The Center for Musical Arts is proud to work with knowledgeable faculty with unique backgrounds. In this interview with percussion instructor Ryan Sapp we explore his teaching style, what first drew him to the drum set, and much more. Watch or read the interview below.
Introduction to Ryan Sapp
Center for Musical Arts: All right, good morning! My name is Erica Reid. I am the Marketing Manager with the Center for Musical Arts, and today I am sitting down with Ryan Sapp, one of the fantastic faculty members we have at the Center. How are you doing, Ryan?
Ryan: I’m doing well, Erica. It’s nice to see you and talk with you.
Center: Yeah, absolutely. Could you start us off just giving us the lay of the land: what is your role with the Center? What is your history?
Ryan: I am the percussion instructor at the Center for Musical Arts. I began in November of 2017.
Ryan’s Teaching Philosophy
Center: Fantastic. How would you just generally describe your teaching philosophy?
Ryan: Well, I try not to have one way of looking at things, but if I had to sum it up, I would say “real world.” I would say “practical.” I want a student to be able to use their knowledge and their skills in a real world application, whether it’s a school band, I want them to be able to read their music and play the music that’s presented to them, whether it’s an adult who just wants to play with his or her buddies on the weekend, I want them to be able to use the knowledge and the skills on the songs that they’re learning. Whether it’s a teenager applying for a college audition, everything that I teach is applicable to real world knowledge and skills and real world usage. So, I try to teach from that point of view and hopefully they can use everything that I give them.
Center: I think that’s a great philosophy. I didn’t even introduce you as a percussion faculty member. What drew you to percussion? What made that your instrument?
Ryan: [laughs] I started off when I was a little kid, just banging Lincoln Logs on some pillows, and I think it just went from there, and I started in a 6th grade band, and played throughout middle school. But, I really wanted to play drum set. That was the overarching goal. So, I just started fooling around with that, and it just happened. I just kept playing, and in my later teenage years really, that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to be a drummer. Then, as I went on to college, I was exposed to even more of the percussion world, keyboards and timpanies, and of course there’s an entire literal world of percussion out there, from all around the world. So, I became exposed to a lot of that stuff, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Center: Which, if I can ask, which elements of percussion do you teach, or can you teach it all? I saw on your profile, you mentioned handpan.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s a more recent thing. I’ve always had a fascination with metallophones — cymbals, anything made of metal. Gongs, they’re under the category of metallophones, and I just love the sound of all of that. One of my friends had one, and of course I was fascinated with it, and had an opportunity to acquire one, and I’m still practicing to this day on it. They’re a lot of fun. They’re a distant cousin to the steel pans, which I just love the sound of steel pans. And when you hear them, I mean, you just want to get on the beach and do a little limbo. [laughs] It just has a very, just wonderful sound to me anyways.
The Importance of Teachers
Center: Fantastic. So, have you had, along your path, a teacher or a mentor who has guided you, who brought you to where you are, and what kind of things did you learn from them?
Ryan: To be honest, I’ve had some good teachers, but I really didn’t grow up with a mentor of that sort, somebody that guided me along the way. Early on, I was self-taught, even though I knew how to read music, and play in bands and things like that. I was, in a lot of ways, very self-taught, and I just had to figure it out for myself.
Now, having said that, I truly believe that having mentors and teachers are a vital part of becoming a better musician — and even more importantly, becoming a better person, and a knowledgeable person. So, I try as best as I can to be that for my students.
And while the lessons — we usually meet once a week and they’re for a certain amount of time, and I try to focus on the music — I try to listen to what’s going on in their lives and try to be there for them. So, sometimes, the conversation will start with — and it’s not always a bad thing, but maybe something going on at school or something going on in their life — and I just try to be there for them and try to listen.
As far as my mentors go, I actually worked at a time in Major League Baseball.
Ryan: I did. Actually, I still do.
Center: In what capacity?
Ryan: I do the field security for the Colorado Rockies.
Center: Really? That’s got to be a fun gig.
Learning from the Major Leagues
Ryan: It is fun. It’s a lot of fun, except when it rains and you’ve got to stand out there during a rainstorm. [laughs] But, a lot of my mentoring, a lot of things I picked up on, were from Major League coaches and Major League managers on how to motivate professional athletes. So, I picked up a lot of tips and just watched what they did.
In my opinion, in the overall world of, well, in the world, I guess, maybe sports doesn’t mean that much. I mean, it’s just a game really, but to these players, it means a lot to them. It’s their livelihood, it’s their passion. Maybe there’s a lot of money on the line, and how do you respond to adversity if you’re a pitcher or something, and you just had a bad outing, and gave up a lot of home runs, and things of that nature — how do you respond the next day?
So, I picked up a lot of that resiliency, and how to face adversity, not only from the players, but the coaches trying to keep a positive mindset, and things of that nature. So, I think a lot of, although it wasn’t a mentor per se, I picked up a lot of that from coaches and Major League managers, and a lot of philosophies and approaches definitely translate into music and into life.
Center: What an interesting perspective. Well, I was going to ask what else besides teaching fills your life, and you’ve got this. Then, I was also reading you perform in a band called WhiteWater Ramble, which describes itself as “high-octane, Rocky Mountain dancegrass.” And I have just got to hear a little bit more about that.
Ryan: Well, it’s pretty fast. [laughs] It’s pretty energetic a lot of the time, most of the time. It’s kind of bluegrass-based, so we use a lot of two-beats, and people like to dance to it. It’s fast, it’s energetic. It gets people on the floor. It gets people excited.
Center: How long have you been playing with WhiteWater Ramble?
Ryan: Oh, gosh, it’s been probably about eight years now.
Ryan: I played all over the country, and just bring in the fun locally or nationally. Wherever people need an uplift, we’ll be there.
Center: So, you’ve got “Rocky Mountain dancegrass.” You’ve got the Rockies. You’re teaching percussion. Is there room for anything else?
Ryan: Not much. [laughs] I’m pretty busy. I put a lot into my students. There’s a lot of prep time that goes in between lessons. I’m always thinking about what’s best for them. I take a lot of notes. I’m always trying to make their experience as good as possible. So yeah, I keep pretty busy. It’s mostly music. Sometimes I get out and go hiking or play in the garden, but between the lessons taught, and when concerts return, hopefully soon, it keeps me pretty busy.
A Last Word for Students
Center: Yeah. Alright. Well, it has been great getting to know you. Is there any last thing that you think that potential students who were looking to learn any angle of percussion ought to know about the Center, or about you as a teacher?
Ryan: Come on in and check it out! Let’s just play. If you have an interest, if you’ve ever picked up a drumstick and were just kind of like, “Wow, I’d like to try that out sometime,” come in and try it out. See what happens. I have adults that always wanted to do it, and a few of them were brave enough to take the plunge, and they love it. It’s a lot of fun. You have to work at it, for sure, but it’s fun. So, if you’re a kid or an adult or some semblance in between, come on in, and just try it out. I’ll show you a few things, and we’ll go from there.
Center: Alright. Thank you so much for taking time today.
Ryan: Oh, the pleasure was mine. Thank you so much.