Kathleen Ryan
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Kathleen Ryan

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From the title, I expected “A Handfull of Quietness” to be very calm, simple, and serene, so I was surprised to discover that the music is complex, full, and often quite bold. A classically-trained pianist/composer, Kathleen Ryan brings her rich background to her music, presenting us with a collection of nine original piano solos and six that are based on traditional melodies in the public domain. Inspired by a verse in Ecclesiastes, the album was created as a unified work and performed in silence. Ryan calls it “not always quiet music, but music achieving quietness of the soul.”

The CD begins gently with “All the Pretty Horses,” based on a traditional folk melody. Meditative and reflective, it’s a very calming piece. “East At Sunset” continues the peaceful mood simply but very colorfully. “40 Days of Desert” is darker, more somber, and has a mysterious cast to it. “What the Stars Saw On the Prairie” is serenity set to music. It is easy to visualize a gentle breeze blowing through the long grasses—a simple pleasure with no rush or pressure anywhere. Love it! “Something Water, Something Light” picks up the tempo and dynamics, creating a swirling dance of motion and light. “Hymn For Peace” goes inward and conveys a simple but passionate plea. “Veni Creator Spiritus” is from a traditional melody that Ryan imbues with quiet spirituality and a classical style. Open and simple at the beginning, the piece builds to a peak with each variation and quiets to a whisper by the end. “First Only Whisper” is my favorite track. Built around several themes, the piece has a feeling of deep introspection and quiet passion. At almost 8 1/2 minutes, “Bells, The Veil, and Victory” is by far the longest piece on the album. A recurring theme evolves as the piece develops, going from subdued to very big, bold, and triumphant. “Simple Love” is based on a traditional melody, and conveys a sweet but very powerful emotional message—another beauty! The title track closes the CD as it began, quiet and tranquil.

“A Handfull of Quietness” is a fascinating musical journey, reflecting a wide range of moods and emotions. The music has a complexity that will open up with each listen, letting you find something new each time. It is available from www.kathleenryan.com, cdbaby.com, and amazon.com.

--Kathy Parsons, 4 September 2006 - Solo Piano Publications


The Rebirth of Light is the 10th anniversary reissue of Kathleen Ryan's wonderful collection of Christmas music that peacefully explores the spiritual dimension of the holiday season. Originally released in 1997, this new version includes additional material. Most of the pieces were arranged for solo piano, but a few have keyboard instrumentation. The collection also features two original compositions. The CD sustains a really nice mood throughout, although some of the songs are joyful and exuberant, most are more subdued and reflective. Having been a piano teacher for more years than I care to admit, I often get very burned out on Christmas music, but I really like this album!

The Rebirth of Light? opens with the title track, a quiet, exploratory piece that sets the mood with lots of open spaces between the notes, and a very peaceful message. "Angels We Have Heard On High"? opens with a series of piano trills that suggest fluttering wings. With an improvisatory section in the middle, this arrangement is quite unusual and very effective. "God Rest Ye Merry"? dances for joy, twirling and leaping into the air - a great arrangement! "Somebody Talkin Bout Jesus"? goes very dark for a beautiful and soulful rendition of this old spiritual. "Come All Ye Shepherds"? is a lively keyboard arrangement that brings the good news. "That Single Star"? is the second original piece, and is a lovely meditation. I love "I Wonder As I Wander",? a carol said to have come from Appalachia. Ryan's arrangement sticks to the melody, and really brings out the soulful nature of the song. "Usher In the Morning"? is a keyboard medley of "Ermuntre Dich",? "I Saw Three Ships",? and "Good Christian Men, Rejoice". Upbeat and lively, this is another toe-tapper that brings a big smile. "The Never-Ending Starlit Road"? is a haunting solo piano arrangement of "We Three Kings of Orient Are"? - one of the best I've heard. "The Coventry Carol"? is another standout, overflowing with the beauty and tragedy of this ancient piece. "O Holy Night"? and "Silent Night"? are both stunning in their quiet passion and elegance.

The Rebirth of Light? will certainly make a return appearance to my CD player as we get closer to the holidays! For a reminder and a celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, this is a wonderful choice. It is available from cdbaby.com and iTunes. Highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons, 11 October 2007
- Solo Piano Publications


...Kathleen Ryan's soothing style is quite suited to early morning listening. She plays with a firm deliberativeness well-suited to the early morning. Of the traditional carols included on [The Rebirth of Light], I enjoyed The Coventry Carol best. I also enjoyed the moody spiritual, Somebody Talkin Bout Jesus. But I particularly liked when she took a turn on keyboards with Come All Ye Shepherds. It was a little bit like listening to a Caribbean pan band.

Of her own work, I enjoyed The Rebirth Of Light, a languid, contemplation that fits my post-operative world view quite nicely. Her elegant piano and keyboard style is a great fit for me, generally. There is no victory for darkness here. Though Ryan's set concludes with even more irony, in the ever-familiar Silent Night, I know what every moose in Alaska knows: even in the darkest, coldest night, light finds a way.

Richard Banks, 15 September 2007
- ChristmasReviews.com


Discography

a handfull of quietness - 1993
The Rebirth of Light - 2007 (Christmas music)
Under the Greenwood Tree - 2009 (March release)

Kathleen's music is featured on the internet radio program Whisperings (http://www.solopianoradio.com) and can be heard on Pandora.com.

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Bio

What can you say about a pianist whose first favorite sound was made by marbles rolling in an aluminum dishpan?

In addition to practicing scales and repertory on the way to earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in music, Kathleen played snare drum in a marching band; wrote and performed singing telegrams; improvised music for avant garde dancers; composed a folk rock opera based on the Tristan and Isolde legend; and sang and danced in a hippie liturgical drama presented at the Ohio State Fair.

After a brief (very brief!) fling as a folk singer, and a somewhat longer interlude as a classical pianist, Kathleen began searching for ways to "sing the piano" - that is, transform the piano into a medium as intimately expressive as the human voice.

"When I am composing," she says, "I don't necessarily hear music inside. Instead, I experience a subtle dissatisfaction until the sounds my hands create match the deeper emotion I feel within."

These deeper emotions Kathleen strives to express in her music can be anything from rollicking to serene. Although listeners might have trouble categorizing Kathleen's style, her performances and albums demonstrate that she has perfected the artistry of making the piano sing. Strong musical structure combines with beautiful melody and powerful rhythm, resulting in piano music that is direct, appealing, and unusual.

Kathleen’s compositions Spare Change and Outlooks (a sonatina for piano duet) took first place in the 2001 and 2003 Composers Today contests sponsored by the Music Teachers Association of California. This year (2008) Kathleen is the Professional Music Teachers of New Mexico Commissioned Composer. For the commission Kathleen is composing a set of 12 preludes for piano left hand alone. The preludes, titled Verbs, will be premiered by Santa Fe pianist Keith Snell in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in November.

Kathleen has published two recordings of her piano compositions. A Handfull of Quietness (1993) was featured in the Emmy-winning Iowa Public Television special The Four Seasons. The Rebirth of Light (2007) is garnering glowing reviews for Kathleen's deep exploration of traditional Christmas carols.

The unusual mix of ingredients influencing Kathleen's compositions includes folk songs of the British Isles; blues masters Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker; American composers Gershwin, Hammerstein, and Copland; a cappella church and gospel music; Mozart and Schubert, of course; and the polyrhythmic coin boxes on the Providence, Rhode Island buses.