Ross Daly is a world-renowned composer of contemporary modal music and a virtuoso on the Mediterranean lyra, a stringed instrument that is popular on the island of Crete, where Daly has lived since 1975. He will be making his Brattleboro debut this Sunday at the Hooker-Dunham Theater.
Modal music uses diatonic scales that are not necessarily major or minor and does not use functional harmony as we in the west understand it within tonality. Daly's unique take on contemporary modal music has been described as coming "from no time and all time, from everywhere and nowhere."
I emailed Daly and asked him to describe the sound he and his ensemble will be generating this Sunday. "Certain parts of our repertoire are very serene and meditative whilst others are quite Dionysiac and even explosive. For people in this region of the world these two styles are commonly found together and they coexist in a strangely harmonic fashion".
Daly has often stated that for him music is the language of his dialogue with the sacred, but his idea of sacred is not connected to any religion, or even what we generally regard as spirituality. "Of course everything is sacred in that everything has a connection with a source, the nature of which is quite beyond the modality of our conscious perception," explained Daly. "The only means of realization that we seem to have of this source is our own experience of what we have come to call 'love.' Unfortunately in new age parlance this word has come to be associated with a certain slushy sentimentality which is not what I mean here. Actually "love" is not really an emotion per se, rather it is an absolute modality of being which defies both measurement and description."
On stage, Daly will be joined by another lyra virtuoso and exceptional composer, Kelly Thoma, who also happens to be his wife.
"As a result our relationship with music is a shared experience on a continuous everyday basis for nearly 20 years. The ensuing musical chemistry which emanates from such a relationship is of a rare and extremely precious nature. It is also something simultaneously very "solid" and open, which serves to facilitate new collaborations with other musicians."
On Sunday, those collaborators include will bassist/percussionist Michael Harrist and on tanburi, Tev Stevig
I asked Daly what drew him to the lyra to begin with. "I discovered the Lyra in about 1970 during the course of my first visit to Crete. I was immediately impressed by this instrument and, it seems, I saw something in it which I felt to be very relevant to myself without actually understanding at the time what exactly that was. I subsequently spent time in India and Afghanistan studying music in those countries before finally returning to Crete in 1975. It was at that time that my Lyra studies began"
Daly learned from a variety of different people initially before becoming the disciple of the late Kostas Mountakis who was the foremost Lyra player of Crete at the time." I spent a total of 16 years in the company of Mountakis as a student, colleague and friend up until the time of his death in 1991. I also travelled frequently to Turkey where I studied Turkish Classical and folk styles.. It was during this time that I gradually came to realize that there was also an underlying thread tying all of these traditions together into an intricately woven design."
What dreams still lie ahead for Daly at this point? "It would seem to me that one's plans come to fruition and one's dreams tend to come true through the simple medium of, in all humility, being one's self. For me, that will have to suffice."
Ross Daly and Kelly Thoma will be at Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St #407, Brattleboro on Sunday at 4 p.m.
For information call 802-254-9276 or visit www.hookerdunham.org
Dave Madeloni writes music reviews for the entertainment section of the Brattleboro Reformer.