Very special show announcement soon

  1. used to attract someone’s attention surreptitiously.
    “Psst! Want to know a secret?”

Psssst indeed!

We are excited to announce next week our new show… while we prepare all the final details we can tell you this:

-It’s going to big, bold and beautiful

-It involves not one, not two, but 4 amazing NZ guest vocalists

-It features costumes designed by NZ’s very best costumer, Elizabeth Whiting

-It’ll be at Q Theatre in November!

We really can’t wait. But wait me must, but not much longer!





It’s with excitement that we announce our soon to be released album from our live show Dreams.

Recorded in Dec 2016 as a full ensemble, the collection of songs from ‘Dreams’ includes some beautiful musical alchemy from musicians including Callum Passells (Sax, clarinet), Kevin Keys (Trombone, Ukulele, Vocals) Jessie Cassin (Vocals) Tristan Deck (Drums) Charmian Keay (Violin) Claire Cowan (Banjo, Cello, Keys) Mikey Brown (Vocals, Guitar) Jonnie Barnard (Guitar) Jonathan Burgess (Bass).

The album will include our own versions of songs by artists including Iron and Wine, Radiohead, Stravinsky, Amy Winehouse, Loudon Wainwright, The Smiths, Claire Cowan, The Cure and Beth Orton.

We’re very excited to release this to the world in June. Keep your ears open!


Introducing : The Afterlife

Our latest show in development is our most adventurous and intriguing yet. But we need your help to make it happen! Up until this point, Blackbird Ensemble has been self funded through ticket sales. But this show is out of the ordinary, and requires a longer and more thorough rehearsal and development period to help it reach it’s potential.

Head over to our  Boosted Page to find out more. We can’t do it without you. Truth!

A Dance Class for Musicians

Here at Blackbird Ensemble we’re planning many shows, breaking new ground for classical performance in many directions. One of the directions we’re heading in – is dance. In preparation for that, and for a greater purpose of building a Blackbird community and musician network with similar goals; we are starting a dance class for musicians. Non-dancers can often feel intimidated learning in an experienced contemporary dance class – and too often there are few or no men involved. Blackbird Ensemble changes this. We’re creating an environment where it is:

  • Affordable
  • Fun
  • Educational
  • Energetic
  • Musical

to learn to use our bodies through dance. Our teachers are top notch contemporary dance practitioners from the Auckland region, and will teach in blocks of 3-4 weeks.

Classes are held at Central dance studios on Queen St (Above McDonalds.)

Wednesdays 8-9pm. Find our event on our Facebook page and register your interest. Classes will be only $10! cash at the door. All ages!



Akram Khan Vertical Road





Dance some more

DREAMS : Our review

Here’s what the NZ Herald (William Dart) has to say about our latest production…


“The Basement was magically morphed into a bed-strewn boudoir for Blackbird Ensemble’s latest sortie into chamber music cabaret.

Dreams came with devious intent as the group’s founder, Claire Cowan, urged us to let our minds run away with their desires and anxieties into a landscape that could be either thrilling or terrifying.

And who could resist, as the nine musicians woke up in their nightwear, rendering their first lullaby?

A wide-ranging playlist showed Cowan’s songbook is eclectic and classy.

At its most energetic, a rip-roaring Nick Cave number (I Had a Dream, Joe) strutted in a snappy arrangement that could have been the missing link between Kurt Weill and Tom Waits.

On the gentler side, there was the wistful Gillian Welch closer, with each instrument having its intimate conversation with Jessie Cassin’s tender vocals.

Colours dazzled, from an mbira duet signing off a Smiths song, to Callum Passells’ impressive shifts from sax and clarinet to world-weary accordion.

There was a curatorial zest in mashing songs together. Who would have thought that 80s vintage Smiths could partner a wry Loudon Wainwright lullaby from a decade before?

Later, an elegant Piazzolla tango encased Cassin’s smouldering tribute to Nina Simone in Don’t Smoke in Bed.

