What would it sound like if traditional Celtic music were composed by a man with rock-and-roll roots from North Carolina?
Potomac resident Zan McLeod was recently awarded a $1,000 grant by the Maryland Arts council for doing just that.
The arts council grants awards to state residents in the amounts of $1,000, $3,000 and $6,000 annually. Artists submit their work to the arts council who then send it to an out-of-state jury.
“They make recommendations based solely on the work,” said Theresa Colvin, Executive Director of the council.
Colvin said the council gives out approximately $250,000 per year in a variety of categories. McLeod was given his award in the music composition category.
McLeod, who submitted three compositions in acoustic guitar, said his interest in music began with classic rock stars such as the Beatles and Jimi Hendricks.
“I went into Irish music just through osmosis.”
He started his musical career in North Carolina. “My first group was called Touchstone,” he said.
It was with Touchstone that he began working on fusing different genres of music. “I’m known for playing music with a traditional Irish and Scottish influence,” McLeod said. Recently, he’s had only one focus. “I’ve been playing mostly Irish music.”
McLeod has been playing with a variety of famous musicians, such as the Chieftains, and venues like the White House. “I’ve never won a Grammy, but I’ve worked on Grammy winning albums,” he said.
McLeod’s winning compositions — Potomac Highlands, Point of Rocks, and Miriam’s Waltz — were not previously named.
“I didn’t have titles for them, I just sort of made them up,” he said.
The submissions showcase his variety. Potomac Highlands is Scottish, Point of Rocks is uptempo Bluegrass.
Miriam’s Waltz is named for McLeod’s mother. “It’s a pretty little tune,” he said.
When he’s not composing music, McLeod works with other musicians as a producer and recording engineer on his own label, Tonehouse.
“I can take you from a note to a CD,” he said. He records in a studio in his Potomac home. Even thought the space, a converted spare room, is fairly small, “I can get a really good sound in here,” he said. “Sometimes I just have them go out and sing in the hallway.”
In addition to his recording, McLeod, and his wife, work in other musical areas. She teaches piano and he works as a piano tuner.