Q&A with Lebanon HS' Ryan Ellis

Q&A with Lebanon HS' Ryan Ellis

Lebanon HS director Ryan Ellis breaks down the ensemble's 2019 season, and its exciting program, "Pink."

Apr 11, 2019 by Jeff Griffith
Q&A with Lebanon HS' Ryan Ellis
Following Lebanon's Thursday morning performance in Scholastic World prelims, we caught up with director Ryan Ellis to discuss the ensemble's successful 2019 season.

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Following Lebanon's Thursday morning performance in Scholastic World prelims, we caught up with director Ryan Ellis to discuss the ensemble's successful 2019 season.

Read along with the full transcript, as Ellis explains the ins and outs of Lebanon's unique and exciting 2019 production, "Pink."

FloMarching: Just got off the floor here at WGI Prelims, what's kind of the vibe around the ensemble?

Ryan Ellis: Everybody's really happy. It's a lot of pressure to be here, we put in a lot of time and preparation to be able to have the show that they deserve, and they rose to the occasion, it was really good.

FloMarching: It's so clear they buy into this show, and they have a lot of fun. What's it like to have a show that they can really buy into and enjoy performing?

Ryan Ellis: Oh, it's great, to be able to see your students commit emotionally to a product and just enjoy their time performing, it's awesome. The culture at Lebanon allows for everyone that's there to really buy into what's going on, so it's a blessing.

FloMarching: So tell us about the show, obviously it's got a lot of different layers to it, what all went into the design?

Ryan Ellis: So, the show's called, "Pink." It pulls from a lot of different parts of the culture of the band Pink Floyd, specifically the albums, "Wish You Were Here," "Dark Side of the Moon," and "The Wall." We produced the album artwork imagery as well as a lot of the narratives that are woven inside of those albums. So, we have a 10- by 80- foot wall made of cardboard boxes or "bricks" that we destroy at the end, and we have some stages that resemble the refraction of light, the prisms from the album cover of "Dark Side of the Moon." We really just tie in those three albums and the culture and upbringing of that band.

FloMarching: Where did that whole idea come from?

Ryan Ellis: My dad kind of raised me on classic rock and showed me the movie, "The Wall," when I was at a pretty young age. I don't think it really had the effect on me then that it has now, but sometimes you just find a lot of inspiration in things, and as I was doing more research on the band, it never just seemed to end, the level of depth that they would provide, not only with lyrics and the chord structures in the music, but also the storylines and the narratives that they would intertwine into their music. The band members themselves also have some really intriguing lives and the history they've grown together was provocative enough that it was something we wanted to take on.

FloMarching: I know you said you grew up on Pink Floyd, but I'm sure a lot of the members didn't, did you have to show them some of the music?

Ryan Ellis: I did, yeah, so there were some conversations that had to take place. Luckily, a lot of the parents of the students are at a certain age where they also grew up with the band, so, really at first the parents were probably more excited about the show than the kids. But, through enough conversations and listening to the music, I don't think, at least for me personally, it's not very difficult to find excitement in that band and everything that they bring.

FloMarching: Is there a particular part of the show that you just feel is, like, 'People need to watch this part of the show?'

Ryan Ellis: In our second movement — so, like I said, the show is split into three albums, and those are chronological — our second movement is our "Dark Side of the Moon" movement, and the guitar player for Pink Floyd, his name is David Gilmore, he has an interview where he's talking about all of these experimental sounds that he wanted to find and all these new techniques he wanted to find for his instrument, and we have a member of our ensemble who's our bass drum section leader but also has a history of playing trumpet, so our ability to recreate David Gilmore and what he wanted was to put to the test his ability level and see if he could play both those instruments at the same time. So, we have a part of our show, actually a cymbal player jumps on the back of, his name's Nick, our bass drummer, and he plays trumpet while she holds it to his mouth and he plays (bass drum) with two hands, and then he holds the trumpet (with one hand) and they split (on the bass drum) while he plays trumpet at the same time, and it's proven to be a pretty extraordinary moment.

FloMarching: It's not often you find a trumpet-playing bass drummer. Chicken or the egg — what came first, did you know he played trumpet and then had the idea, or vice versa?

Ryan Ellis: I knew he was a trumpet player, yeah, he's a trumpet player in concert band and maybe two years ago he started playing bass drum with us in the winter, kept playing trumpet in the fall, so he's proficient on both instruments, was keeping his chops up in both directions, and as a designer you try to recognize the strong points of your students and you try to bring out the best in them, and once I realized the abilities that he had, it just seemed like something we should take advantage of.

FloMarching: There at the end of the show, the snares and tenors break their heads with hammers; how many heads do you guys have on hand here for that moment?

Ryan Ellis: We did have to purchase a good amount of heads. We've been waiting for this, because of the expense of having to buy new drum heads, until these last three nights. So, we have hammers in the stick bags of the snares and quads, and the last note of the show, they take their hammers and they break the drum heads. It's going to be about 20 drum heads the next couple days, but well worth it for the moment, it's pretty impactful and I know they have a lot of fun.

FloMarching: Any other unique wrinkles people should know about in this group and this show?

Ryan Ellis: I mean, we have only been in World Class a couple of years, so it's nice to begin to receive some of the acknowledgement and the credit of all of their hard work. So, to anyone who hasn't seen the show, I'd just recommend they get a chance to stop by.