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GVSU's New Music Ensemble cracks NPR’s list of Top 100 Songs of 2017


Grand Valley State University’s New Music Ensemble cracked NPR’s list of Top 100 Songs of 2017 with its song Glass Surface composed by Daniel Rhode. What is it about the music drawing national praise? WGVU talks with one of its creators.

“Once the news spread to my students and then the composer of this song they really just, just totally flipped.” Bill Ryan is director of New Music Ensemble. He recalls receiving the web alert that its song Glass Surface had landed at number 88 on NPR’s list of Top 100 Songs of 2017.

“Kind of floored by this clicking on it and seeing these other highly recognizable names and then there’s little old Grand Valley among them. Scrolling down we saw Jay-Z on there. I think I saw Justin Bieber as well he had some kind of tune that was remixed on there. So, it’s an amazing list if you scroll through the whole thing because it’s a collection of all genres and a lot of people that we’ve heard of that are doing really big things in the pop and rock world. This is our fourth CD that we’ve done since 2005. This project is very special to me because all the music was composed by three former composition students that went through Grand Valley at various times. So they went through the whole program, studied with me, now they’re out there finding success as composers. They created all the music for us and then my current students that are in the ensemble recorded everything. So, it’s entirely home grown and I think really demonstrates what good things can come out of our program. The composers, they compose notated material for us that they sent us last year. We read it and rehearsed it and recorded it, but it was all just acoustic instruments, and then they took those sounds, the audio, and further manipulated it into what we hear on the album.”

How does Ryan describe the style or the music?

"Its classical music but its classical music being written today and it’s for our ensemble, the New Music Ensemble, its chamber ensemble so it’s a small collection of various instruments, we have seven players. The music for this CD is a hybrid of electronic music combined with our acoustic instruments and so they kind of merge and very often you cannot recognize who is producing a certain sound. But at other times its very clear about who is. For example you might hear a flute but then later on in the piece that might morph electronically into a brand new sound. We didn’t know what we were going to get so when tracks started coming back to us in the summer time that was really the first time we got an idea of the direction that the album would be in. We were just floored as they kept coming in and were very, very excited.”

What does Ryan like about the song Glass Surface?

“I like the pace of it, the gentleness of it, sort of pulls you in and invites you in subtly and then the dynamics of the piece build and it’s a subtle journey through these acoustic and electronic worlds.”

Patrick Center, WGVU News.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.