UNCSA launches independent media publishing arm, UNCSA Media

UNCSA, with generous support from the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, has launched its first-ever media publishing arm, UNCSA Media, a mission-driven recording label that will feature the creative projects of faculty and alumni from UNCSA across all disciplines and offer curricular opportunities for students to gain practical career skills in intellectual property and entrepreneurship. With two to three releases per year, UNCSA Media will feature music, film and video, plays, dance, and more, leveraging the conservatory’s five disciplines on one campus and its extensive worldwide network of talented alumni and world-class faculty.

The first release, available Sept. 29, is “Windows,” a recording featuring UNCSA faculty members performing works by contemporary composers Valerie Coleman, Jessie Montgomery and Reena Esmail, as well as a world premiere commission by Kamala Sankaram.

UNCSA Media "Windows"

UNCSA Media "Windows"

“I am so proud to launch UNCSA Media, an innovative platform that will highlight the incredible talent produced by and created at our unique conservatory,” said UNCSA Chancellor Brian Cole. “UNCSA Media will not only showcase the remarkable talents of our faculty and alumni across a range of disciplines, genres and artforms, but will also provide curricular opportunities for our students to gain practical skills that will help them become entrepreneurs and artists for the 21st century and beyond. In this time of ever-evolving business models in the arts industry, it is more critical than ever for our student artists to learn the value of ownership, and of leveraging their intellectual property as they move into the professional world.”  

UNCSA Media will also provide a platform for its artist community to showcase their work to new audiences. “I am so looking forward to the great work that will be highlighted through UNCSA Media, and for audiences to learn more about UNCSA through the work,” Chancellor Cole added.

Future projects in discussion include an album of symphonic music composed by UNCSA alumnus and founding member of the band “Jump, Little Children,” Jay Clifford, who studied classical guitar at UNCSA and joined with fellow alums to form the indie rock band.

Valerie Coleman / Photo by: Matthew Murphy

Valerie Coleman / Photo by: Matthew Murphy

An initiative conceived of by Chancellor Cole in consultation with Michael Winger, former executive director of the Recording Academy / GRAMMYs and Winston-Salem native, UNCSA Media is an integral part of the “Maintaining and Expanding Industry Relevance” pillar of UNCSA Forward: The 2022-27 Strategic Plan. “Artists have more opportunities than ever to distribute their work, but finding your way into the marketplace is increasingly more challenging,” said Winger. “With its diverse array of dynamic resources, UNCSA Media is a new model that will allow UNCSA's talented pool of creators to take control of their intellectual property while expanding their opportunities in a media landscape that benefits from collaboration and community.”

UNCSA Media will follow a rights-friendly approach for its artists and create learning opportunities for students to understand the importance of managing their own intellectual property. In most cases, artists will maintain ownership of their master recording and publishing rights. Works will be licensed to UNCSA Media for limited terms of three to five years with options for renewal and equitable splits for both artists and the label.

UNCSA Media is supported, in part, by the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts in celebration of the institute’s 30th anniversary in partnership with UNCSA. “Over the years, the Kenan Institute for the Arts has served as a creative incubator and accelerator for UNCSA in areas ranging from arts and cultural research to career development for artists and national programs to advance arts education,” said Executive Director Kevin Bitterman. “At the core of supporting UNCSA Media is the Kenan Institute’s commitment to responding to the current needs of working artists and the evolving arts landscape.”

Jessie Montgomery / Photo by: Jiyang Chen Photography

Jessie Montgomery / Photo by: Jiyang Chen Photography

More about “Windows”

“Windows,” the first release from UNCSA Media, embraces virtuosity, diversity and reflection. The compilation features four contemporary works performed by UNCSA School of Music faculty artists in an eclectic program that binds together different genres, aesthetics, instrumentation and compositional styles. Featured on the album are Reena Esmail's Hindustani-inspired quintet, “Khirkiyaan (Windows),” three transformations for brass quintet (2017) performed by UNCSA faculty ensemble Watson Brass; Jessie Montgomery's ode to friendship and adventure, Duo for violin and cello (2015); and a jazz-inspired trio by composer Valerie Coleman, Trio Toccata for oboe, bassoon and piano (2014). The album also presents the world premiere recording of Kamala Sankaram's witty new song cycle, “A Certain Age,” for mezzo-soprano, bassoon and piano (2023), featuring the whimsical and poignant poems of Judith Viorst (“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”), former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan and Dorothy Parker (“Enough Rope,” “Death and Taxes”). “A Certain Age” will receive its world premiere performance on Oct. 31 in Watson Hall at UNCSA as part of the 2023-24 performance season. Tickets are available online at uncsa.edu/performances; livestreamed for free with registration.

