By Pamela Zappardino Jan 28 2006
A few summers ago, Ryan Koons and I stood next to each
other in class at Common Ground on the Hill.
Bara Grimsdottir was teaching us to sing in Icelandic,
and we were struggling.
The words, despite their phonetic English
reproductions, were difficult, but the musical
phrasing and harmonies were the real challenges, as
the notes went in directions we just weren't used to
hearing, much less singing. We had a great time.
I continued to see Ryan each summer. I just had no
idea how talented this high school student was. A few
weeks back, Ry, now a senior at Westminster High
School, sent me a flier about "Northern Chord," a
concert he was putting together as his capstone
project for Common Ground-sponsored AP credits from
McDaniel College. It looked interesting, and it
promised some Icelandic singing. How could I resist?
I went to McDaniel's Little Baker Chapel last
Saturday, expecting about 30 or 40 folks. I arrived
with my admission of canned goods for the local food
bank, and found the chapel overflowing. It wasn't my
last surprise that evening.
Ryan walked into the chapel playing the fiddle and
from there, the music never stopped.
He had designed a program showcasing traditional music
from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Denmark,
Sweden and, as promised, Iceland. Adding squeezebox,
Irish flute, psalterys and tin whistle to his fiddle,
Ry was joined on stage by his parents Ken and
Stephanie Koons (with whom he appears as Wherligig)
and by classmate, and wonderful fiddler, Nikia Sayre.
Together, these folks played an astonishing 13
different traditional instruments.
Diverse tunes were interspersed with Westminster
High's vocal ensemble singing the Icelandic songs Bara
taught us. Ry added his voice to the ensemble, and
also shared the directing duties with Beverly Mauck.
It was a traditional extravaganza. And Ryan was
The music was quite strong all around. Ry seems most
comfortable on the fiddle, but he is very credible on
the other instruments as well. His poise belied his
years. I kept forgetting this was a guy in high
school, as he chatted with the musicians onstage and
bantered with the audience. The ensemble sounded
beautiful, and it mastered the difficult Icelandic
phrasing, but I think Bara would have had the group
really let loose and belt out those songs.
Ryan is heading to Dickinson College to study
ethnomusicology. But don't expect him to give up
performing. Ry Koons is going places.
Pamela Zappardino teaches art appreciation. Reach her
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