Ayreheart grew out of my desire to write new music for the lute - the most popular instrument of the Renaissance - and make it accessible to a wider audience. My first compositions were conceived as solos. But I was soon writing music that could not be fully expressed on solo lute and I needed musician friends to help realize the music. Willard Morris and Mattias Rucht teamed up with me first. Then in 2013 Brian Kay joined us and the band was complete. Together we perform our own original music as well as Renaissance music from the time of Shakespeare.
The original music of Ayreheart reflects elements of the many kinds of music we love: Folk, Celtic, Bluegrass, Classical, Jazz and others. Ronn McFarlane (lute), Brian Kay (vocals, lute, guitar & komuz), Willard Morris (bass, violin, mandolin & colascione) and Mattias Rucht (percussion) blend the old and new to create Ayreheart’s collective voice.
Ayreheart also performs Renaissance concerts with voice, two lutes, colascione (a kind of bass lute) and hand percussion. These historically informed concerts give a glimpse into the lute’s past, and the expressiveness that prompted Renaissance writers to call the lute “The Prince of Instruments.”
When Centuries Collide
An Ayreheart performance can consist of an eclectic mix of Renaissance-inspired Folk and Acoustic Rock originals, as well as some old traditional tunes, or entire programs of Renaissance music from the British Isles. Ayreheart also offers concerts consisting of half original music and half Renaissance music. When Centuries Collide is a ground-breaking concert program combining the elegance of Renaissance music with the propulsion of twenty-first century rock.
GRAMMY-nominated lutenist, Ronn McFarlane strives to bring the lute - the most popular instrument of the Renaissance - into today’s musical mainstream and make it accessible to a wider audience.
At thirteen, upon hearing “Wipeout” by the Surfaris, he fell wildly in love with music and taught himself to play on a "cranky sixteen-dollar steel-string guitar.” Ronn kept at it, playing blues and rock music on the electric guitar while studying classical guitar. He graduated with honors from Shenandoah Conservatory and continued guitar studies at Peabody Conservatory before turning his full attention and energy to the lute in 1978. The following year, Mr. McFarlane began to perform solo recitals on the lute and became a member of the Baltimore Consort. Since then, he has toured throughout the United States, Canada and Europe with the Baltimore Consort and as a soloist.
McFarlane was a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory from 1984 to 1995, teaching lute and lute-related subjects. In 1996, Mr. McFarlane was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Shenandoah Conservatory for his achievements in bringing the lute and its music to the world. He has over 30 recordings on the Dorian/Sono Luminus label, including solo albums, lute duets, flute & lute duets, lute songs, recordings with the Baltimore Consort, the complete lute music of Vivaldi, and Blame Not My Lute, a collection of Elizabethan lute music and poetry, with spoken word by Robert Aubry Davis.
Recently, Ronn has been engaged in composing new music for the lute, building on the tradition of the lutenist/composers of past centuries. His original compositions are the focus of his solo CD, Indigo Road, which received a GRAMMY Award Nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album.
Vocals, Lute, Komuz, Guitar
Award-winning musician Brian Kay is a modern-day troubadour. He began his musical life at the age of 10 when he got his first drum set and formed a band. Although this “drum set” was merely a snare drum with no stand and a bass drum with no pedal, Brian wasted no time honing his chops and developing his musical imagination while practicing for hours with his mother’s wooden spoons. He has since had a productive and diverse musical career. As a singer and multi-instrumentalist, he enjoys performing a broad range of musical styles as well as teaching about the history of the instruments he plays and the songs he sings.
Brian has performed throughout the United States and beyond. He specializes in historical plucked instruments and ancient songs of the world, is a songwriter, plays a variety of percussion and wind instruments, writes poetry, and paints. During the 2013 - 2014 season, Brian appeared in major US cities such as Boston, Cleveland, Miami, Houston, and New York.
Described as "far-ranging", "brilliant", and "exciting" by Cleveland Classical, Brian's singing is "natural", "heartfelt", and "emotional" (Boston Musical Intelligencer). The Cleveland Plain Dealer stated that Brian's singing was "sinister and tragic-the most affecting vocal performance." His lute and oud playing have been referred to as "masterful" (Nuvo) and "phenomenal" (Early Music America).
Brian has been featured at distinguished venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Shriver Hall, and The Boston Early Music Festival. His radio appearances include Baltimore's WYPR, Boston's WGBH, and Cleveland's WCLV. His debut album Ocean was released in November, 2013. As an avid ensemble player, he has performed with Apollo's Fire, Ayreheart, Hesperus, The Broken Consort, The Catacoustic Consort, and is a founding member of the early music improvisation group Divisio. He is the only two time winner of The Lute Society of America's national Emerging Artist lute competition and the 2013 recipient of Peabody Conservatory's "Excellence in Early Music Award".