Performances on the recording are by David Dash, trumpet, Mary Elizabeth Bowden, trumpet, Maria Serkin, horn, John Ilika, trombone, and Seth Horner, tuba, of Watson Brass (Esmail); Janet Orenstein, violin, and Brooks Whitehouse, cello (Montgomery); Phyllis Pancella, mezzo-soprano,  Stephanie Patterson, bassoon, and Allison Gagnon, piano (Sankaram); and Jaren Atherholt, oboe, Saxton Rose, bassoon, and Dmitri Vorobiev, piano (Coleman).

Reena Esmail

Reena Esmail

Khirkiyaan means “windows” in Hindi, and this brass quintet is made up of three “windows” into Esmail’s work. Each movement is a transformation of another piece of hers for another instrumentation, reimagined for brass quintet. She writes, “It was through working with brass players, being shown the seeds of what was already there in my existing work, and then transforming it for these instruments that allowed these windows to be opened in my work.”

Montgomery describes her Duo: “This piece was written for my friend and cellist Adrienne Taylor. The piece is meant as an ode to friendship with movements characterizing laughter, compassion, adventure and sometimes silliness.” It is fitting then that it is performed on this recording by the husband-and-wife duo Whitehouse and Orenstein. 

Coleman’s Trio Toccata, written in the summer of 2014, is a work that “showcases the virtuosity of each instrument in a lyrical, high-paced romp that is heavily jazz influenced.”

Kamala Sankaram

Kamala Sankaram

Of “A Certain Age,” commissioned by UNCSA, Sankaram said, “Writing this piece has been a wonderful process from beginning to end. The reason I went into more collaborative forms of music like opera and theater is to be able to work with other people. With the perspectives of more than one person, the work ends up being better than what you might have made on your own. I am thankful to have worked with Phyllis (Pancella) and I’m really excited for how it turned out.”

UNCSA faculty artist Pancella said, “I met Kamala Sankaram in her dual roles as composer and leading lady when I had the privilege of playing her mother in her brilliant opera ‘Thumbprint. Commissioning Kamala to write something for the launch of UNCSA Media was a dream come true, because then I could be there at the very beginning of her creative process. We were on the same page immediately: We both wanted bassoon to be part of the piece, and we both wanted female poets and humor to be central. Kamala is a truly collaborative creator and the result is wry, wise and heartfelt. I hope listeners are as delighted by it as we have been.”

“Windows” was recorded and mixed by UNCSA alumnus Bill Stevens at Ovation Sound in Winston-Salem and mastered by David McNair Mastering.

“Windows” will be available for streaming through major streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon.

For more information about UNCSA Media and future releases, visit www.uncsa.edu/uncsa-media.

For physical review copies please contact Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet, amanda@bucklesweet.com


The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) is a top-ranked arts conservatory and America’s first state-supported arts school. The nation’s only public university of five arts disciplines on one campus, UNCSA prepares emerging artists for careers in dance, design and production, drama, filmmaking, and musicat the undergraduate through post-graduate levels, as well as through a specialized high school with free tuition for in-state residents. UNCSA provides industry-leading instruction in a safe and inclusive environment where students are encouraged to leverage the arts as a mechanism for change. Interdisciplinary opportunities arising from the unique arts ecosystem on campus at UNCSA prepare artists to enter an evolving global arts and entertainment industry. Established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, the School of the Arts opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina System when it was formed in 1972. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.

About the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts

The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts was established in 1993 to strengthen the arts by initiating and incubating new ideas within the various constituencies and settings of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA).  By leveraging the extraordinary talents and creative energies of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to bring distinction to UNCSA, the Kenan Institute acts as a springboard to the broader creative community. For more information visit www.uncsa.edu/kenan.

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September 28, 2023