Perfect evening in Brown County: ‘Utopia’ pairs writers with The Liberation Music Collective

In a perfect world, the finest musicians might not have to think about new ways to bring their art to the public.

And that’s the point of “Utopia: 21st Century Reflections on the Pursuit of Perfection.”

Even with the best of intentions, utopia is a concept. And in the real world, Indiana University’s music students must become increasingly entrepreneurial in the ways they practice their art.

Utopia event posterIn “Utopia,” The Liberation Music Collective’s energetic jazz-based sound will be paired with themed readings from members of the Brown County Writers, Readers, and Poets Society. Narrator for the night is Yaël Ksander of WFIU, a distinguished voice in the local arts scene.

The thought-provoking program begins at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at Brown County Playhouse in Nashville. Tickets are $15, or $5 for students.

“Utopia” is Project Jumpstart’s third annual showcase event at the playhouse. The project is a platform for emerging student ensembles to present fresh, innovative approaches to performance.

Project Jumpstart is a student-led career and leadership program. It was launched in 2010 as a partnership between the Jacobs School of Music and the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Kelley School of Business.

“As the music world morphs and explores new creative territory, it’s increasingly important for our students to experience what it’s like to put on events themselves, and to expand the notion of what it is to be a musician in a community,” said Alain Barker, director of entrepreneurship and career development at the Jacobs School of Music.

“Hannah and Matt have come up with an absolutely amazing concept for next Saturday and I look forward to seeing and hearing the results,” he said.


Hannah Fidler and Matt Riggen are the co-creators behind The Liberation Music Collective, a 14-piece band that performs original compositions about contemporary social issues.

A senior from Bloomington, Fidler is studying jazz bass and neuroscience. She also is a Wells Scholar.

Matt Riggen is a fifth-year senior from Avon majoring in biology and jazz studies.

Matt Riggen and Hannah Fidler.

Matt Riggen and Hannah Fidler are co-founders of The Liberation Music Collective, a jazz band committed to social justice. Photo by Jeff Browne

The two crossed paths at the Jacobs School, but became further acquainted as part of Wayne Wallace‘s academic big band two years ago. “Wayne had both Matt and I composing for the band, so that’s how we really got to know each other as writers and not just players,” Fidler said. “Some of the songs I did for Wayne’s band had a social-justice bent to them, so that’s also how Matt got to know about my background in activism and my interest in socially conscious music.”

“The decision to work so closely with each other was born out of mutual admiration,” Riggen said.

“I would characterize what Hannah and I are doing with The Liberation Music Collective as 21st-century American big band music,” he said.

Riggen said the group’s music comes directly from the tradition of jazz as the music of social protest. They do not recreate a historic big band sound, but have built something fresh that draws upon newer ideas, from free jazz to hip-hop.

“All this music is rooted in the experience of a culture of immigrants coming into contact with a native population — whether that culture was coming to North, Central, or South America,” Riggen said.

“I’ve always felt that the USA was special (at least at the outset) because it was essentially founded on grounds rooted in ethics,” he said. “Everyone who chooses to be American is. There is room enough in this country to be LGBTQ+, Muslim, atheist, German-speaking, Spanish-speaking, blue-collar, white-collar, any race, any color, any creed.

“We want our music to reflect the diverse American experience, with a particular emphasis on those whose stories are little-told or suppressed,” he said.


“I have always wanted to engage artistically with the idea of utopia,” Fidler said.

Utopia has a unique place in Western culture and a significant history in Indiana, she said. New Harmony is known for the Rappite and Owenite communities founded there in the 19th century. And before its eventual cataclysm, Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple began in Indianapolis.

“It’s important for us to reflect on the intellectual and practical challenges that America’s utopian history presents,” Fidler said. “It is also very timely to be pondering the boundaries of idealism, pragmatism and demagoguery during this time of turbulence in American politics.”

The Liberation Music Collective went beyond pondering utopia and wrote their ideas into music.

“The sound of ‘Utopia’ to me is rooted in history,” she said. “In our compositions for ‘Utopia,’ we’ve tried to reference musical styles and aesthetics from the time periods in which Indiana’s utopian experiments took place. The music is very modern, but if you listen closely, you can hear us hearkening back to certain things that help connect our project culturally to these historic utopias.”

As part of the project, they invited the Brown County writers to create new work around the theme.

“This is basically a ‘jazz drama,’ which is not done very often,” Fidler said.

“Combining instrumental jazz with spoken and sung theater, then adding a dash of poetry and a sprinkle of history lessons is quite a combination,” she said. “It’s probably going to be different from anything most people have heard before, and I hope that is exciting to potential listeners.”

The Liberation Music Collective released the album "Siglo XXI" in 2015.

The Liberation Music Collective released the album “Siglo XXI” in 2015.

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