The Knights
Black and white photo of violinist playing and dancer moving towards the shot in dancers pose.
Home / The Knights

Artists In Residence: The Knights

"Our 5 year old daughter Mimi accompanied us… through her eyes, we were able to imagine how children see and experience Usdan's physical campus. Mimi had us search campus-wide for monsters and joined us in exploring the empty pools as a venue for dance and music..."

- Colin Jacobsen, Co-Artistic Director, The Knights


The Knights are an acclaimed orchestral collective, flexible in size and repertory, on a quest to expand the boundaries of classical music. Led in an open-minded spirit of camaraderie and collaboration by co-Artistic Directors and Long Island natives Eric and Colin Jacobsen (“one of the most exciting figures on the classical music scene” - Washington Post), The Knights are dedicated to transforming the concert experience and eliminating barriers between audiences and music. The New Yorker says of The Knights, “few ensembles are as adept at mixing old music with new as the dynamic young Brooklyn orchestra.”

Over the course of their uniquely four-year residency with Usdan (2020-2023, extended for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic), a dynamic roster of musicians, composers, and choreographers from The Knights spent time working in intimate groups with Usdan students. 

Together, Knights artists and Usdan students collaboratively developed new interdisciplinary works guided by student interests, and inspired by the Usdan landscape, architecture, and inclusive community. 

More on each project below.


Rhapsody, Summer 2023

"A Rhapsody is one of the most ecstatically joyful expressions of art. The combination of virtuosity, improvisation, and unfettered imagination that have characterized some of the great Rhapsodies of the past, like Gershwin’s, inspired us to ask some of today’s most imaginative voices to create their own." 
- Colin Jacobson, Co-Artistic Director, The Knights

From July 11 through July 19, 2023, in their final year as Artists in Residence, The Knights worked with Usdan students to conduct creative experiments around the theme of rhapsody. Inspired by the 100th anniversary of George Gershwin’s masterpiece Rhapsody in Blue, The Knights celebrated rhapsody through their programming all year. Their exploration of Gershwin was featured on an episode of WNYC’s All Of It, and found special resonance here at Usdan.

Guided by The Knights, 37 students from Usdan Composition, Creative Writing, and Painting & Drawing classes came together to exchange creative “notes” - small artworks which doubled as prompts for future creation. Notes ranged from charcoal drawings to polaroids to poems to musical sketches, all created in response to music, and all inspiring further responses. This methodology stemmed directly from The Knights’ first years of research as Usdan Artists in Residence (see ‘2021 - Passing Notes’).

The project culminated on July 19, 2023, at the U Benefit, Usdan’s immersive annual fundraiser, with a presentation of student work. In a site-specific performance crafted for Usdan’s open-air studio spaces and forest views, instrumentalists from The Knights performed nine new musical Rhapsodies created by Composition students. The rhapsodies were as varied as Usdan students themselves: one wrote a rhapsody to nachos; another created an elegy for their grandmother who survived the holocaust. These were accompanied by a poem written and performed by a Creative Writing student, which added complexity to the piece by bravely expressing that Rhapsody in Blue didn’t accurately reflect the NYC that she knew and loved. The whole event unfolded under a city skyline backdrop created by a Painting & Drawing class, which two student artists continued to paint in real time. The performance was bookended by the opening and closing movements of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which framed and elevated student work. 

All in all, the performance wove a thoughtful quilt of music, visual art, and poetry, celebrating the diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, and imaginations of Usdan students. It achieved something hard: while structured by The Knights, and bearing hallmarks of their professionalism, the piece felt truly guided by youth interests. It is a perfect example of the kind of work we strive to generate through the Artist in Residence program.



RHAPSODY was a collaboration between: 

Knights members: Colin Jacobsen (co-Artistic Director, violin), Lizzie Burns (bass), Kiku Enomoto (violin), Mario Gotoh (viola), Blair McMillen (piano), Maile Okamura (dancer), Rachel Shapiro (violin), and Caitlin Sullivan (cello); 

Usdan Composition students: Isaac F., Artur L., Landon L., Kayla M., Adam O., Ryan R., Charlotte S., George S., Ayzula W., and Cormac Z.; 

Usdan Creative Writing students: Kate G., Aponi K., Penelope K., Rachel K., Shaun M., Norah Q., Maya v.C., and Etan Z.; 

Usdan Painting & Drawing students: Madison A., Isabella A.J., Tsehai B., Elliot C., Ollie C., Brianna F., Lucia G., Saskia G., Veda G., Chloe K., Hope L., Julianna M., Kate O., Ruby O., Sarah P., Imogen T., Yarden W., Anthony Y., and Umashari Z.; 

Production staff: Daniel Felsenfeld (Music Coordinator and Composition Faculty), Jodie McLaughlin (Production Coordinator and Usdan Art Chair) and Angelo Vasta (Film and Sound); 

Usdan faculty members: Daniel Felsenfeld (Composition), Krista Bidenback (Painting & Drawing), Jade Maracic (Painting & Drawing), and Luopu Malakpa (Creative Writing); 

Usdan Leadership: Lauren Brandt Schloss (Executive Director), Mark Bligh (Music Chair), and Jodie McLaughlin (Art Chair);

We thank an anonymous family for their generous support of the inaugural summer of the Usdan Composition program.


