describes a plane crash that carried migrant workers who were dismissed as nameless in the media coverage of the tragedy. Pete Seeger’s I Don’t Want Your Millions, Mister is a defiant cry for the right to work and earn a fair wage to support one’s family. Marc Mellits’s Flatiron and John Harbison’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken? channel the feelings of despair and the vicious cycles of abuse. Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union evokes a noisy factory floor while illustrating the power of unity. In a sentiment shared by many of the immigrant workers interviewed for this project, the 1920s classic Carolina Moon represents a longing for the comfort of home.

“…conviction, authority, and finesse…” – Steve Smith, New York Times

“…constantly moving in unexpected and fantastic directions…” – Elliot Mandel, Gapers Block

Fifth House Ensemble:

Melissa Snoza, flute
Grace Hong, oboe
Jennifer Woodrum, clarinet
Eric Heidbreder, bassoon
Valerie Whitney, horn
Charlene Kluegel, violin
Clark Carruth, viola
Herine Coetzee Koschak, cello
Eric Snoza, double bass
Katherine Petersen, piano

Henhouse Prowlers:

Ben Wright, banjo
Jon Goldfine, bass/voice
Aaron Dorfman, guitar
Todd Livingston, dobro


The Chicago-based Fifth House Ensemble is a versatile and dynamic group praised by the New York Times for its “conviction, authority, and finesse.” Defined by limitless imagination the ensemble engages curiosity to create unexpected connections with artistic collaborators and audiences of all types, breathing life into repertoire both established and emerging. Over the last decade, the ensemble has engaged theater groups, visual artists, animators, living composers, astronomers, folk musicians and corporate innovators transformative cross-media performance experiences for audiences of every type.

Recent seasons have included performances at the Ravinia Festival, Miller Theatre, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Texas Performing Arts, the Eastman School of Music, Yale, Indiana University, and New England Conservatory. In 2014, the ensemble released its debut album on Cedille Records, praised for its “spirited music-making of the finest kind” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

In addition to the ensemble’s work on the concert stage, 5HE reaches 17,000 students annually through its arts-integrated programming, and trains emerging artists nationwide as a curriculum design partner for higher education institutions and through its summer festival, fresh inc. More at www.fifth-house.com.


Eleven years in the making, Chicago’s Henhouse Prowlers have built a reputation for hard work and non-stop touring, playing music inspired by the roots of bluegrass while branching out into a sound uniquely their own. From lightning fast picking, to sentimental ballads—playing storied original material, traditional songs, and contemporary covers—The Prowlers’ live show leaves no one wanting.

Resting on no haunches, the Prowlers just released a new album “Still On That Ride” in the summer of 2015. Along with their cover of the Nigerian pop hit “Chop My Money,” the album consists of 13 original songs with each member collaborating in contribution. The band is beyond excited to put out their most self-authored work to date!

The boys have worked with the US State Department on four separate trips in ten different countries in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as Russia, and put yet another notch in their European belt this summer, touring all over the Benelux and beyond. Continuing to push the envelope with their highly original songwriting, tight arrangements, and electrifying stage presence–with the bluegrass mantle on their shoulders and the best fans in the world by their side, The Henhouse Prowlers are here to stay for a long, long time. More at http://henhouseprowlers.com.


The music of Steven Snowden has been described as “Beguiling… combining force with clarity” (San Francisco Classical Voice), “Wonderfully dynamic” (Interlude Hong Kong), “Rustic, red-blooded” (New Music Box), and “Marvelously evocative” (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Writing music for dance, theater, multi-media installations, and the concert stage, he is equally at home writing acoustic and electro-acoustic music and has taken a keen interest in interdisciplinary collaboration and live electronic audio manipulation as a tool for improvisation.

Snowden’s work often deals with concepts of memory, nostalgia, and the cyclic nature of historical events as they pertain to modern society. While his musical influences are deeply rooted in bluegrass, folk, and rock, he utilizes non-traditional techniques and processes to compose works that don’t squarely align with any single genre or style.

A native of the Ozarks countryside, he began composition studies in 2002 at Missouri State University and subsequently earned his Masters degree at the University of Colorado and Doctorate at the University of Texas. In 2012-2013 he was a Fulbright Scholar in Portugal, researching and implementing motion tracking technology as a means to facilitate collaboration between music and dance. In 2013-2014, he was a visiting professor and composer in residence at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He is the co-founder/director of the Fast Forward Austin Music Festival and currently resides in Austin, Texas where he works as a freelance composer and rides his Harley through the Texas Hill Country whenever weather and time allow. More at http://www.stevensnowden.com.


Latino Union of Chicago

Eric Rodriguez, Senior Organizer
Rebecca Harris, Development and Communications Manager
Esther Bolanos, Member
Jesus Yanez, Member
Andres Lugano, Member

Interfaith Worker Justice
Cathy Junia, Director of Communications and Development

Pilipino Worker Center
Lolita Andrada Lledo, Associate Director
Towards Justice

Nina DiSalvo, Executive Director
Lindsay Fallon, Outreach & Development Coordinator

University of Denver Sturm College of Law
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, Visiting Professor

Damayan Migrant Workers Association

Linda Oalican, Founding Member and Executive Director

Arise Chicago
Adam Kader, Worker Center Director

Bucky Halker, US Labor History Ph.D. & Singer-Songwriter