Ian Ring

About Me

Ian Ring at the piano, photo by Steve Sugrim

photo: Steve Sugrim

I'm a pianist and composer from Ontario, Canada.


In addition to composing music, I enjoy reading, coding, and gardening. I'm a voracious learner, always exploring new ideas and diversions.

In my professional life, I work for a software company in Ontario, Canada as an application developer / software engineer. I am the founder and administrator of a popular online e-commerce platform called Scubbly, I contribute to a few open-source projects, I'm co-organizer of a local technology special interest group, and I'm also a volunteer moderator at WebmasterWorld.

Sorry ladies — I am blissfully married to an amazing woman, we have two feisty daughters, and one cat.

Ian Ring at the piano, photo by Steve Sugrim

photo: Steve Sugrim

Influences

My compositions are informed by Conservatory Piano and academic musical training (University of Waterloo), plus many years of experience performing (on multiple instruments, in many roles) and arranging for a small jazz ensemble. Consequently I draw influence from many eras of the piano repertoire including Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, Modern, and Minimalist styles. Among my favourite composers are Ravel, Debussy, Chopin, Bartók, Satie, Janáček. The way in which I voice chords and harmonic progression are strongly influenced by postwar cool jazz, including Dave Brubeck, George Shearing. Among contemporary musicians, my composition style is influenced by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Harold Budd, Michael Brook and Robin Guthrie, among many others.

My Process

I can't predict when a melody will nudge its way into my mind, but when it does I grab it and sit at the piano to explore its personality. While I avoid making what they call "Program Music" that follows a specific narrative, I always like to have non-musical imagery in mind when bulding a piece, whether that is a moment in time, a visual image, or something else that has an emotional charge. Sometimes the emotional imagery emerges right from the start, and sometimes it forms later in the process, but I always try to have it before the end so I can gauge whether the piece has sufficiently evoked something.

Ian Ring at the piano, photo by Steve Sugrim

photo: Steve Sugrim

While crafting the composition, I will move back and forth between the piano keyboard and a MIDI "piano roll" editor. The keyboard is where I draw out inspiration by allowing my mind to wander and fingers to experiment. Eventually I'll have the nucleus of a musical idea which I'll sequence digitally and bring into a MIDI editor. In the MIDI "piano roll" editor, I'll move notes around precisely to draw out harmonic and rhythmic ideas without having to worry about the limitations of my manual dexterity. As the piece progresses I'll frequently bring the composition back to the piano to make sure that my fingers can actually do what I've imagined. Removing myself from the piano is an important step that frees me from physical limitations, but also saves the piece from being enslaved by patterns ingrained into my finger muscles. The process ends when I've captured the mood.

As with any artistic process there's a time when you need to declare "done" - for me that moment is when I feel that I've sufficiently evoked the intended emotion, and there are no notes I want to add, modify or remove. I will step through the entire piece and ask if every single note is serving a purpose, assess if it should be omitted or changed. If I'm satisfied with the entire thing, the MIDI piano roll is exported for typesetting. The MIDI playback is typically quite robotic, so I always bring the finished score back to the piano to capture a human performance of it. Then I'll quantize and fuss over that for a while to get the rhythm and expression perfect - it's a keyboardist's equivalent of "autotune". What you hear in the demo reels is my own performance of the piece, but it's not a live performance - it's been touched up and enhanced.

Works

Opus Arcana


The Opus Arcana project has begun! I am working away at composing 22 pieces of music for solo piano, inspired by the Major Arcana. As each piece is published, it will be added to the table below.

For my tarot reference, I'm using the "Rider-Waite" deck - the modern deck created by A. E. Waite to fit with the mystical rituals he devised for his Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. His version of the Major Arcana are derived almost directly from the Tarot de Marseilles, an older deck of French origin. Imagery for the cards were created by Pamela Coleman-Smith in 1909, inspired from the Sola Busca deck along with inspiration from Etteilla, plus imagery from The Golden Dawn (a society of which she was a member), and Smith's own imagination. The images used for this project are those from her 1909 illustrations. The correspondences and meaning of the cards that I use are primarily from Waite's "Pictorial Key to the Tarot" (1911), combined with learning from my own collection of Tarot instruction texts.

