Ross Daly and Kelly Thoma: Contemporary modal music
BRATTLEBORO >> Music doesn't understand national borders. It can't be so easily constrained. Music grows, it travels, and it resonates. Traditions, sounds, styles all interconnect. The modal music that Ross Daly explores almost seems to exist outside time, weaving strands from so many parts of the world and combining past, present, and future together in gliding, mesmerizing melodies. He'll be bringing that beautiful musical magic to New England on his tour in April.
"Modal music – music that's based around tones or modes rather than Western scales – covers a region that stretches from the north west of Africa to west China," Daly explains. "All of those areas have things in common, and they're all constantly changing and evolving."
Daly is a master of the Mediterranean lyra, a bowed fiddle that also has more than a dozen sympathetic strings. He's spent his life exploring the possibilities and connections in modal music, recording and performing all over the globe as well as hosting the annual Labyrinth musical workshop in his home village of Houdetsi on the island of Crete.
He's lived there since 1975, drawn to the place as part of a musical odyssey that began when he was just thirteen years old.
"I'm of Irish descent, born in England and raised everywhere," Daly recalls. "I studied classical music when I was young, but once I was in my teens and heard Indian and Iranian music everything changed. I went to India and Afghanistan and studied the sitar and rabab. On the way I passed through Crete and fell in love with the lyra and the music. I came back in 1975 and stayed. Some things in life grab you; Crete and its music did that for me."
In 1982 he began Labyrinth, which started as a very loose collective, a study group delving into the modal music of different traditions.
"We'd invite people to come and play," Daly remembers. "It developed into a group called Labyrinth, then a production company, and extended to an annual music school." After some years in Athens, the Labyrinth Musical Workshop moved back to Crete, hosting students who wanted to study modal music and traditions. "A village is better than a city for this, everything's in walking distance. We began with one-week seminars, everyone living together."
Lyra virtuoso Kelly Thoma was a musician who attended the Labyrinth workshops. Now Daly's wife, she'll accompany him on the four-date tour through Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont, as will bassist/percussionist Michael Harrist and tanburi Tev Stevig. For the April 7 concert in Boston the quartet will be accompanied by Orkesta Marhaba. It's hardly his first time in the U.S.; Daly's a regular visitor, playing dates here almost every year. His most recent appearance was at New York's Carnegie Hall in 2015.
Although he's deeply versed in many modal traditions, these days Daly plays what he calls 'contemporary modal music.'
"My earlier recordings were a mix of original music and traditional pieces that I arranged," Daly says. "But I've always been drawn to composition, so in recent years the work on the albums has all been my own. I can construct my own strange point of view."
He's amassed a large catalogue of music over time, a remarkable total of 38 albums, with 2014's The Other Side his most recent release. Along the way he's also developed a generous ethos about his work.
"Everything except the latest one is available free from my website," Daly notes. "It's not as if I expect to make money from them. Once the newest one has earned enough for us to go back into the studio, that will be free, too."
"There's a way to belong but not to be a native," Daly says. "I live outside a national identity and that's always been a great advantage; I can feel at home anywhere."
Daly and Thoma will be in Brattleboro at the Hooker-Dunham Theatre on Sunday, April 10 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance at rossdalyhookerdunham.brownpapertickets.com or $15 at the door. The theater is located at 139 Main St., Brattleboro.
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