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Spirit of Spanish music captivates audience

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Christian Shepherd
Staff Writer

Close to five decades after being taught the basics of guitar by Jessica Alba’s grandfather, Michael Ryan brought the spirit of acoustic Spanish music to the University of La Verne for the Sundays at the Morgan concert series.

Ryan, adjunct professor of music, and a group of five other musicians performed their Spanish-inspired program titled “Gypsy Passion” on Sunday at the Morgan Auditorium.

“In Spain, there is a word ‘duende’ that means ‘the spirit of music,’” Ryan said at the start of the performance. “Our goal for the night is for all of us to feel ‘duende.’”

Ryan looked to achieve this emotion through his 15-song set list with the musical group called Michael Ryan and Friends.

“The variety of music he plays is incredible,” Claremont resident Karen Corrette said. “He seems to follow a theme and it’s exhilarating.”

Ryan picked up the guitar when he was in junior high school.

He decided early on that he wanted to focus on Spanish music.

“I can rest in the rhythm and the set,” Ryan said. “You feel like you are lifted up, like you are floating on a cloud.”

Ryan’s first guitar mentor was actress Jessica Alba’s grandfather, José Alba.

Eventually, Ryan would study Spanish, classical and guitar music at La Verne, where he graduated in 1975.

The friends in Michael Ryan and Friends are Mike Bennett, percussion; Ken Söderlund, guitar and vocals; Hai Muradian, flute, guitar and vocals; Martie Echito, keyboard and vocals; Julian Johnson, bass; and Arleen Hurtado, flamenco dancer.

Muradian, who started playing when he was 8 years old, has been a musician for 60 years.

“I am really smart,” Muradian said. “I surround myself with great musicians.”

Muradian is a part of four other bands: the Happy Crowd, Fab 8, the Ravelers and Dynamic Dawson.

The set list included songs like “Zambra” and “Firenze,” which were written by the musical group of six.

“Canción del Mariachi,” from the film “Desparado,” stayed consistent with the tone of the show.

It served as a popular tune that many members of the audience recognized.

“To Really Love a Woman” explored the love an individual might have for woman.

“When you love a woman, you tell her that she’s really wanted,” the lyrics read.

Hurtado, a flamenco dancer for 18 years, performed center stage with the music as a backdrop.

Hurtado, who had also began experimenting with percussion instruments at a young age, started dancing when her mother took her to southern Spain when she was 12 years old.

Hurtado was first exposed to the flamenco style in Spain.

She saw a man dancing and creating percussion rhythms with hard-bottomed shoes.

“In my mind I saw a dancer and drummer all in one,” Hurtado said. “It was the best thing ever.

She said she started crying because it was expressive and improvisational.

This was Hurtado’s first performance with Ryan and Friends.

“Rumba” slowly grew in energy as the song progressed.

The song ended abruptly, leaving the audience tense for several moments as they sat at the edge of their seats.

It was not until Ryan broke the suspense by quietly thanking the audience that the crowd finally let out an enamored applause.

Ryan was able to exhibit his guitar finesse in “Lyenda,” an intricate solo piece with multiple crescendos and a fastening tempo.

“Out of that entire piece, I can play the last chord,” Muradian said.

Ryan currently teaches four guitar courses and a songwriting class at the University of La Verne.

“Ryan brings out a big crowd,” Rebecca Garcia, administrative support coordinator for Lyceum, said. “He has a huge fan base in Claremont.”

Next up in the Sundays at the Morgan series will be a solo recital by pianist Grace Xia Zhao at 6 p.m. April 15. Zhao will perform Chopin’s “Piano Concerto No.2,” as well as American classics.

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