Instrumentally, these players caught the linear cool of Stravinsky, deftly arranged by Cowan, yet broke out and bloomed in moments of freedom. Kevin Keys’ trombone, sliding into the nostalgia lounge for ’60s Mancini, was a definite highlight.

With Daniel Williams’ imaginative set exquisitely lit by Rachel Marlow and Brad Gledhill, this stylish divertissement was beautifully paced by director Renee Lyons.

In the final count, though, the musicians made the show, centred on the vocal contributions of the inexhaustible Cassin and the soulful Mikey Brown.

Jonathan Burgess moved as effortlessly between electric and acoustic bass as Cowan balanced cello with banjo. Tristan Deck was molto simpatico as a top-notch percussionist must be, while Charmian Keay offered glamour and fine fiddling, on and off the bed. And let’s not forget a particularly sleek guitar solo from Jonnie Barnard that would have had Gillian Welch herself beaming.

The Blackbirds have come up with a dream of a show. Don’t miss it.

What: Blackbird Ensemble’s Dreams

Where: The Basement, to April 18

NZ Herald

Blackbird Ensemble’s brand new show DREAMS opens April 14


Blackbird Ensemble are heading to bed… And you’re invited. Wear your finest pyjamas, throw on your slippers, and head to DREAMS at the Basement this April.

‘DREAMS’ is the newest creation from Blackbird Ensemble who have become known for their elaborate and powerful musical concert experiences.

Starring 9 versatile multi-instrumentalists, this miniature orchestra presents an eclectic mix of music by artists such as Stravinsky, Piazolla, The Smiths, Calexico, Fleetfoxes and Radiohead. Blackbird Ensemble’s set list adopts its usual disregard for genre, binding its concert together with thematic links; this time, music inspired by dreamstates, nightmares, lullabies and the rituals of the bedroom.

‘Blackbird Ensemble morphs into a smaller ensemble than their last 3 productions (The Night Sky, The Wilderness, By The Sea) to present ‘DREAMS’ in The Basement Theatre. For the first time, the ensemble merges concert music with physical theatre and characterisation.

The production is directed by award winning theatrical visionary Renee Lyons. Chapman Tripp award winning Renee Lyons was selected to tour NZ, Melbourne and Edingburgh Fringe Festivals with her remarkable solo play ‘Nick: an accidental hero’. Her recent screen credits include the lead role in feature film ‘The Great Maidens Blush’ and a role in the TV series ‘800 words.’  Her recent directing work includes ‘Dinner with the Devil’ and ‘The Memory Shelf.

Musical direction is by Blackbird’s creative director Claire Cowan.

Cowan’s passion is to challenge classical music performance etiquette, removing boundaries between audience, orchestra, and musical genre divisions. In March she will be touring Australia with ‘Live Live Cinema: Carnival of Souls’ and in 2015 is Composer in residence with Orchestra Wellington, writing a brand new Violin concerto for young virtuoso Amalia Hall (The Wilderness).

Set design is by Daniel Williams. Daniel’s theatre career has seen him design sets and costumes for work all over New Zealand and Internationally. He recently won The 2013 Q Theatre, Auckland Newcomer Award and has been nominated multi times at the Chapmann Tripp theatre awards including winning Weta Workshop set designer of the year for ‘The Little Dog Laughed’.  Most recently Daniel designed the immersive theatrical event “Generation Z’ at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. He is Currently working on directing ‘Night of the Queer’ for Auckland Pride, Silo’s next production ‘8 Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography’ and was the concept design behind Britomart Cricket Club’s fan club activation.

“It’s a rare opportunity that I get to work with musicians and singers of this calibre. I’m beyond excited about what is already an inspiring and special collaboration with Claire and the Blackbird Ensemble. The audience will be swept into a world of sensory delight. It’s going to be magic!”  – Director Renee Lyons

“DREAMS is about getting the audience closer than ever before; both physically and emotionally. It’s also a playful theme and setting to explore music that has sprung from composer’s subconscious thoughts and desires. It’s an endlessly fascinating subject – I often have my best ideas whilst just waking up, before my fully conscious mind has switched into its logical and judgmental state.”