Bodies of Water, Summer 2022

"Following up on our work with music and dance students last summer… this summer WATER will be the singular focus of our expanded work. This focus takes its inspiration from Knights harpist Megan Levin, and her recent founding of Ocean Music Action, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness around issues of our planet's oceans and bodies of water through the arts."
- Colin Jacobsen, The Knights

While The Knights’ 2023 project RHAPSODY went deep with an intimate cohort of students, 2022’s project BODIES OF WATER went broad, and touched the entire Usdan community.

In July 2022, members of The Knights spent three weeks collaborating with over 150 Usdan students and 35 artistic staff members on an original, site-specific performance by the stunning Usdan swimming pools, in tribute to the life-giving powers of water. This epic event, titled BODIES OF WATER, premiered at Usdan’s annual U Benefit on July 22, in the midst of a global heat wave. The Knights dreamt of creating a piece for the Usdan pools since their first visit to campus, and BODIES OF WATER marked the culmination of two years of research by the Knights and Usdan students into sustainability, interdisciplinary artmaking, and youth creativity. 

For an audience gathered all around Usdan’s three iconic swimming pools, this massive, interdisciplinary, 45-minute piece opened with the ringing of a gong that was then submerged in water, followed by the word ‘Water’ invoked in many different languages, sung by Usdan vocal students. Students from Usdan classes as diverse as Tap Dancing, Creative Writing, Percussion Ensemble, and more then presented original work meditating on the theme of water, in an episodic tapestry guided and arranged by professionals from The Knights. Usdan visual art students created floating sculptures for  the performance, and students from Usdan’s Theatre Troupe enjoyed the performance from within the pools, lending the event a truly immersive feel. 

Significantly, the event also included the presentation of the annual Usdan Community Award to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, for his exceptional work fighting to protect Long Island’s natural waterways. This organic mingling of art-making, community building, and respect for nature is a beautiful illustration of Usdan’s core mission and values.

We are over the moon to share this short film of the same name, BODIES OF WATER, directed by Katalina Gutierrez and produced by Katalina Studio, which documents the performance and celebrates Usdan’s multi-year relationship with The Knights. We are very proud of BODIES OF WATER for its timely and timeless themes, overwhelming student involvement, dynamic collaboration with Usdan Artists in Residence, and beautiful final execution.

Bodies of Water


BODIES OF WATER was a collaboration between: 

Knights members: Colin Jacobsen (co-Artistic Director, violin), Eric Jacobsen (co-Artistic Director), Bridget Mundy Budish (Executive Director), Megan Conley (harp & Ocean Music Action founder), Shawn Conley (Bass), Maile Okamura (dancer), Alex Sopp (flute);

Student and Staff Performers from the Usdan Senior Instrumental Ensemble, Senior Vocal Ensemble, Junior Vocal Ensemble, Creative Writing class, Senior Jazz Ensemble, Senior Percussion Ensemble, Next Generation Dance: Contemporary & Hip Hop class, Classical Dance class, and Tap Dance class. 

Full credits listed in video.


Research, Summer 2021

"We hope both students and ourselves will walk away with a greater awareness of our surroundings, a sense of how we are completely interconnected, and the consequences of actions upon a closed system… We’d like to tap into the direct and instinctive art making methods that children have in abundance by including kids in decision making to empower them as thinkers and creators. Through conversation, exploration, improvisation, and organization, we hope to enrich our ways of making art."
- Colin Jacobsen, The Knights

The three-year Usdan Artist in Residence program is structured as an initial summer of creative research followed by two summers of creating work. The Knights’ residency was supposed to begin in 2020 but was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, we extended their residency by one year (2020-2023), and The Knights spent two summers conducting research: 2020 (a year in which they explored the empty campus and became inspired by the unique Usdan geography) and 2021 (their first introduction to the lively Usdan student community). 

So - in 2021, their first year collaborating directly with Usdan dance and music students, The Knights devised a new, interdisciplinary method of working which inspired the title of the resulting piece: PASSING NOTES. In their initial proposal, Colin wrote of the planned piece: 

In conceiving PASSING NOTES, we knew that we wanted to work across music and dance to collaboratively create a piece related to ideas of sustainability… We envision the work being process-based and exploratory from start to final "showing" this year. Both the music and dance classes will be given a series of guided prompts that will help each class create movement and sound to go with each element. Given Covid restrictions, we are planning for each class to "Pass Notes" back and forth (with us as messengers) that will help create the work. This will truly be cross-disciplinary, as the musicians will be asked to engage in simple movement, and the dancers will help create sound motifs as well. We imagine that the collaboratively created music/dance piece will be represented as a graphic score, and in essence will be the symbolically represented rules of a game, which will be "played" as part of the showing on the last day of our residency. 

This  “passing notes” framework, first explored during The Knights’ year of research, laid the foundation for the residency’s later successes: RHAPSODY and BODIES OF WATER.


