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Arts Academy musicians bring “Innovative Artistry” to downtown Wabash

Dugan and Meyer agree that "innovative artistry" is nurtured by the group's "sharing of knowledge" philosophy.
Courtesy/Honeywell Arts Academy
Dugan and Meyer agree that "innovative artistry" is nurtured by the group's "sharing of knowledge" philosophy.

Wabash’s Honeywell Arts Academy is wrapping up its summer music program with a live performance in the community’s historic Eagles Theatre this Friday.

The concert, called Resonance Live, features participating fellowship scholars and world renowned faculty members that, according to the academy’s Grammy-winning Artistic Director, Ranaan Meyer, "can only be described as an indescribable musical experience."

WBOI’s Julia Meek discusses the evolution of the program, as well as its scope and mission with Meyer, who is also a member of the Time for Three, and faculty mentor, pianist Peter Dugan, host of NPR’s From the Top.

Event Information:

Honeywell Arts Academy’s Resonance Live Concert
Eagles Theatre
106 W Market St.
7:30 p.m. Friday

You can find more information about the upcoming concert and this program at the Honeywell Arts Academy website.

Courtesy/Honeywell Arts Academy
Soundboard scholars, 2023

Below is a transcript of our conversation. The music we end with is the title cut from the album Windward by Arts Academy scholars Hannah O'Brien and Grant Flick, which was released in 2021:

Julia Meek: Ranaan Meyer, Peter Dugan, welcome.

Ranaan Meyer: Hi.

Peter Dugan: Thank you for having us.

Julia Meek: So you are roaring through another successful Arts Academy summer, in a word, how's it going?

Ranaan Meyer: Ahhh...It's in a word glorious.

Julia Meek: And you Peter?

Peter Dugan: I would say it's been transformational.

Julia Meek: Now, it all came together officially in 2021, and began actually as a double bass program in 2008 before that, so very briefly, what is your mission?

Ranaan Meyer: The technical mission of Honeywell Arts Academy is to escalate the reach of emerging artists through empowering opportunities for artistic expression.

But to get a little more detailed about that, we really try to break down the walls between teacher and student, where a very small amount of people, but extremely gifted, get together through an application process with people that have a lot of experience and knowledge, you know, hitting the streets, pounding the pavement, so to speak with what they do as professional musicians.

And in a very thoughtful way, we all learn and teach and everything in between together. And that the whole point is that at the end of the short time we spend with one another, that their lives are changed in a way where they feel like they have the tools they need to become their own teachers, and basically sculpt their own craft.

Julia Meek: That's certainly a noble goal. And this has been a successful program. Why did things evolve so well?

Peter Dugan: Well, it all started with Wabass, the double bass portion of Honeywell Arts Academy, which Renan was pioneering 16 years ago. That became so successful and then allowed us to expand, you know, two years ago, we're now in our third year of the expansion. Talk about the success of the bass program.

Ranaan Meyer: A lot of the people involved in these types of visions have so much impact. And I think for both Peter and I, our predecessors really paved the way. And in my case, I studied with Hal Robinson who just retired from the Philadelphia Orchestra as principal bassist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. And he was my teacher at Curtis Institute of Music. And he just had a different approach to teaching, I was drawn to him because of the stories that I heard about him.

But once I got in real time, and had four years of this real time, it was just always so personalized, it was always so encouraging. There was no ego involved in the way that he would help me to understand things. And he just wanted me really to become the best Ranaan that I could become, whatever that meant, utilizing the bass as my tool, and when I graduated, and we started to, you know, work together as teachers in different programs, we would always dream up what would be the most ideal setting.

And he really came up with this philosophy called "sharing of knowledge" which was a wonderful, I think, description on how we can all really learn from one another through the you know, I think it was maybe about 13 years at this point, when we started to pivot into Honeywell Arts Academy doing Wabass Institute for double bass players, we had this track record of 95% job placement for the double basses, which is, you know, a really good statistic.

And so there were a lot of questions going on with the team, with the Honeywell foundation and people outside of the Honeywell foundation is why exactly is this the success statistic? Could we carbon copy this in some way for other programs? What could we do to maybe rinse and repeat, you know?

Julia Meek: As a matter of fact, I like to rinse and repeat, and so by the time we get to the spin cycle, then (chuckles) you've got two more wonderful institutes by now and that's the Soundboard and the Resonance. Would you walk us through those as well, they sound equally wonderful?

Peter Dugan: Yeah. So Soundboard Institute is our program for pianists. That's where I come in as a curator and a faculty mentor there. And when Ranaan described to me, the goal of the Honeywell Arts Academy as a whole, it came down to this idea of something that's transformational, and something that's different from any other program for pianists. And of course, there are many of those.

