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Handel, Sancho, Oram & Billings

JULY 6, 2023

Ruckus Early Music founder Clay Zeller-Townson wants you to get up and dance. 


“The reason for the existence of this music is to lift bodies off the floor,” he said. “That’s where the ‘ruckus’ is. How can we explode ourselves into this music to make you feel so deeply that you can’t help but want to move?” 


Ruckus brought its joyous, barrier-breaking brand of baroque music to the Adams Theater on July 6, 2023, joined by two leading virtuosos of baroque instruments, Emi Ferguson and Rachell Ellen Wong. The ensemble fused the early-music movement’s questing, creative spirit with the grit, groove and jangle of American roots music, creating a unique sound the New Yorker described as “rough-edged intensity.”


Clay grew up in eastern North Carolina and attended The Eastman School of Music, then Juilliard, eventually playing baroque bassoon with some of the country’s leading period instrument ensembles. He now lives in Stamford, VT., dedicating his time to Ruckus and to his work as music teacher for the Stamford and Readsboro public schools. 


“Part of what led me to live up here is to feel like I don’t live in an elite bubble,” he said. “I was getting fed up with the siloed classical music world. This work in the public schools is about having an impact in a broader space.  Additionally, being an elementary music teacher is a humbling way for me to grow as a musician.”


Among other works, Ruckus performed pieces from George Handel and Thomas Arne, as well as country dances from Ignacio Sancho—music that was enjoyed at all levels of society when it was first conceived. That kind of accessibility is important to Clay and is at the core of Ruckus’ vision. “Handel? Country dances? This was social music,” he said. “It existed on the street, in the taverns, in the home.”


Clay said he’s excited to bring Ruckus to the Adams Theater. “Everyone deserves a rich arts experience in their lives,” he said. “It’s so critical to provide a space that has low barriers for entry in terms of ticketing and is aggressive about getting free access to the arts.” 

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