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Behind the Band: Paul Meland, a musical explorer

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Although he grew up in a family of music lovers, for Paul Meland, right, his interest in music didn't take off until he picked up a saxophone for the first time in elementary school.
Contributed photo.
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Editor's note: The following story is part of an occasional series, Behind the Band, which spotlights musical acts that perform in Douglas County or have a connection to the area.

For Alexandria 2014 graduate Paul Meland, music is a journey of personal development. He plays it, teaches it and is always studying it. He has no destination for his musical exploration. He will go where it takes him.

"I can't really imagine my life without music. It's what I do, not all hours of the day, but a huge part of the day, every day," Meland said. "It's corny to say, but it's a lifestyle."

Meland grew up immersed in music. His mom played the piano and his dad is a self-taught guitarist. Their house was filled with music from The Beach Boys, The Beatles and tunes from jazz master Miles Davis and John Coltrane to classical composers like Sergei Rachmaninoff.

"I think what really piqued my interest in music was playing saxophone," said Meland, who joined the Alexandria band program as an alto sax player and then as a tenor in the latter years of elementary school. "I think it began as more of an interest in saxophone than in music. From that, it kind of grew into a broader interest in music. I was just kind of interested in how to make it sound better than it did... It was like a challenge."

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By middle school, he became very interested in playing jazz on his saxophone. So, much so that he admits to neglecting reading music and focusing more on improvisation. But, his musical interests were never specific to one genre. He also became interested in bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

In high school, he was a part of Jefferson High School's jazz band, concert band and honor band. It was also at this time he started participating in jazz camps. From as close to home as Morris to across the country in Louisville, Kentucky and Boston, Massachusetts at the Berklee College of Music — where he would eventually earn a degree.

His decision to pursue an education in music is something he says came on rather gradually.

"I didn't really know what I wanted to do," Meland admits. "This thing (music) that I had invested all this time into, and that I liked a lot, it somehow made sense that I would do that. It's almost like I didn't even know what else I would do."

It was after seeing a performance by jazz saxophonist David Liebman that solidified his decision.

After graduating with the last class of Jefferson High School, Meland enrolled in Berklee and that's is where his musical exploration really began to unfold.

"I found myself in my first couple of years of Berklee joining like these avant-garde experimental groups. I kind of ended up exploring a lot of more wacky, experimental stuff," he said.

The first group he joined was Dinner Theatre. According to his website , "at a Berklee freshman jam, Paul saw three individuals give a very bizarre performance. He introduced himself and joined their newly formed project, Dinner Theatre. The group scarcely performed in public, but were prolific in the 'studio' for their short-lived existence."

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The musical interests of Paul Meland, center, expanded as he delved deeper into his studies in college. From The Beach Boys and The Beatles to Turkish folk, there really aren't many genres he hasn't explored.
Contributed photo.

"We were just trying to subvert everything about Berklee that we could, almost," said Meland.

Then it was a band called Paracusia that Meland described as a "quasi comedic, progressive experimental rock band."

His group, The Çay Party, focused their musical abilities to perform traditional Turkish folk songs along with a few originals from Turkey native and frontman Mahir Can Küçük.

And lastly, Naott, an ambient duo consisting of Meland and Latvian guitarist Rihards Kolmanis.

Each group varied in terms of success. Some were just groups who practiced at home, some recorded albums and others performed live.

"I think it was really great to explore music outside of just Berklee not in the setting of a classroom," Meland said. "It was just a bunch of us, roughly the same age, exchanging ideas. I think that's one of the probably the best things about Berklee. There's just a lot of that happening. You can hardly avoid it."

Beyond the groups, Meland also composed music. Some of which were inspired by Renaissance music and a Gregorian chant and another was a combination of recorded sounds with added effects.

"I got really interested in European medieval and Renaissance music. And so that ended up being a path that I pursued further afterward," Meland added.

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After graduating from Berklee with a degree in contemporary writing and production, he enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music — also in Boston — to earn his Master's degree in Musicology, which he completed last May. His focus was on Turkish music and music in Islam as well as Renaissance music.

"At some point at Berklee, I became just interested in tracing the history of harmony. That kind of embarked me on this journey to understand how harmony developed over time and how it originated. And that brought me to the Middle Ages," Meland said. "I just found myself liking a lot of the music. Music that I was both interested in listening to and also interested in analyzing and learning about."

Currently, Meland is utilizing his knowledge of music to teach at several Boston locations as well as performing every now and then. Next, he plans on earning his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology — the study of the music of different cultures — and imagines he will most likely end up as a professor at a university.

"Our brains are primed to understand speech," Meland began when asked why music is so connective to humans. "When you're talking, if you change how you intone it —your tone of voice — it changes the meaning of what you're saying. In music, we're using the same kind of ideas. It's just sound through time... I think when you're getting a little more into music, it taps into so many different elements of being a person."

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Paul Meland

Ultimately, though, his main goal is to continue improving, and he hopes to publish research on the history of music. Recently, he gave a lecture at the New England Conservatory of Music on music in Islam.

As far as performing, he posts songs on his YouTube channel and recently joined the Boston Recorder Orchestra, although he doesn't imagine a career in performing because he thinks he would get burnt out.

"I think that the arts are entangled into the human experience, to a degree that I don't know if we'd be human without them," Meland said. "We require a certain amount of beauty in our lives to express emotion and intake emotion. Without these outlets that we've invented for ourselves, I just don't think things would work. Music is one of those."

He originally started pursuing music because he couldn't think of any other options and now, he can't imagine his life without it.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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