Musician and writer ELLEN McSWEENEY performs as a violinist and vocalist, composes music collaboratively and alone, and advocates for the music and musicians of our time. Her experimental music duo Handful of Smoke, with composer/percussionist Sam Scranton, will release an album of original music in 2017. The duo has been presented at the Omaha Under the Radar Festival, the FLAK Performance Series in Chicago, and New Music at the Green Mill in Chicago. In 2016, she was commissioned by Portland-based AnyWhen Ensemble to co-compose an evening of music with trumpeter and bandleader Douglas Detrick. The resulting show, Boldly Launched Upon the Deep, featured Ellen as violinist and vocalist and was performed at Oregon State University and the Celebration Works series in Portland. She released her debut solo album as a songwriter, The Wrong Idea, in 2014.

As a performer, Ellen is passionate about contemporary music, chamber music, and experimentation. Chicago Q Ensemble, the string trio she co-founded in 2009, performed the inaugural commission of the American Music Project and was honored by Chicago Classical Review’s Best of 2015 for their Caroline Shaw portrait concert. As a member of the six-person cast of Holcombe Waller’s Wayfinders, she performed at BAM, On the Boards Seattle, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. At home as an improviser as well as an interpreter, she has been heard at Links Hall, the PianoForte Foundation, Chicago Cultural Center, and on multiple series on WBEZ and WFMT. She collaborates frequently with Manual Cinema and has worked closely with composers Brian Baxter, Jenna Lyle, Eric Malmquist, Carolyn O’Brien, Mauricio Pauly, Dave Reminick, Kyle Vegter, Amy Wurtz, and many others. 

In 2014, Ellen was honored as one of Musical America’s 30 Professionals of the Year for her risk-taking writing at NewMusicBox. She is now at work on a book about how trauma and loss transform musicians’ lives and careers.

Ellen holds an M.M. from DePaul University and a B.M. from the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, where she won The Vanderbilt Review prize for her original fiction and the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry Writing. After eight years in Chicago, she now lives with her wife in Washington, D.C.