– Musical Director Claire Cowan

DREAMS is performed by

Claire Cowan CELLO/KEYS (Blackbird Ensemble founder/director)

Jessie Cassin VOCALS (Motorcity Family Funk)

Mikey Brown VOCALS (Outside In)

Tom Broome PERCUSSION (Hollie Smith, Sorceress)

Sam Taylor GUITAR (Lisa Crawley, Sam Taylor Duo)

Eric Scholes BASS (APO, ACO, Rocking Rollercoasters)

Charmian Keay VIOLIN (APO, Korutet)

Kevin Keys TROMBONE (Soul Samba Circus)

Callum Passells SAXOPHONES (The Babyshakes)

We made the stars blaze

I stole the title of this post from a terrible musical production I did at primary school, which I have largely tried to block out.

However I did think it was appropriate to describe what happened at Q theatre this last week. With over 800 people coming to our show, and many happy faces post-show, I think we sprinkled more than a little blackbird stardust on some new fans.

Thanks to all who came along, the band and I had an awesome time. I particularly enjoyed the Black Hole Disco, DJ’d by the Space Babe DJ’s Priscilla Northe and Erin Ward. Another highlight was watching the Amazing performers from The Dust Palace, perform aerial feats above the stage during the show. The first night I was so distracted by their performance I completely forgot to cue the orchestra! Haha.

Q theatre staff were amazing to work with as always, and supported our show and performers during our time there. I leave you with some pictures of the show – and a request to spread the word – we’d love to tour this show! It is however quite costly to mount, so any offers of sponsorship to stage it in other parts of New Zealand would be welcomed!


The Night Sky Alex Taylor and Jessie Cassin _MG_1881 _MG_1891 Eve Gordon from Dust Palace _MG_1942 Kevin Keys as The Beastie Boy Kevin Keys Intergalactic Ina Patisolo Alex Macdonald _MG_2030 _MG_2065 _MG_2107 _MG_2130 _MG_2153


Player Profile: Alex MacDonald

Alex Macdonald, our die-hard rocking viola star. I know Alex as a talented BBQ’ist (you should watch him butterfly a chicken like a pro) and cocktail maker.. invite him to your party and observe the magic.. He’s also VERY good at computer whispering. We find out what this ‘prawn in a paella’ has to say about his part in the Blackbird Orchestra.


Alex MacDonald, Viola player for the Night Sky

Please tell us about yourself and what you play in 3 sentences.
I’m a amateur mixiologist, gardener, scientist, and a classically trained viola player. A viola is slightly bigger but looks exactly like a violin. It’s not a show-off thing but it has a couple of times to shine, usually for an introverted or contemplative moment.

How many blackbird shows have you done now?
3.5 – I went to the first ever show – blew my mind at the time.

Which is your favourite show and why?
Night sky. It is the most fun I’ve ever had doing a gig – as much as the audience was. The perfect mix of space-boogie, ballads, and sci-fi tunes.

What is the best moment in the Night Sky Show?
Star Wars – Imperial March. It’s like being on the Death Star and knowing the awesome planet destroying capabilities at your fingertips.

How do you feel when you’re performing?
What a question! Well at the least I hope is that I feel my instrument in my hands. But when the music is really happening I often feel like I’m seeing the whole band from the outside in – looking at myself as a lever in a Rube-Goldberg machine or a prawn in a paella dish.
None of that does it justice – I’m always listening and thinking about the music, what’s happened, happening, and going to happen.

What would be your dream blackbird gig theme?
Uhh…  I can’t imagine! Something with characters and a story… Trapeze?
I think my love of science and music is satisfied by the night sky show.

What’s your favourite thing about BBE?
Music best with musicians you’d want to party with – that’s always true with BBE. But what makes BBE seriously satisfying is the Wagnerian idea of complete art. Going to a blackbird gig is like walking into a different time and space continuum – there’s no proscenium arch or stuffy concert etiquette.