Title Listen Buy
0 Fool Audio file   Sheet music
I Magician Audio file   Sheet music
II High Priestess
Audio file   Sheet music
III Empress Audio file   Sheet music
IV Emperor Audio file   Sheet music
V Hierophant Audio file   Sheet music
VI Lovers Audio file   Sheet music
VII Chariot Audio file   Sheet music
VIII Strength
Audio file   Sheet music
IX Hermit
Audio file   Sheet music
X Wheel Of Fortune Audio file   Sheet music
XI Justice Audio file   Sheet music
XII Hanged Man Audio file   Sheet music
XIII Death
Audio file   Sheet music
XIV Temperance Audio file   Sheet music
XV Devil Audio file   Sheet music
XVI Tower
Audio file   Sheet music
XVII Star
Audio file   Sheet music
XVIII Moon Audio file   Sheet music
XIX Sun Audio file   Sheet music
XX Judgement Audio file   Sheet music
XXI World Audio file   Sheet music

Early Works (1998 - 2015)

Discarding Nostalgia (2015)

Click here to listen to this piece

A short, sweet melody resting on an intricate chord progression. Inspired by the doleful combination of relief and malaise that happens when you scrap piles of accumulated memory-fetish artifacts; the things of nostalgia that were once so cherished, gradually becoming a dead weight of worthless junk. This melody evokes the bittersweet emotion of letting its nostalgia have one last stab before it goes in the trash and/or donation pile.

Sheet music: Buy it now

The Healing Begins (2015)

Click here to listen to this piece

You've probably been where this song came from. Sitting in on one of those harshly cubic chairs with the thick stain-guard upholstered seat, pulled up beside a bed in an ICU. Someone you care about is sleeping, drugged, hooked up to drips and monitors. You don't hear them breathing, but you know they are - by the incessant meep ... meep ... meep of a machine next to the bed.

There's nothing to do, and nothing to say. They're asleep and everything is quiet except for the beeping, and a man moaning somewhere down the hall. Everything that can be stitched together or bandaged up or medicated has been tended to, and now there's nothing to do but wait and see. Maybe it will all be OK. Maybe it won't, and then it will be you that needs to heal. Either way, this is neither a beginning nor an end - it's the upsetting time in between when you don't know which it will be.

Demo reel features two images by my good friend Ian Willms, an immensely talented photographer whom you must follow on Instagram.

Sheet music: Buy it now

Still Pool In Sacred Woods (2015)

Click here to listen to this piece

This piece evokes a dryadic dance around a forest pool, amid the majestry of mature trees.

Sheet music: Buy it now

Montgomery Dusk (2015)

Click here to listen to this piece

An awkward, disconsolate piece. The rhythm should evoke the uneven but regular swiveling when you're sitting on a swing, and you put your feet down in front, then sort of rotate slowly right and left, letting the chains twist and untwist.

Sheet music: Buy it now

Elusary Moment (2014)

Click here to listen to this piece

Elusary Moment is meant to evoke the feeling you get when you become aware of a moment of beauty passing by - you try to absorb as much as you can with your senses, but it's already gone.

Sheet music: Buy it now

Happy Goth Girl (2012)

Click here to listen to this piece

The lilting 6/8 gambols dissonantly, atop a playful descending sequence of fifths.

Sheet music: Buy it now

Murmuration (2012)

A murmuration is a flock of starlings. If you haven't seen the amazing flight acrobatics of a murmuration, here's an excellent video example. This piece evokes the flitty delicate movements and grand swooping patterns of this remarkable display.

Click here to listen to this piece

This virtuoso piece will challenge your fingers! The sixteenth-note patterns that fling up and down the keyboard require some fancy fingering and hand-switching to pull them off. The key to a good performance is fluid, precise execution of the sixteenths, with ample emphasis of the melody.

Sheet music: Buy it now

Long Path to Hopeful Horizons (2012)

Click here to listen to this piece

A delicate melody, laid gently over a spacious 3 - 3 - 10 rhythm. This piece is meant to evoke an optimistic dream, that life is twisting toward a new path, one that holds immense promise for the future, but that will take many years and much hardship to reach.

A simple piece, but quite difficult to perform well. Written for clarity in 3 staves instead of 2. The melody must not be obscured by the dense chords around it - this is not an easy technique to do. You could cheat and perform this piece with two people on two pianos, but that is cheating so don't cheat. It's a good thing for you to be able to emphasize a melody while playing quieter harmony notes in the same hand(s).

Sheet music: Buy it now

Requiem for Jackie (1998)

Click here to listen to this piece

This piece came while grieving the tragic loss of a close friend and her daughter in 1998.

The plodding quarter-note rhythm must be played with little or no expression. This piece is quiet, somber, gentle, and slow. Requires adult hands capable of spanning a ninth.

Sheet music: Buy it now

Other Projects

Grawlix Music Fonts

Music notation fonts, available for sale at my Scubbly store.

I've got Rhythm

True Type Font for typesetting rhythm exercises. Perfectly spaced characters for whole, half, quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes, in common groupings and tuplets. Originally designed for printing clapping exercises for music instruction. Create professional rhythm notation in the comfort of your word processor.

Buy now

Times Music Theory

True Type Font, created for writing chord symbols. Contains all the glyphs for writing chord symbols for most chords used in Western music. Professionally designed by a music typesetter. Face resembles Times New Roman.

Buy now

PHPMusicXML

Open-source library for manipulating MusicXML files, using PHP.

Contribute on Github

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