La Verne Magazine
Carving His Niche One Note at a Time
by Alejandra Molina
photography by Adam Omernik
Looking to please his audience, Michael Ryan, classical guitarist, plays for
the pre-show dinner at the Claremont Candlelight Pavilion, three days a week.
The life of a working musician can be an emotional roller coaster. Searching
for gigs to make ends meet or securing a record deal that will lead you to the
top is the dream of every musician, but is rarely attainable. For guitarist
Michael Ryan, however, his experience in the music industry is anything but
that. His standard set of gigs, his own record label and a wide variety of musical
associations are helping him reach fame and stability in the music business.
Ryans fame is not the kind that will have the paparazzi running after
him for a picture or lead to a concert played in front of 30,000 audience members.
His scene is more intimate, one of a troubadour, as he likes to
describe himself. He says a troubadour, is an accurate description
of a modern-day minstrel who is a singer and songwriter with an ancient soul.
Indeed, he sees himself as a singer and performer of the Renaissance, expressing
his musical ideals in small venues with small, intimate groups. I like
that kind of intimate connection with my audience, he says. Ryan plays
in a large number of gigs and performs for a total of 70,000 audience members
each year. Because he plays for small audiences, Ryan knows that he has loyal
fans who will support him no matter where he plays.
Playing Spanish classical pieces, Irish folk songs, light blues and his original
work on his Esteve guitar, Ryan sets the romantic ambiance to the pre-show dinner
at the Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont, where he plays three days a week,
twice a day. Every place I play in is different, he says. People
are going to be there to listen; loyal fans will be there.
The Candlelight Pavilion is a high-class dinner theater where families can
go and have a formal dinner and watch a musical after their meal. While they
are eating, Ryan plays his guitar, and people usually set aside their meals
to watch him play. After every piece, Ryan gently bows his head in appreciation
of the audiences applause. To Ryan, his audience is a very important aspect
of his musical career. When you play music, you feel a harmony with the
audience, he says. Were all sharing this experience together.
His traditional last piece of the evening, Malaguena, sets the energetic
mood of the audience for the remainder of the night at the Pavilion. Ryans
energy and passion for playing the guitar is shown in this piece, which has
a more upbeat tone than his previous pieces at the dinner. The audience is awed
by the way his fingers deftly strum the strings.
Ryans solo performances garnered enough popularity to convince the Pavilion
to host him as a regular to perform for the pre-show dinners. Then while playing
for the Pavilion, Ryan wanted to put on his own concert, so he asked a couple
of his friends to perform with him in these headliner concerts Who would have
known that Ryans friends were the famous Ron Powell and Ken Suderland,
who played with him at his concert, along with the other six members of his
An encore performance of the Michael Ryan and Friends Concert was held in
the University of La Vernes Founders Hall proving that Ryan excels in
every aspect of performing. Whether he is with his large ensemble, as he was
in the concert, or by himself in the Candlelight Pavilion, Ryans talent
is unmatched. The atmosphere of this concert was different from that of the
Pavilion. It showed that Ryan is capable of livening up an audience with a more
upbeat tone and the wide variety of music that he plays. From rock n
roll to romantic ballads, his ensemble used a variety of instruments: the harmonica,
flute, acoustic and electric guitar and the piano.
Since January 2002, Ryan has performed four concerts with his ensemble. Aside
from practicing with his group, performing in concerts and playing in the Pavilion,
Ryan plays every Wednesday night at Casa de Salsa with Suderland. His other
gigs consist of playing for the Claremont Colleges, Los Angeles County Sheriff
Leroy D. Baca and various wedding parties. This is the life of a working musician,
a life that Ryan loves no matter how busy he is. I like to keep myself
busy. It feels like Im accomplishing things in life, he says. And
his dedication to his hectic schedule has paid off. For six years, Ryan has
had his own record label with the help of two friends, Adam Kaplan and Jayne
Robertson. Kaplan and Ryan wrote the music, while Robertson created the Villa
Loba music label. Ryans Romance CD, one of four CDs in his
name, has sold more than 40,000 copies, making him a member of the Grammy organization,
an accomplishment in which he takes great pride. As a member, he has the opportunity
to vote for Grammy nominees and is invited to functions, parties and viewings
of new films. Also, through this program, he is able to network with other people
in the recording industry. Ryan markets many of his CDs through his Web site:
The Web site goes directly to the CD Baby Company, which handles the selling
of his CDs. His music is also sold at www.amazon.com.
Selling CDs and performing at gigs are not the only tasks that occupy Ryans
time. He also works five days a week, teaching guitar classes at the University
of La Verne. Though teaching was not one of his top priorities, it is now, as
his students show enthusiasm toward his classes. I was thinking Id
perform; I really didnt have a focus in teaching, he says. But
the students show a lot of interest.The intimacy and small community of
La Verne is one of the reasons Ryan decided to teach at the University. I
liked the University of La Verne because it is a small college; everyone seemed
to be very happy, he recalls of his alma mater. Ryan graduated from ULV
in 1975 with a bachelors degree in guitar performance. Ive
had students take his guitar classes; he really passes down his knowledge to
them, says Reed Gratz, professor of music, who is a member of Ryans
ensemble. Gratz has known Ryan for 26 years. The two met when Ryan graduated
from ULV and became a faculty member.
While at ULV, Ryan met Jim Fahringer, a man who inspired him to pursue his
musical career. Fahringer is now the conductor/director for the Claremont Symphony
Orchestra. When Ryan attended ULV, Fahringer was the chairman of the music department
and his music professor. Ryan also took voice lessons from Fahringers
wife Delphine. Both of them were very supporting and inspiring,
he says. He was a very inspirational fellow; he had so much passion for
music. Ryan recalls the help he received from Fahringer in a guitar recital
his senior year. He made it seem so easy. It was a successful recital,
he says. Ryan also had chamber singing experience while he attended the University.
He toured for three weeks with the chamber singers in Canada and throughout
the West Coast, singing for churches and high schools. Fahringers passion
for music is similar to Ryans, who for 37 years now, has been pursuing
his musical career.
It just fascinated me, Ryan says. Almost every aspect of
music, I have interest in. Music is his life, and he likes the fame that
comes along with it. If I had more fame, Id be OK with that,
he says. But it is not the fame that motivates him to keep playing the guitar;
it is his passion that keeps him going. He mentions fame playfully, but
he wouldnt mind more, says his new wife Tracy Governatori. He
truly cares about his audience. Its not a job; he enjoys what he is doing.
When you play music, it feels good. Its expressive and created,
Ryan says. It serves as a creative release, and it is fun to do.
Ryan first picked up a guitar to play rock n roll and folk but later
gained a passion for classical guitar. Classical guitar has different
melodies going on at the same time. A lot of things are happening, he
says. Hes collective; he plays classical music, Latin music and
has his own compositions, Gratz says. Hes wrapped up in his
Ryan is currently looking forward to playing in Bretten, Germany this summer,
where he was invited to perform in the 499th Peter Paul Renaissance Festival
for four days. The whole town goes back to the Renaissance era,
Ryan says. Its a very exciting event. Ryan has traveled to
Europe four times for various summer performances, playing in different jazz
clubs in Germany and Switzerland. Its extra money, he says
of his touring experiences. So far, Ryan is pleased with his music career and
with the way everything is going in his life. I am very satisfied. If
more comes, I am ready for it, he says.