So I started thinking about my own history, going to summer programs, the things I liked the things that I wished were different. And ultimately, we've put together a program where again, the line between teacher and student is kind of broken down. And it's a very communal safe place for pianists, where very often we are just confined to a practice room.

It's quite isolating. And then when we do come across our peers, it's in a competitive environment or a place where we're comparing who's playing faster, who's playing louder, and at Soundboard we really just celebrate each person's unique artistry and through a number of very carefully planned activities throughout the week, everything from improvisation workshops to sight reading, forehand duets, they're all these sort of ingredients that go into the secret sauce to make sure that after just five days, this group of pianists is departing as one sort of family.

They've come together they've embraced each other, they've learned from one another and hopefully they're leaving actually transformed as different, more expansive artists.

Julia Meek: Some would call It awesome sauce, I believe, (chuckles) to have that kind of transformation. And we understand why you use the word transformation to explain that very thing. It's really remarkable that you do prepare students to be their "best selves" and you give them the tools to really make that happen.

Peter Dugan: Absolutely. And it's, it's only possible because we also have as another faculty mentor, the person who was my teacher growing up, Matti Raekallio, the great Finnish pianist and educator who is one of the most forward thinking progressive educators and is totally open to thinking outside the box and he attracts the top talent from around the world, we have a very international group.

Julia Meek: What an amazing recipe for success indeed. So what is the scope and crazy range of participants you're attracting for all of this?

Ranaan Meyer: For Wabass historically, our numbers have been nine fellowship scholars and three faculty mentors. So the ratio is kind of around this three to one across the board, and then we go to soundboard.

Peter Dugan: Soundboard, we have a class of eight fellowship scholars and two faculty mentors. And then there's Resonance, we need to try to say a few words about Resonance.

Julia Meek: That is the grand finale?

Peter Dugan: It is the grand finale, week three, it's probably our most wild, outside the box program of our three weeks where musicians from any instrument, any background can apply, and come here to try to find their path.

They are people who are multifaceted outside the box thinkers, we affectionately refer to ourselves as the misfits of music (chuckles) because we can't be pigeon holed into any one particular genre. And so that's a place where people discover their own creativity, their own sound, and it's a really special experience.

Julia Meek: So you get the independents that really want it all and they're gonna come and get it?

Peter Dugan: Yeah.

Julia Meek: That's fantastic. Meanwhile, your faculty and scholars and mentors, and experts, including you two, what skill sets are most important?

Ranaan Meyer: Well, in addition, I think to, you know, really understanding your crafts, there's crucial importance to be open minded, and to be bright eyed and bushy tailed, because the future is about progression, I think to us.

And in order to truly achieve that, we need to keep our eye on not what is maybe the right way of doing it, but is a way that is creative, and is going to somehow push this whole thing forward. You know, we're sort of untraditionalists that are carrying a major appreciation to tradition and respect for the past, which is, I think, really crucial.

Julia Meek: Is that a hard walk to walk?

Ranaan Meyer: Hmm. I think there's a benchmark that we launch all the programs all the weeks, all the planning with this type of, you know, philosophy. And then in addition to that, we have cold, hard facts of what will get us there by trial and error, but also research. And I think that each year builds upon the next two, for instance, Soundboard, this year was really interesting. There are a couple of new things that happen differently.

Peter Dugan: Yeah, one thing we did this year, we had a listening party, where we all kind of just gathered the night before our concert and listen to very old recordings from the 1920's, 1930's.

Just listened and celebrated the individuality in those performances. And again, a moment to reflect on this idea of tradition versus pushing that tradition forward. I think it comes down to loving the music, and that the love is more important than what we think of as respect, you know, even because we don't need to treat this music as if it's fragile.

It's not It's enduring. So I think that's a big part of it. And we all just love what we do.

Julia Meek: You make important points there all across the board, especially the energy that's required and the energy that's like pretty naturally produced. That's very, very exciting. Put it all together, what has the response been so far from participants, as well as your community that you are working and living in, in northeast Indiana?

Peter Dugan: Well, I just think that every year we're getting more and more integrated into the community. That is what is exciting to me.

And to see the community and the musicians who are coming from all over the world embrace each other, get to know each other, learn from each other. That's what it's all about.

Ranaan Meyer: Yeah, I think for soundboard this year, we had one of the people that attended, he talked about how he was going to tell everybody about Wabash, Indiana, he was going to tell nobody about the program, because he didn't want anybody to take his spot in the future. (chuckles)

You know, I think that it comes down to you know, the fact that they love it so much. And there's there's so much learning that's different than the way that they usually experienced it.

