Get to know the Grossman Ensemble: Constance Volk, flute

Constance Volk headshot 2016


The Grossman Ensemble—our resident ensemble here at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition—is home to thirteen musicians with rich lives both inside and outside of the musical sphere. Today, we are excited to continue our "Get to know the Grossman Ensemble" series by introducing you to Constance Volk, one of the newest members of the ensemble. Read on to learn about Constance's experience as a painter, what it's like to perform with her sister, and more!

When you’re not rehearsing or performing with the Grossman Ensemble, you spend some time as a painter and illustrator. How did you become interested in these crafts? 

My painting career grew out of training to become a piano tuner. Two years and 200 pianos in, I developed an insatiable desire to capture the audio experience of tuning, visually. Developing this style was the beginning of a journey that is still evolving. I create textured paintings intended for touch. Beginning with a foundation of clay on canvas, I form channels that allow liquid prismatic oil to flow and marble as it cures, resulting in creations that have the appearance of stone and metal. I am interested in pathways, found both in the mind and in nature. I represent these pathways with mazes and streams. The maze invites you to journey toward an answer. The stream evokes the perpetual movement of nature. A pathway is formed by repetition, and eventually confines activity the more entrenched the pathway becomes. In this way, pathways form boundaries that determine behavior. The act of creating mazes, solving mazes, even just getting lost in mazes, is where I contemplate this subject.

My illustrations, mostly fictional creatures and mazes, have been developing since I was a kid. My dad used to read to my family after dinner. I enjoyed doodling during these sessions. I have published two mix and match 'Connie's Characters' coloring books, 'weirdos' and 'mishmash'. Inside each book is a collection of wacky weirdos, with switchable heads and bodies and room for the owner to design their own characters. These books are about embracing creativity and providing an opportunity to collaborate. 

As a visual artist, you’re interested in pathways of the mind and of nature, representing them through mazes and streams. In what ways might “pathways” inform your approach to the flute? 

Delivering a phrase on the flute is sculpting an audio pathway. Measuring the breath, speed, and contour of a phrase, feels similar to measuring the pressure, speed and contour of a brush stroke. 

Katherine Schoepflin Jimoh, the clarinetist in the Grossman Ensemble, is your sister. What is it like to collaborate and perform with her? 

Performing alongside my sister is an honor and a joy. We’ve been melting into each other’s sound for more than 3 decades, and the value of that time is something I can feel every time we play together. 

What’s the most inspiring musical performance you’ve seen recently? 

Em Spel at the Sleeping Village last August.

As one of the newest members, what are you most looking forward to about the Grossman Ensemble’s upcoming season? 

Playing with the Grossman Ensemble is a dream gig for me. The performers are outstanding, the vision is focused, the venue facilitates quality audio and video footage. The structure allows for genuine collaboration between composers and performers. The administration paves a smooth path to achieving the high standards the group has become known for.