Student Profile: Ryan Toll

Lesley Mahoney
June 11, 2009
Ryan Toll<br /><strong> Hometown:</strong> Snoqualmie, Washington<br /><strong>Major:</strong> Music Education<br /><strong>Instrument:</strong> Guitar
Toll in front of the Parthenon at the Acropolis.
Toll drinks from Castalia Spring at the site of the ancient oracle in Delphi.
Photo by Lesley Mahoney
Photo by Lesley Mahoney
Photo by Lesley Mahoney

For Ryan Toll, the odd time signatures and unique rhythms characteristic of Greek music will serve as the beginnings of his international music toolbox. The music education major has his sights set on teaching around the globe and sees his semester-long study abroad experience in Athens at the Philippos Nakas Conservatory—a Berklee International Network partner—as an important step in this journey.


What attracted you to the Athens program?

I've been interested in doing things internationally, and teaching internationally. The Athens program seemed to be a good way to test whether I could actually do that. In high school, I had a couple of friends who were foreign exchange students and the idea seemed attractive to me. I always wanted to do something like that and see the world for an extended period of time—not just a vacation, to get a chance to really experience the country.

Tell me about your experience at Nakas.

We received such a warm welcome at Nakas from the students and the teachers, and especially the staff. [Managing director] Leonidas [Arniakos] and [study supervisor] Maria [Papadopoulou] have just been amazing. It's made me feel very comfortable here. The classes are really small, a lot more intimate. It's not that often that you get to study with a world-renowned archaeologist. [John Karavas, our Greek Civilization professor], is probably one of the most knowledgeable people you can find. We're really lucky. Petros [Kourtis, who teaches Greek Crossroads in Rhythm and Sound] is an amazing percussionist. [Our Modern Greek Language instructor] Voula [Venou] is helping us out a lot. I will stay an extra month after the semester is over and island hop; that's why I want to learn as much of the language as I can. 

How has Greek music influenced your own music?

I'm learning how to play bouzouki, learning traditional Greek songs on the instrument. That is just another way for me to experience the country as much as I can. We're all here for music, so experiencing Greek music is probably the best way for us to really see what the country is like. I'm learning it through a private class with George Krionas. He speaks hardly any English, but that's the cool thing about music—you don't really need to speak the same language. Knowing guitar, I was able to just jump into it.

My bouzouki private instruction, along with the Greek Crossroads in Rhythm and Sound class, is really cool because it's so new and different. We're doing a lot of things in odd time signatures. The instruments are all different. We're jumping headlong into it. I think I will end up taking some of the things that we learn back, especially the odd time signatures, and the strumming patterns and melody considerations of bouzouki.

How will you incorporate this experience into your own teaching?

It's given me a greater appreciation for and more knowledge of music outside the U.S. I think when I have my own students, I'll show them music from all over the world. It's just the beginning. I'm very excited for where it's going. I want to go everywhere. I want to see as many places as I can, so it doesn't really matter where I start.

What have you been doing to immerse yourself in Greek culture?

It's been really cool getting to know the Greek people. At Nakas and through everyday people you come in contact with—just going on the subway, for example—you learn the things that make Greek people Greek. I could definitely see myself coming back here, maybe even teaching here. I think everyone should have this kind of experience. It's so new and challenging; I think it's good for people to get outside the box, see the world, and experience music and culture from a different angle. It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It's definitely influenced what I'm going to do. I'm going to remember this forever.

Top 5 Albums

  • OK Computer — Radiohead
  • His Definitive Greatest Hits — B.B. King
  • The White Album — The Beatles
  • Live! — Bob Marley and the Wailers
  • Wish You Were Here — Pink Floyd