Research, Summer 2020

"The pandemic's pause has allowed many people, artists, and institutions to ask bigger questions than we often have time or space to ask: What kind of world do we want to live in? What is our relationship to the land, planet, each other?"
- Colin Jacobsen, The Knights

In 2020, Knights members Colin Jacobson and Maile Okamura spent time prior to the formal beginning of their residency getting to know the Usdan community and landscape. Though no students were on campus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Colin and Maile conducted creative research and completed a number of dance and film projects at Usdan, detailed below.


This Time

“This Time,” a two- part piece for the Usdan community, was choreographed and danced by Maile Okamura, with violin accompaniment by Colin Jacobsen. Part I was filmed in Prospect Park and shared with the Usdan community at a virtual gathering. Part II was filmed on the Usdan campus.

This Time: Part I


This Time: Part II


Caprice 6 & 9

In summer 2020, Dance Heginbotham (DH) - a New York based contemporary dance company, known for its “tight formal structure and inventive movement, bolstered by a disarming wit and strangeness” (The New Yorker) - collaborated with Colin and Maile of the Knights on two site-specific dance pieces filmed at Usdan, Caprice 6 and Caprice 9. Part of a series exploring composer Niccolò Paganini's 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, Caprice 6 and 9 premiered at a virtual watch party hosted by The Hop at Dartmouth College in February 2021. Maile and Colin’s 5-year-old daughter Mimi helped workshop movement for the piece, which was later taught to professional dancers and other children.

Caprice 6


Caprice 9



Rehearsal in McKinley Amphitheater

In July 2020, our dormant amphitheater came back to life thanks to The Knights. For three days, a sextet rehearsed with masks on, in the safe open air, to prepare for their livestream broadcast from Caramoor on July 23. The rehearsal was written about in Executive Director Lauren Brandt Schloss’ weekly Musing “Waking Up the Senses”. You can watch a video of the rehearsal, as well as a concurrent interview with Knights Co-Artistic Director Colin Jacobson, below.

These iterative, site-specific early pieces directly informed the later large-scale work The Knights would create with Usdan students. It is easy to trace the direct impact their exploration of our physical campus (the empty pools, the porous studios) and student community (through Passing Notes) had on RHAPSODY and BODIES OF WATER. While each artist organically finds their own way to navigate their three years of residency at Usdan, our fruitful collaboration with The Knights is illustrative of the positive, mutually transformative impact our Artist in Residence program can have. We are delighted to share these happy memories and enduring artworks that are the fruits of The Knights’ time with us.


Interview with co-Artistic Director Colin Jacobsen



Bios: Artists in Residence and Collaborators

Colin Jacobsen

Violinist and composer Colin Jacobsen is “one of the most interesting figures on the classical music scene” (The Washington Post). An eclectic composer who draws on a range of influences, he was named one of the top 100 composers under 40 by NPR listeners. He is also active as an Avery Fisher Career Grant-winning soloist and a touring member of Yo-Yo Ma’s famed Silk Road Ensemble. For his work as a founding member of two game-changing, audience-expanding ensembles – the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and orchestra The Knights – Jacobsen was selected from among the nation’s top visual, performing, media, and literary artists to receive a prestigious and substantial United States Artists Fellowship.

Maile Okamura

Maile Okamura studied ballet with Lynda Yourth in San Diego, CA, and at the San Francisco Ballet School. She was a member of Boston Ballet II and Ballet Arizona. From 2001-­2015, Okamura was a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group. She now dances with Pam Tanowitz Dance. Maile has also designed and constructed costumes for Mark Morris Dance Group, Dance Heginbotham, Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Tanglewood Music Festival, Pam Tanowitz Dance and Bard College. She and her husband, Colin Jacobsen, have a beautiful daughter, Mimi.

Shawn Conley

Honolulu-born bassist Shawn Conley won a position with the Honolulu Symphony while in high school and went on to earn degrees in music performance from Rice University. Conley won the 2009 International Society of Bassists Jazz Competition, was a semifinalist in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, and received a Wagoner Fellowship. He has performed with Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Emanuel Ax, among many others. He teaches at the Hawaii Contrabass Festival and regularly performs with The Hot Club of Detroit, The NOW Ensemble, and The Knights.

Megan Conley

Megan Conley had a musical upbringing in Austin, Texas. She began harp lessons at the age of five. By the time she was 15 she had played on several albums of Austin musicians, including the Grammy Award winning album ‘Los Super Seven.’

Megan received her Bachelor and Masters degrees from Rice University. In 2005, she was awarded a Fulbright Grant to study at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, France. In 2012, Megan won first place in the international Ima Hogg Competition, and later performed the Ginastera Harp Concerto with the Houston Symphony.

Megan has served as Principal Harpist of the Sarasota Opera Orchestra and the chamber orchestra CityMusic Cleveland. She has performed with the New York City Ballet, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, and the Bang On a Can All-Stars. She also performed for ‘The Fantasticks’ on Broadway.

Megan joined the Houston Symphony as Principal Harpist in January 2015.  She spends her time in Brooklyn and Houston with her husband Shawn and their son Osian.