The University of Richmond’s ensemble-in-residence, eighth blackbird, recently captured its second Grammy Award, winning in the category Best Small Ensemble Performance for a recording of Steven Mackey’s Lonely Motel: music from Slide.

Now based in Chicago, eighth blackbird got their start at Oberlin College, when a professor, Tim Weiss, encouraged them to meet and experiment with music. “Sparks flew,” says Tim Munro, flutist for the ensemble. “After Oberlin, [we] spent three years trapped in a condemned, ramshackle Cincinnati building, playing together day and night. Suddenly it is 16 years and two Grammy Awards later.”

In 2004, eighth blackbird joined the University as the ensemble-in-residence, and regularly returns to campus to perform at the Modlin Center for the Arts, instruct classes, conduct master classes, and coach music students.

As they prepare to return for their next residency and concert March 14, Munro gives a closer look at the ensemble’s influences, life on the road, and what was running through his mind when they won the Grammy.

How would you describe your musical style?
We play classical music by living composers. What does that mean? Well, one week we might collaborate with an indie rock drummer, the next with a dance choreographer, the next with an opera singer. The easiest answer is that it can mean almost anything; the musical world is our oyster, and we like it that way!

One thing that sets us apart is that we play some of our repertoire from memory. This isn't odd at all in the popular music world, but among the classical music fraternity it makes us very strange indeed! We feel that it frees us from the shackles of the page, enabling us to interact in a more intimate, intense way with each other on stage, and with the audience.

Who are some of your influences?
Kronos Quartet influenced us with their music barrier demolishing. But we are always looking for inspiration outside music. In the past couple of months I've been inspired by Philip Larkin's poems; Wim Wenders' intense new 3D Pina Bausch documentary; Louis CK's brutal comedy; and Nicholson Baker's epic miniatures.

What’s the best part about being a touring ensemble?
Eating wonderful food on the road.

And the worst?
Eating horrifyingly awful food on the road.

What does being the University of Richmond’s ensemble-in-residence entail for you?
We spend six weeks each year at UR — three in the fall, three in the spring. We work with students in the music department, leading coachings, giving lessons, participating in lectures, and have also worked with dance and theater students. It is a goal of ours in future years to reach a greater number of students across campus in a meaningful way. Each year eighth blackbird plays three full concerts, and we pop up in faculty/student events during the year. For instance, I'm playing a flute concerto with the UR Symphony in April.

How did it feel to win a Grammy this year?
I felt about forty things all at once. Here's a sample: shock, excitement, amusement, puffed-up self-importance, crushing self-doubt, cynical dismissiveness, Australian pride, UR pride. Oh, and the most important thought: “Don't trip, don't trip, don't trip, don't trip!”

What do you think made Lonely Motel particularly noteworthy?
Lonely Motel has music (by Steve Mackey) and text (by Rinde Eckert) that is touching, funny, awkward, dramatic, moving, and virtuosic. The piece is part song cycle, part rock album, and draws from so many different sorts of music, creating what I think is a truly compelling listening experience. We also worked with an experienced producer, David Frost, who made us sound pretty great!