Skye Ryan

Krista Spies, Staff Writer

Graphic by Liv Hage.

Skye Ryan `23.5 shredded her way into my heart since the first time I saw her play electric guitar  live with the student band Bādphakák. After being chosen for the 2023 Scarlet & Black Senior Issue, she said, “I was thinking it would probably have something to do with music.” For me, that is an understatement. 

Ryan came to Grinnell College anticipating she woud become a computer science major, though she now will graduate with a double major in music as well. However, Ryan said the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the College to shift to predominately online learning for over a year led Ryan to practice guitar for four to six hours a day due to the absence of campus activities. 

As she returned for the 2021-2022 school year, Ryan participated in Jazz Ensemble, which she said then led to her getting involved with Bādphakák. The music scene at Grinnell did not only become a stronger element in Ryan’s life, she said, it also became what the student population associated with her. 

“I do a lot of computer science stuff, but that’s not really stuff that usually gets shared out there beyond just my classes, whereas I like to do as much music as I can to collaborate with people,” she said. “I wish I could do more. But evidently, I’ve done some amount that people enjoy.” 

Ryan began learning the guitar when she was about six years old, inspired by her dad’s playing of ‘80s rock and metal music. She said she began to take the instrument seriously when she was around 15. So Ryan has been playing for over a decade in different genres including electronic, progressive metal, heavy metal, jazz and more.  

Because Ryan’s parents teach internationally, she grew up in several countries, including Macedonia, China and Armenia, and arrived at the College as an international student. During summer in high school, she said she visited Grinnell and realized that the culture of the people here made it worth attending. 

“I had an interview with John Edwards and Karen Edwards … and I ended up just going to their attic studio and playing music,” she said. “It was my first time coming here, and that was a really great experience just meeting somebody who likes music a lot and playing music with them.”

Music professors John Rommereim and Putu Hiranmayena have especially impacted Ryan, she said. While Rommereim specializes in Ryan’s interest, composition, she said Hiranmayena brings Ryan’s musical interests of heavy metal and Balinese Gamelan together through his classes.  

“I have a lot of interests when it comes to music,” Ryan said. “My biggest ones have to do with composition and sound design. Sound design and computer science kind of go hand-in-hand, especially with the fact that now, most music production is done digitally on DAWs [Digital Audio Workstations].” Ryan said that she has been interested in the intersection of these two fields for a long time, and hopes to work on both sound design and software development after graduation. 

Ryan listed a previous special topics course called CSC 395: Advanced Operating Systems as one of her most memorable classes during her time at the College. Though she said it was not her “favorite time while taking it,” she added that she ended up having a group project for the course that involved doing programming that she did not realize she could do when the group created a paint program they designed themselves. 

“I think the biggest thing that I’m going to take away from Grinnell is being able to work in groups a lot better and being able to work in groups in a lot of different contexts,” she said. “In the CS department, there’s a lot of mandatory group work — which, some of it’s nice, some of it’s not so nice — but along the way, I feel like even though it hasn’t always been the most enjoyable experience, I have definitely gotten better at actually working with people to make things.” 

Yet, making music with other people comes much easier than any other kind of group project, she said. As for her favorite part of Grinnell, Ryan said, “This sounds cheesy — the friends that I’ve made,” including her two partners, great professors and other friends.

“I’ve got my band. I love my band. Occasionally, we drive each other a little crazy, especially during concert prep, but it’s the best time after shows just getting to hang out with all my friends in the audience and all my friends on stage.” 

I kind of hope that I’ve done my part to revive some student music stuff on campus because I’ve been trying to involve myself a little bit more. And hopefully, that kind of helps to revitalize the concerts that come after COVID.

— Skye Ryan

Ryan said Bādphakák, being the first band she practices with that holds live concerts regularly, helped her realize that she loves to play live music. Though a full-time band might not be in her future, Ryan said that after graduation she will definitely continue to play live. “So if you like progressive metal or jazz, be on the lookout.” 

Ryan said her least favorite part about Grinnell was the stress that comes with going to the College. However, she also said would have involved herself more if she could do it all over again. “Try to do as much cool stuff as you can,” she said she would tell her first-year self. 

“I kind of hope that I’ve done my part to revive some student music stuff on campus because I’ve been trying to involve myself a little bit more,” she said. “And hopefully, that kind of helps to revitalize the concerts that come after COVID.”