By Caeli Smith | From the March-April 2021 issue of Strings magazine
Ranaan Meyer, bassist of genre-blending ensemble Time for Three, has run the Wabass Institute for 13 seasons. Now he is the artistic director of the new Honeywell Arts Academy, which launches in the summer of 2021 with three full-scholarship programs: Wabass, for bassists; Soundboard, for pianists; and Resonance, for unconventional musicians in pre-formed ensembles.
Tell me about Honeywell.
Honeywell Arts Academy is a full-scholarship program based on the philosophy of “sharing of knowledge.” We want to give attendees a well-rounded experience that includes respecting tradition, living in the present, and looking to the future.
Because we’re lucky enough to be completely merit-based, we attract a high caliber of musician. A lot of our Wabass alums are in leadership roles now. Ten years down the road, our current Honeywell attendees will also be in leadership roles. They will be proof that you can no longer just show up for work and play your instrument well. There’s so much evidence of that, even at the highest levels. Our responsibility as educators is to show people that they have more professional options than they thought. We focus on the essentials of entrepreneurial visions and pioneering careers.
What is the philosophy behind the “sharing of knowledge”?
Sharing of knowledge is what we call the spirit of everyone helping each other, everyone empowering each other, teachers and students alike. All ideas are welcome! As a student, I had the luxury of teachers who empowered and uplifted me. They made me feel like I could conquer the world. There’s an old school of teaching where teachers break you down and build you back up. For some people that works really well. But that’s not what this is. When an environment is set up in a certain way, any barriers are lifted pretty fast. This mindset is so crucial for education. When you’re able to nurture in a really positive way, it can sort of give students a push.
Wabass is the biggest learning week of my year. We’re all students in the program. Every summer, I know I’m going to be blown away. And for the rest of the year I’m thinking about everything we learned together.
Resonance is the program for “unconventional musicians.” The faculty [including Meyer and his Time for Three violinist colleagues Nick Kendall and Charles Yang, and pianist Peter Dugan, host of From the Top] have demonstrated real innovation in their own careers.
We’ve assembled a team where everyone uplifts each other. We’re trying to look deeply into who they are as humans. There are certain feelings you get from people when they perform. I’m the artistic director, but it’s not mine! We all collaborate to make these ideals happen. Each program will be different, but everyone on the faculty is very open-minded. Their experiential knowledge has shown that.
What are you looking for in Resonance applicants?
Classical musicians sometimes feel that there’s a special air of sophistication to their musical output. To me, the quality of music, no matter what the style, is tied to an element of sophistication. For example, Béla Fleck isn’t classical at all — but there’s something very sophisticated about his music.
For Resonance, we’re looking for people who not only want to be extraordinary performers, but who want to do a lot for the world. We really need programs that encourage that sort of thing. Our participants could be a high-level band, like a trio or a quintet, that has already been gigging professionally. Or maybe there’s a violinist who is dabbling with writing music, who improvises a little bit and sings. Maybe he or she has been focusing on auditioning for orchestras, but is curious about hearing and discovering other things. We’re looking for people who are really focused, really creative. Some of them may be “switch hitters”—musicians who are into both jazz and into classical, for example.
Improv is an important feature of Wabass. What would you say to someone who might be nervous about improvising?
There are five factors that are essential to music making: the written page, interpretation, spontaneity, improvisation, and complete freedom. Spontaneity is at the apex. But how do you achieve spontaneity? You need all of those other factors. It’s limiting to tell yourself that you’re not going to try one of those things.
What will a day at Resonance look like?
One thing that makes the program so exciting is that it’s not specific. Resonance is for anyone who wants to be a pioneer within music. That can mean a lot of different things. The design of that week will very much be determined by the people that are selected to attend. It’s all about them. We want to know what they want to work on. We’re working for you. We’re here to help you be the best you can be.
I want everyone to leave with tools they can use to springboard their careers. That’s a high expectation—but it happens! It has happened at Wabass. Some of the players are ready, and they don’t know it yet. They need fertilizer, water, and sunlight. Something happens, it could just be a change of scenery. We’re lucky, because we are the change of scenery.
Honeywell takes place in Wabash, Indiana, a fairly rural community. How does the program fit into the landscape?
The community really embraces our artists. We have a partnership with Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis, and they have a Healing Arts department. We won’t be able to go in-person this summer, but we are planning for an outdoor concert that will be streamed inside the hospital. It’s special to play in places like Carnegie Hall. But when I play for people who need it the most, that’s when I’ve been impacted the most. That sense of charity as a musician should be a crucial thing in our professional DNA. Musicians are superheroes! It just depends how you want to use that. We’re all ambassadors who can spread good. It can be a life-changing thing.