At Home with Rebanks Fellow Ryan Davis
At Home with Rebanks Fellow Ryan Davis
Published on June 2, 2020
Catch up with violist Ryan Davis in a Q&A illuminating his personal experience as a Rebanks Fellow.
How have you been keeping busy while quarantined at home?
I won’t sugar coat anything—the first couple of weeks were very tough! I was quite saddened by the numerous cancellations, ranging from recording sessions, concerts, and exciting summer travel plans. Eventually, I came to the realization that I had to loosen the tight grip on my expectations and shift my focus to things that I could actually control. I have tried to adopt a mindset of gratitude throughout this time stuck at home.
I have managed to stay quite busy during the quarantine. I was flabbergasted to be selected as a contestant on How Talented Are You?
, an Instagram Live show hosted by Toronto Raptors fashionista Serge Ibaka. I spent a considerable amount of time creating a personalized loop pedal cover of Drake’s 2015 bop, Hotline Bling,
which I then performed in front of about 1200 sets of eyeballs on Ibaka’s Instagram Live. It was a surreal experience, as I’m an absolute Raptors fanatic, and getting to chat it up with Ibaka is a memory that I’ll cherish forever.
I am also currently in the thick of a contest hosted by Fondation Jeunesses Musicales Canada called Domicile Adoré / Home Sweet Home
, which challenged participants to compose a new piece incorporating the musical notes C E B A C D (or Do Mi Si La Do Ré for any solfège specialists). Ten pieces will be selected to advance to a final round via audience donation voting and a jury panel, and then some of Canada’s top classical music figures will later determine the ultimate winner. Written for solo viola, my composition is called Wildfire
What have you been listening to?
I’ve been listening to so many podcasts. I greatly enjoyed the new Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance
, and have tried listening to every podcast analyzing the episodes. I have also been making my way through pianist Víkingur Ólafsson’s new album Debussy — Rameau
. It’s absolutely amazing!
Can you tell us a bit about your Little King project and its origins?
I would describe my music and solo project, Little King
, as a melange of classical, folk, electronic, and hip hop influences. After I graduated from Yale University in 2016, as a present to myself, I purchased a loop pedal, and painstakingly created a setup that incorporated both my viola and a sampler machine. I have always delighted in many genres of music, my solo project has allowed me to expand my musical development and unique sound through fusion. The name Ryan actually means “little king,” a definition that I find to be a fascinating paradox, and I hope that my music-making reflects my ambition to artfully combine acoustic viola with electronics.
How has being a Rebanks Fellow benefitted your artistry?
Even with my fellowship year having been interrupted by COVID-19, I have greatly benefitted from this program! Firstly, it has really helped me break out of the “student mindset,” something that inevitably happens after spending years and years in music school. The Rebanks Fellowship has served as a bridge between my student life and professional life and has allowed me to harness my creative energy.
I have been included in a variety of thrilling projects and collaborations that have connected me to Toronto’s vast music scene. I am so grateful to learn from Canadian viola legend, Steven Dann, who is so knowledgeable, gracious, and remarkably devoted to his students. As a Rebanks Fellow, I have been able to envision a future in this fantastic city and know that the relationships that I’ve made throughout the year will be important for years to come. I greatly look forward to throwing myself into the remaining components of the fellowship.
Do you have any observations as an emerging artist during this time period?
Even with a loss of artistic momentum generated by live performance, it has been fascinating to see how differently musicians have responded to the pandemic. It has been illuminating to chat with others about motivation. This time period has forced most of us to dig deep into our creative pockets, and I am trying to embrace any innovative idea that pops into my head, even if it seems unrealistic.
I think most musicians often dream of an interrupted period of time that we may use to rebuild our technique, learn that new concerto or compose that new piece. Surprisingly, when the universe then grants you that time, it can actually become exceedingly difficult or even paralyzing to approach it efficiently.
Personally, I’ve been trying to keep track of how I am feeling, and not punish myself for using this time to reflect instead of practicing every hour of the day. I’m trying to keep as busy as possible and get ready for when live performances may safely resume. I am tremendously excited to share my music on stage again, when the time is right!
What impact do you feel music and emerging artists like yourself have on the world?
I think that our importance is showing now more than ever. Across the world, those stuck at home have relied heavily on creatives as a way to soothe our experience and circumstances. I believe that it's our duty as artists to share our gifts, especially with those who seek healing of any kind. Moving forward, it is my sincere hope that everyone will support emerging artists with rejuvenated vigour and resolve.