Hampshire's Music and Dance Building was filled with entranced attendees of Ryan Mihaly 08F's Division III performance of original musical compositions and poetry, featuring a string trio, a saxophone trio, and no conductor. The two groups played a series of ethereal pieces between poem recitations.
Mihaly, also one of the saxophonists, spent his Div II weaving an interdisciplinary web of the arts, studying music, ethnomusicology, composition, music theory, visual art, collage, and writing. All these experiences eventually informed his final production.
He started playing music with friends while living with his family in Japan during his eighth and ninth grade years.
"I've been writing music and writing poetry since high school, but it wasn't until I came to Hampshire that I started thinking about interdisciplinary work. In the music classes I took, we learned about graphic scores, which combine text, image, and musical notation. In art classes too, text, image, and sound were always intersecting with each other," said Mihaly.
He also noted the connections between music and poetry: "Both are filled with moments, gestures, harmony, and rhythm."
His compositions were an exploration of the creative process, a perennially important and essentially mysterious subject: "I wanted to talk about the creative process. Over my years at Hampshire I took a wide variety of art courses… I approached projects across all those fields in the same way. It was always a combination of ideas that drove me. It sounds simple, and obvious. But that is the connecting point. Everything starts with an idea, doesn't it? Whether you're making an art project, or starting a family, or making dinner. I wanted the project to have that universal appeal—an idea begins everything—'from here, anywhere.' That's a key repeated line in the poetry."
Mihaly's poems often ring with this intrepid, hopeful, golden sound, as does the musical narrative, which was his primary concentration. The music has constant ambient tension between rich chords, which often break into jaunty movement. There are infusions of jazz and classical music, and one can hear the influence of the French composer Erik Satie, about whom Mihaly wrote his Division III paper.
"I don't know if I could categorize the music. I just like to think of the compositions as compositions," he said. "A friend told me some the music sounded folkloric, which I liked. There certainly is an element of adventure in the music."
The overtones of adventure are fitting, given the scale of the project, over the course of which Mihaly learned a great deal about his own creative process. "I wrote the music first, then the poems. I knew it had to be in that order," he said.
His interdisciplinary explorations taught him that art "is something that works within limitations. I think that's very important. I dropped the visual art aspect first semester. I limited myself to music and poetry, and that was key. And another key limitation," he joked, "is time!"
Mihaly also discussed composition in the digital age, and the importance of organic music making in the creative process of composition: "I'm not against composing on the computer. But it's important that I always have an instrument in front of me when I compose. The computer simply allows me to quickly notate and visualize my ideas. I took advantage of that during Division III, but for future projects I hope to be further away from the computer. Less screens, more pencil and paper."
Following graduation, Mihaly plans to continue writing and will volunteer for Flying Object, an art and publishing nonprofit based in Hadley, MA. "I'm always going to be playing music and composing," he said.
Division III faculty committee: jazz and contemporary music professor Marty Ehrlich (chair) and poetry professor Aracelis Girmay