MACHIAS — Musician Kelly Bryand has been given the opportunity to fulfill his passions— being able to teach and share music and live in Washington County, a region he loves for its natural beauty.
Bryand, 32, returned to his hometown of Machias last fall to open a studio for the Maine Academy of Modern Music. An accomplished musician who plays guitar, Bryand is a product of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. For a number of years, he was part of Trickle Down, a popular Portland jazz-rock band that opened for some nationally recognized performing artists.
Youths in Washington County “really need” an outlet like the academy’s studio, said Bryand, who taught for the academy in Portland four years before returning to Machias. The difference with young people in Portland is they took music lessons because their parents made them, he said.
He said it is great to see “the look in their eyes” when Down East youngsters learn a new beat or a musical technique. “Washington County has a lot of kids who need … that.”
Even a rural community in Washington County has a lot of musicians, noted Bryand. He hosts an open mic night on Thursday evenings at Skywalkers, a Machias bar and grill.
Bryand’s first real exposure to music was when his mother, Sandra, took him to a now defunct annual outdoor music festival in Cooper. He took a few music lessons as a child — piano and drums — and his mother gave him an acoustic guitar she had in high school. But it wasn’t until he attended prep school at Gould Academy in Bethel that he began to take music seriously.
“I was introduced to the idea that [music] was cool amongst my peers,” he recalled. “That was really my motivation, the social environment.”
He concentrated on acoustic guitar until he got an electric guitar his junior year, and his interest continued during summer vacations when he returned home and played music with friends.
Bryand went on to attend Evergreen State College in Washington for two years, where he became more immersed in music and took private lessons with jazz instructors. He also learned music theory and how to improvise.
“The emotive part of playing music, I definitely connect with,” he said. He pointed out that his strength was his ability to improvise and play “more freely.”
“There’s definitely a lot of hard work involved,” said Bryand, who also plays other string instruments — bass, banjo, mandolin — and drums and harmonica. His music education included vocals.
But it was a friend who was an alumnus of Berklee that suggested he apply to the college. If he had not been accepted, his alternative plan was to enter a program to learn how to build guitars and other string instruments and become a luthier.
“When I got to Berklee, it was a huge, humbling experience,” he said.
“My other passion other than music is the outdoors,” said Bryand.
After graduating from Berklee, he took off three months and hiked the southern half of the Appalachian Trail — 1,000 miles from Georgia to Maryland.
“It was amazing,” said Bryand. “I still dream about going back and finishing the other half.” He had to stop after hiking halfway because of an injured a knee.
He was self-employed for a few years in Washington County, giving private music lessons and working for organizations that provide services for disabled adults and children. He also made a brief sojourn (three months) to Los Angeles.
He got to know Jeff Shaw, who founded the Maine Academy of Modern Music in 2007, when Bryand returned to Washington County during his summer vacations from college in Boston. Shaw spent his teenage years growing up in nearby Milbridge, graduated from Narraguagus High School in Harrington and was educated at the University of Maine-Machias.
When Bryand returned from Los Angeles, Shaw contacted him, and Bryand moved to Portland to work for the nonprofit academy. The academy has a Portland staff of about a half-dozen teachers that expands during the summer when it holds summer camps in Augusta, Bar Harbor, Camden and other sites.
“I think … Machias just worked for a couple of reasons,” said Shaw, 37, of the decision to open the studio last fall. Bryand was interested in returning to Machias, and in addition to working for the academy, he also had experience teaching music in Washington County.
“I was a teenager in Down East Maine,” said Shaw, laughing, “and know what it’s like to be there.” The region has more resources now, he noted, such as the Internet.
“Music is a team sport,” he said. The academy focuses on that concept by bringing youths together to play in bands and ensembles. Practicing and performing with others helps them develop other skills beyond music — skills in leadership and collaboration, he said. “
All of those things can be addressed through music,” Shaw said.
Bryand said the goal of having the studio in Machias is to provide similar programming, such as private instruction, ensemble programs, summer camps. The studio has been pretty well-received considering Washington County’s status as a poor community and the relative inconveniences of winter, noted Bryand. He also is partnering with several nonprofits to provide services through their organizations.
“There’s been a lot of interest,” he said. The academy has been awarded $10,000 from the Morton Kelly Charitable Fund to be used for scholarships for Down East children.
Bryand’s return to Washington County dovetails with his love of the outdoors and the region’s pristine nature, but he said there was also more to it.
“Young people with ambition feel like they have to go elsewhere … to find success,” he said.
“I want to be here [to contribute to the region’s culture of the arts],” Bryand said. “It’s rewarding for me.”