As musicians, we yearn to create, whether it’s through composing, crafting an individual sound or flipping a beloved piece on its head to make something that’s never been heard before. We long to breathe life into new ideas and to share stories that have not yet been told. In doing so, we create something that speaks to our shared experience, something that helps make sense of our world. But sometimes our educational institutions can muddle the realm of creation and recreation, preparing students to replicate that which already exists rather than foster personal creativity.
re/CREATE, an interview series from 21CM, provides a glimpse into the minds of musicians who create sounds unique to their own voice while celebrating the artists and traditions that have most influenced them. Join 21CM and host Joe Brent each month as we celebrate some of the most innovative musicians of our day, who pay homage to the traditions they love while creating music from the heart.
In this episode, Brent interviews fiddler Dana Lyn and guitarist Kyle Sanna, who, as a duo, have teamed up to bring traditional and reimagined Irish music to the stage. For their re/CREATION, Lyn and Sanna perform a mashup of a Larry Redican tune and J.S. Bach.
Joe Brent: What is it about Bach that feeds your Irish music?
Dana Lyn: I think it might be the other way around, that traditional music feeds the way I play Bach. Particularly those dance pieces because the rhythm is, to me, the same. Not traditionally played that way – a classical musician is not going to swing anything. But, to me, it makes perfect sense because that was a gigue that Bach wrote, and all of those movements from the partitas and sonatas are dance movements.
JB: And Kyle?
Kyle Sanna: I don’t have a background in classical performance or Irish traditional music. I came into it much later when I moved to New York City and met people in the Irish music scene. … Then Dana and I started playing together. I think we found some common ground in not only that appreciation of traditional music, but that we are composers and improvisers, and we listen to all kinds of different things.
We started this duo project of our wider musical worlds, and [to celebrate] what we love about being in New York City and this community of open-minded musicians here. On each of our albums we’ve incorporated something from Bach.
JB: You both have a lot of different things going on: the classical tradition, traditional Irish music, you both play in bands. How have you been able to maintain so many different kinds of projects, genres and interactions with people?
DL: In terms of the juggling act, no one lives a sheltered, tunnel-vision life anymore. One of the things I reacted to in conservatory life was that everyone was saying, “Dana, you have to focus.” My whole feeling was, life is too short to play just one instrument or one style of music. And all of those other things at some point start feeding each other. At this point it’s part of survival, to be able to write, arrange, perform.
JB: When I visit a school, it’s amazing how often students have heard that exact same thing. When you tell them the opposite, you can see the light going off. Do you remember that moment?
KS: New York was [what] gave me direct exposure to a lot of different things. I started playing Balkan music, Irish music. Actually, the thing that really drew me to New York was the downtown avant-garde jazz scene and the improvising scene.
JB: The last [album] you were involved in had an aspect of social commentary and activism. I was wondering if you could discuss that.
DL: Well, we made a record called “The Great Arc,” and each track was dedicated to a species of animal that was either extinct or endangered. When we perform, we have these drawings of animals on an easel [that] I drew. We also have postcards of these animals that we sell, and we take the proceeds and donate them to the National Resource Defense Council.
JB: Fantastic. Well, Dana and Kyle, thank you so much for joining today.
DL: Thanks so much, Joe. Cheers.
The above interview has been edited for clarity and length.