Musical Duo Strings Together Melodies

Ryan Chappell and Jackie Stanitis
Ryan Chappell and Jackie Stanitis

The town of New Paltz is home to a large assortment of musical genres and tastes, ranging from acoustic folk to punk rock and everything in between. Out of this pastiche of culture, two SUNY New Paltz students have made it their goal to deliver their own unique musical offerings to the community.

Second-year undeclared Jackie Stanitis and second-year secondary education-history  major Ryan Chappell have been performing in and around New Paltz for nearly a year. After meeting at a student group called the Rap, Poetry and Music (RPM) Society, the duo began collaborating.

At the RPM meeting, Chappell happened to be playing songs by Flogging Molly on mandolin. Because Stanitis is fond of playing songs from this band on her viola, she said she was enthralled by his performance and proposed a partnership.

According to Chappell, the first thing the pair had to tackle was how to make a mandolin and viola work in their setup.

“They’re really weird instruments to be playing in general, since most people are used to guitars,” he said. “Once we [set up] a base of songs we were going to play, we established that I’d be playing the rhythm and chords, and I’d be singing. [Stanitis] would perform the solos and provide backup.”

The duo, who currently perform under the name Ryan and Jackie, has played at least 20 performances so far, most of them in coffeehouses around New Paltz.

Because of her lack of experience in performing in front of an audience, Stanitis said she was nervous for her first performance.

“I had never performed before on campus or in public so that first event was very nerve-wracking,” she said. “But playing in a small venue really helped.”

Both Chappell and Stanitis said they have been grateful for the feedback they’ve received during their musical endeavors. Chappell said because the local environment has been really supportive and people are interested in hearing good music, he has had nothing but fun.

Chappell and Stanitis said it has been a challenge to classify what genre of music they fit into. Because the duo said they play so many different things – from Irish punk, to hip-hop to pop and classic rock – it has been difficult to define where they belong.

“I like playing so many different things that I feel like I haven’t really found my niche yet,” said Stanitis. “I feel like I’m still dabbling in everything.”

Regardless of classification, the duo said they feel very fortunate to be in such a musically diverse environment.

Chappell said he has been blessed because so many of his fellow students at SUNY New Paltz are great musicians.

Sticking to where they first met, Chappell and Stanitis have continued to play RPM meetings at Shango Hall on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Because of busy academic schedules, the duo has no large-scale gigs in the works. However, Chappell said they still plan to keep playing and contribute anything they can to the local music scene.

After joining Chappell in performing, Stanitis said her life has completely shifted.

“I never wanted to be a music major,” she said. “I was never so passionate about music that I wanted to have a career in it, but I knew I wanted something. This is exactly what I needed.”