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Like most creative artists, I consider my music to be a pallet through which to truly articulate my emotions. I realize that some people might not understand, but to me, this is my most natural form of expression. Throughout my experience of playing and writing music I’ve never felt like I perfected the art of purveying these emotions to audiences. The one thing I know for sure though, is that I’ve always strived to find a way to let the listener draw his or her own connections to the music, and to let them find similar emotions to the ones I envisioned. With that in mind I set out to present two drastically different concerts, that not only varied in format and content, but also made extremely different statements.
My first concert, titled ‘Over the Edge’ was held on May 14th 2012 in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents. With this performance I strived for the most extravagant presentation possible in terms of the amount of musicians involved, the complexity of the music and the location. The ensemble consisted of a rhythm section comprised of myself on guitar & drums, a bassist, drummer and pianist, a six-piece jazz horn section and a seven-piece string section. The underlying theme of the concert was the notion of taking something trivial and unimportant and transforming it into an extremely bold statement. This was displayed by the centerpiece of the show: a four movement jazz suite entitled ‘Stephen' which was heavily influenced by Afro-Cuban rhythms accompanied by lush horn harmonies and dramatic counterpoint. The suite was inspired by a series of emails sent out by Ken Cooper in the spring of 2011, concerning a mangy fox on campus who eventually died after many rescue attempts. While this may seem to be a miniscule event for a liberal arts college, Ken Cooper heavily dramatized this event by continuing to send the Bard community eloquent email updates on this saga.
My primary intent was to capture the notion that, through our own creativity we can make a trifling event a significant one, just by elevating it, in my case, to the level of a momentous, musical extravagancy. One of the crucial elements of music and art is that it allows the listener to momentarily venture away from reality. By composing a large-scale piece of music inspired by a minor occurrence, I wanted to provide the listener with a performance that removed them from the realities that may burden them, or cause them stress, and to provide them with a new canvas on which they could paint their own emotions onto.
For my second concert I wanted to once again provide the listeners with the chance to break away from reality, but in different format. I decided instead to make as big of a statement as possible, but this time with significantly fewer musicians. The result was my second concert, titled ‘Encapsulated,’ which was held in Blum Hall on November 20th 2012. The group consisted of Dan Vernam on bass, Evan Garcia-Renart on keyboards and drums and myself on guitar and drums. These two individuals have been not only my longest-standing musical partners at Bard, but also have become two of my closest friends. One of the major unsung aspects of Bard’s music program is its ability as a small community to bring musicians together in an environment free of pressure, and abundant in encouragement and mutual respect. While most large music conservatories seem to have an underlying competitive atmosphere, Bard has provided me with an antithesis to this stereotype, and as a result I have formed stronger musical bonds here than I would have formed had I attended a large music school.
With this connection in mind, I composed music that displayed the musical interplay and close connection shared between the three of us. This included several open improvisational passages, that, while having basic structures and chord progressions, allowed us the freedom to interact rhythmically and dynamically. As a general theme for the concert however, I wanted the audience to feel as if they had been momentarily enclosed into a tight space in which only our music provided an outlet to their own emotions, hence the name 'Encapsulated.' Blum Hall’s small, rectangular space provided a perfect setting for this concept as well as its acoustics. I also sought to write more simplistic music with a more dramatic use of space, in an attempt to provide a feeling of tenseness and enclosure. Other pieces in the show were more technically dense and up-tempo, to represent urgency and a need to 'get out.'
But regardless of the statements I tried to make with these performances, above all I wanted to continually write to challenge myself as a performer. In doing so, not only have I written better music, but I have become a better player. This, coupled with the teachings of my professors, have been the essential colors to my musical canvas in my four years of making music at Bard. No matter what connections or ideas people may have equated to the music when listening to my shows, my primary goal was, and will always be, to express my utmost passion for the music I create. This, above all else, is my primary goal and offering to my audience, and, I hope this intention was communicated to everyone who has listened to my music.
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MacLean, Ryan, "'Over the Edge' & 'Encapsulated': Two Concerts Written and Performed by Ryan MacLean" (2012). Senior Projects Fall 2012. 12.
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