Julia Meek: And that's a community that's different than most of those people have experienced before. What a wonderful matching that you can do.

Now, a word on those facilities that you're using for these weeks, and that grand performance space itself, the Eagles Theatre, what does all of that feel like and how does it all work?

Ranaan Meyer: Yeah, so we have the pleasure of making our home, and this is a fun thing to sort of sell the program to somebody who hasn't heard about it, which is our entire "artists playground" and that actually, that was coined by our pal, Nick Kendall, who's in Time for Three, he's one of our faculty mentors, is this amazing historic movie theater called Eagles Theatre and it was restored.

And when we describe nationally and internationally that this is going to be the performing arts venue that you'll be able to come and spend time in to learn they're just completely enamored.

So everything's a close commute. You know, they stay in a house around the corner called the Clarkson house, it's a Big Red House, the faculty mentors stay in this quaint hotel, the Charley Creek Inn and so we're all just in, I don't know what is it, two square blocks, max?`

Peter Dugan: Yeah. And it's like Ranaan said, it's our playground to be as creative as we'd like.

Julia Meek: And it's oozing love and good vibes and Midwest sensibility and Heartland. So a perfect setting.

Peter Dugan: Yeah, definitely. And people, you know, who have not had the experience of playing in a town like this, especially, we had some kids this year, this was their first time in the United States period.

And they got to experience this Midwest charm and realize, oh, this is a different way of connecting with my audience than I might do if I'm at some grand old concert hall in Berlin, or whatever it may be. Because here, you're really meeting your audience on common ground.

Julia Meek: And a wonderful common ground it is. Now with all of this build up, and we've got everybody just waiting to hear-- what can you tell us about this grand finale concert coming up, Resonance?

Ranaan Meyer: Well, you know, this week at Resonance Institute, there's a quartet called Nebulous and the Nebulous name is a really good one, because they're from kind of all walks of life. They don't play the string quartet literature, they write their own material, and they even sing.

Peter Dugan: Mmhmm. We have a bluegrass fiddler, who also plays jazz and every other style you can imagine on the fiddle. We have a jazz drummer who also plays jazz piano, and we have a string player who uses looping pedals.

So there's a technological element. I mean, this is going to be a concert unlike any other! (chuckles)

Julia Meek: Wild and crazy and everybody needs to experience this indeed--in that lovely facility.

Peter Dugan: Mmmhmm.

Ranaan Meyer: Oh, and don't let me forget. I mean, Peter Dugan, and Time for Three are also going to be a part of this concert, too. That's another way that we bridge the gap is that we're all making music together.

Julia Meek: Yeah, please let folks know who, well Peter Dugan, we do know Peter Dugan's name from, you have your own...

Peter Dugan: Well, I host From the Top...

Julia Meek: ...radio show, which involves not only cool music involves the youth.

Peter Dugan: Exactly.

Julia Meek: And that's just wonderful. But in the meantime, we're talking about these wild and crazy musical hot dogs there on the stage and (chuckles) tell us about your own group?

Ranaan Meyer: Yeah, well, this is a terrific bridge too because Charles Yang, he plays in Time for Three--also he's in a duo with Peter.

Peter Dugan: Yep, Charles Yang, and I go back now 15 years. And when he joined Time for Three, about seven years ago, I got the chance to then meet Nick and Ranaan, the other two members of Time for Three, and we all kind of met on common ground as these misfits of classical music. (laughs)

Ranaan Meyer: Yeeeeaaaaaahhhhh!

Peter Dugan: But Time for Three, this band consisting of Ranaanb Meyer here as well as Charles Young and Nick Kendall, I mean, they are at the top of their field, they're pioneers, they've just won two Grammys for their recent recording and it's so much fun to make music with them.

Julia Meek: Oh, and it's so much fun to listen to music made by all of you folks and this is going to be an absolutely stellar, actually legacy that you're leaving for music and for these musical students, and musicians, but especially for a whole case of good, wonderful music, so thank you for all of that.

And now that your third official year is ready to wrap, are you where you want it to be? And what's next for the Honeywell Arts Academy?

Ranaan Meyer: Yeah, well, you know, Honeywell, Arts Academy does have some big plans. It's top secret at the moment, but there's some really exciting things that you will be hearing about in the days to come.

And are we where we want to be? Yeah, I think we are. It's interesting, because when you're a musician or an artist, you know, as we share thoughts with our colleagues, etc. Well usually, we're always dissatisfied to some degree. You know, it might be ambition, and might just be artistic satisfaction.