Enthusiastic about teaching, Mr. Kay has lectured at Yale University, The Peabody Conservatory, Shriver Hall, and The Walters Art Museum. In September, 2012 he was Artist in Residence at The Cushman School in Miami, Florida, where he taught 7th & 8th graders musical appreciation through the experience of composing and producing their own music.
Colascione, Fretless Bass, Violin, Mandolin
If you rose into high school with a desire to keep your hard won violin skills as an active part of your academic life but found no options for strings, what would you do? I found myself in just this situation. Looking through the list of music class options available, jazz band was the only class in which I could play a string instrument, the bass. But I’d never played bass. And I had no real experience playing traditional jazz either. What to do? I got it stuck in my mind that I’d take up the bass and take that class, but the jazz band members are the top players of the school and new students had to audition to take the class. How could I possibly make the cut in a music style I’d no experience with, on an instrument I’d never played before with barely two months to prepare? I borrowed a neighbor’s amplifier and rented an electric bass that summer and by my determination, taught myself to read the bass clef and relate it to playing the bass. The bass strings are the familiar E, A, D and G tuned in intervals of fourths, the reverse order to the violin’s fifths I’d grown up with - it was like entering a weird backwards world. Spending hours a day with the bass and growing accustomed to the new order of finger placements that present themselves by playing arpeggios and scales, it was easy to see the predictable patterns that naturally occur. Besides learning the mechanics of the bass, I gave myself a deep immersion into improvisation by playing along with with the radio, anything that would be broadcast - jazz, rock, funk, country, without reservation or judgement of the music, just playing along because I so desperately needed experience. This was the birth of my bass life.
I could’ve been easily cut from jazz band by the well established seniors, but I managed to pass audition just well enough to keep a position in the class. I practiced everyday, taking home all the charts that were in our folders and playing through on my own as my daily, self-assigned, homework. It wasn’t easy, there were some very difficult professional level charts. Sometimes with written out bass parts sometimes just chord symbols, sometimes a mixture of both. I’d enjoyed listening to jazz as young kid but only had classical music as my way into music making, so that freshman year was how jazz was cultivated into my musical life. In subsequent years, I’d play with other friends and form rock bands as was common for kids at the time. All good education albeit in nontraditional form. Throughout high school, I continued formal violin studies and was fortunate to have found an instructor whose philosophy of music teaching was to give the student all the means needed for the student to learn for themselves. When I first started lessons with him, he actually told me that his job was to obsolete himself. That was amazing to me. It was this rare gift that has given so much to me, not just in music, but in many aspects of life. By way of this, I simultaneously learned to play mandolin, piano, guitar, saxaphone, flute and banjo in my teen years.
It wasn’t long before I brought my newly found jazz improvisation to the violin and developed a flair for nonclassical music styles on an otherwise very classic instrument. At the time it was uncommon and didn’t have a easy place to fit in, so playing bass provided many more money making gigs than did the violin but playing the classics remained a staple of my life, even if by myself in the solo sonatas and partitas by J.S.Bach.
While pursuing electronics engineering during college, I was determined not to let my music education go dormant. I’d read books, talked with other music professionals and asked many questions, read more books and was knowledgeable enough to tutor my music major peers in their theory classes. But the greatest music education was gained by my desire to compose. It was through this exercise that I learned the most about the crafting of music.
Performing and recording with a wide variety of music acts over the years had shaped my take on music, and bass playing in particular, into a well suited match to accompany Ronn McFarlane’s modern lute music. When asked if I could take up the colascione to enable Ayreheart’s performance of early music, as well as acoustic versions of McFarlane’s contemporary music for lute, I blindly embraced the opportunity even though I’d never played a colascione before. Even though its similar to playing a standard bass, the nuance of making music with it is quite different. I’ve enjoyed this most recent addition to my quiver of instruments ever since.
Mattias Rucht has been immersed in music from an early age. His father was a symphony conductor and his mother was a pianist. His first playground was in the midst of the orchestra and behind the stage. He started playing the drumset at the age of twelve and began playing in southern rock bands at the age of fifteen. By college, he had advanced to jazz fusion.
Mattias is trained as a visual artist and has been involved in multimedia development for many years. He has composed music for animation, games, film & video and has had a computer based studio since 1984. At one point, all the instruments that he used were MIDI and electronic.
Around 2002, Mattias saw a concert of the Paul Winter Consort where Glen Velez played a three minute solo on a red plastic tambourine and he was blown away. Glen had played more on a simple plastic tambourine than what he had seen done with thousands of dollars worth of hi-tech electronic gear. This started his interest in world percussion and getting back to basics. Since then, he has discovered the joy of ethnic percussion and world music, bringing a wide range of influences to his playing style.
Mattias Rucht has been active in the local Washington DC music scene for over 25 years as a drummer/percussionist, playing in various rock, jazz, folk and world ensembles. He has also performed in theatrical productions and accompanied dancers and storytellers.