You know, a lot of times just speaking for myself, I listen to an old album, and I'll just be ready for the new thing. Like upon completion, it's almost like when you're hiking up the mountain and you're thinking about the next peak you want to climb, it's just a matter of wanting to do good in the world.

But as far as, you know, looking back and reflecting after these three weeks are over, which we'll do in July and August, etc., this is just going to be a beautiful thing to remember and reflect on because there's so much information.

And that's the thing. The whole point is to, in a very saturated amount of time, you condense all of these incredible wisdomatic experiences (chuckles) and then you take them with you for a lifetime. So that's kind of what it's all about.

Julia Meek: That's beautiful. And by the way, if you could dream really big for a second here and add anything to your program right now, sky's the limit. Your dream come true. What would it be? Peter, I'll ask you first.

Peter Dugan: I love what we're doing here. I just want to reach more musicians and I just want to see those musicians take what we're doing here and bring them back to their own communities.

So I guess I would just love to see this exponentially multiply and take the philosophy that we have here and let it infiltrate its way all across classical music.

Julia Meek: Overnight?

Peter Dugan: Overnight! (chuckles)

Ranaan Meyer: I love that. I think that's amazing. You know, Peter and I were just talking about this, I think we're finally getting extremely comfortable because we're with a team that is a yes team. And they're always wanting to make it better and improve upon it.

There's never a no, and there's often not a maybe. It's about what do we need? And how can we do it. So that could mean a number of things. Specifically, there's probably other people out there, like us have been thinking about this, especially this year, in our third year, we feel pretty good.

And like we're accomplishing a lot, right? Like we're maybe doing 86% or 92%, of like this next thing that maybe no one else is doing. We feel so cool about that. And we want to pat ourselves on the back. But what if there was philosophically a different mindset? And maybe we're only doing 2%. And there's this whole other thing that we haven't touched on? So if that's the one thing...

Julia Meek: You want it all?

Ranaan Meyer: I'd like to explore that 98 percent!

Julia Meek: Oh good for you. And yes, you'll get it done. Now, I'm curious, what do you hope all of this connection and the collaboration and really reaching out and touching lives and putting them all together does for the cause, and future of expanded musical art forms, speaking universally now?

Peter Dugan: So I think that everything we're doing here does have the potential to change the face of so called classical music and beyond, because it's about a way to keep the things we love in the tradition, while maintaining an open mind about expanding what we think of as tradition, what we think of as canon, and opening the door for individual artistic voices to exist within this community and to celebrate individuality and to celebrate real creativity and artistry, and not to allow conformity to rule when we think about this musical art form that we love.

And if we do that, then I think we can guarantee the continuation of great music, both that's being written now, and the great music that we love that was written hundreds of years ago. It's all going to move forward. It's all going to live on if we can take what we're doing here and get it out into the world.

Julia Meek: We hope you're right. Think you're right, yes.

Peter Dugan: I hope, (chuckles) I hope so!

Julia Meek: What a relevant wish for the world. And last question, you both work hard and tirelessly to make this work. The results are really, really impressive. From your hearts. now, why do you work that hard? Why does such a mission mean so much to you?

Ranaan Meyer: I think for myself, as a musician, and an educator, it's just an extremely rewarding feeling to inspire people, to give them the option or the opportunity to find what they're looking for. If we all are sort of taking a step forward with whatever we're doing, it makes it worth it.

And in addition to the fact that I just love it, and playing the bass and practicing the bass is one of my favorite things to do. It's like my own personal time where I get my Zen time with my instrument. I get to better my craft. It's so incredibly rewarding.

And a lot of times musicians (chuckles) they're not doing it for any other reason than they love it. That's the reason they've decided to be a musician and to hold on to that. It's not that hard of a task.

Julia Meek: And you Peter?

Peter Dugan: I just leave here always inspired every time I come to this program to teach, ostensibly, but I always end up just learning as much as I end up teaching.

It rekindled my love of the piano and my desire to put in the work and continue to be creative because being around like minded people being around these incredibly talented young people, it re-lights that fire for myself and powers me up for the year to come. So it's just the best.

Julia Meek: Ranaan Meyer and Peter Dugan, are faculty mentors and curators of the Honeywell Arts Academy summer program of which Ranaan is also the artistic director. Thank you so much for making time for us in this busy week, you guys, have a great rest of the camp, do carry the gift.

Ranaan Meyer: Thank you so much.

Peter Dugan: Thank you for having us.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.