The sounds created by the piano are unlike anything else. It can be soft and ethereal in one breath and then bold and powerful in the next, changing back and forth swiftly like the wind. The notes have depth in range, tonally and dynamically, unlike most other instruments. A song on the piano can quickly become a story on its own, with words not entirely necessary. Last year, amidst the pandemic, Sharon Park released her first EP as RAN PARK titled, “Songs for No Words.” These four piano instrumentals are just the opening chapters of her story. We sat down in her Capitol Hill apartment to chat about her musical process and vision, as well as her abolition work for the Movement for Black Lives, and how the two weave together to build community one note at a time.
“RAN PARK is my claim to music on my own terms.” This journey began in 2012, Park slowly and steadily composed tiny two-measure sketches, and over the years some of those pieces grew legs. She was introduced to the piano as a toddler, obediently following her parent’s wishes to play proficiently at church services or school. “I felt tokenized and puppet-ed without knowing how to describe it then. I wish that my child-self was taught to take ownership of my early gifts and understand the value of artistic creation - not as a service to someone else’s agenda, but as an act of inventing new possibilities,” she said. “That last decade for me has been a slow process of unhinging from expectations and welcoming in curiosity. This new attitude became just as much about healing childhood wounds and challenging the patriarchy as it was about exploring sound, space, and form.”
“I find music to be liberating specifically because it is nonmaterial. We’re so easily inclined to name physical objects, and through that naming, we subconsciously assert a dominating stance. Music penetrates us and activates deep levels of awareness that evades intellectualization. I think this is a welcome antidote to our reflexive desire for control, and I absolutely believe it sparks a bodily and spiritual wisdom that inevitably shows up in how we treat one another."
“Music penetrates us and activates deep levels of awareness that evades intellectualization."
“There’s a special kind of unspoken understanding and sense of belonging that fills the room when we’re gathered to hear a performance, or whenever we chance upon someone who shares a similar love for an artist. But even without these shared moments, music is a collective activity. If you’re listening alone, you’re in conversation with the person who created those sounds. As an artist I like this idea of being super mobile, of being a channel for those connections and communing with people I may never get to know in person."
A big ambition for RAN PARK is to disrupt this notion that musicians and artists should be pocketed into a particular genre to garner a following. “My ears are curious and very impressionable. I know that’s not unique; a lot of musicians would say the same. The songs that I’ve released so far (the solo piano EPs) borrow a lot from Classical traditions and South and West African Jazz. Those will always be my core influences. But I’m also welcoming gospel, symphonic, neo-soul, acid jazz, and electronic elements into my singer/songwriter work.”
“It’s reinforcing to know that the things that keep my heart thumping, I find in the piano. Whenever I realize that I’m vacant or not fully in my body, I come back to the piano and I’m instantly healed. I know it’s something to never take for granted, because artistic pursuits can feel like a point of tension for a lot of people. It’s amazing how often I forget that these feelings of deep satisfaction and liberation exist so readily. I’m trying to invite them into my day to day by noticing what brings me absolute joy. I can confidently say taking a walk and looking at flowers are incredibly joyful activities - there’s no transaction, no guilt, or decision-making involved. This way of being consciously at ease is new for me, and it’s helping me feel more resourced during moments that ask for problem-solving or require an intense amount of my energy.”
When it comes to Sharon’s songwriting, the narratives that naturally come about have to do with cultural healing, tending to generational wounds, and universal love -- all the wonderful categories of love that exist beyond romantic partnerships. “If I could describe the vocal and lyrical pieces that I hope to release over the next couple years, they feel earthy, hypnotic, spiritually lifting, and surprisingly groovy.”
"If there’s any feeling that I’d be so stoked for people to take away from my music, it would be the feeling of being cradled or being in a warm bath.”
“Before COVID I was experiencing burnout from working in the restaurant industry. The mandated shutdowns - while obviously under awful circumstances - became an opportunity for me to heal, reset my value system, and re-organize my priorities. I came around to embracing ‘work’ as one’s contribution to our collective wellness -- this reframe has been a grounding mechanism through uncertain times, and continues to keep my activities in close alignment with my values.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery… and too many others... sparked in me a long-overdue awakening to just how much work we must do to create an entirely new paradigm that supports life, and doesn’t perpetuate premature death. I’d never felt my blood boil so hard or felt so physically pained in response to the death of people I didn’t know. When I was finally able to find the words I began to ask: How do we sustain the long-term struggle? What else is needed in addition to showing up in the streets? What sort of tedious things do we need to do to ensure our demands for justice are met?
We have an incredible lineage of abolitionist organizers in Seattle that I’m so grateful to be able to look to as a foundation. My engagement in abolition is going to be a growing process, forever and ever. This is true for everyone invested in creating a more equitable world: it’s a process of acknowledging and studying the important work that came before us; rooting our analyses in historical context; actively seeking opportunities to learn from and work alongside people most impacted by systemic violence; strengthening our collective bonds through radical care; being unrelenting with our values yet flexible with our strategies; and implementing life-affirming institutions."
“Abolition work comes in countless forms, and I know it will always be a part of my life.”
“My big vision is to create a community music center that includes a cafe, a small performance hall, and rehearsal rooms equipped with acoustic pianos, drums, and amps. There isn’t enough access to practice spaces, let alone access to pianos. It’s a real shame. I want to make this space free for BIPOC children and music teachers who are willing to give free lessons, and offer access to the wider public on a sliding scale. This project is about reinforcing in our youth that: ‘YES, you can grow up to be an artist. Here’s a space to cultivate your passion.’ There will be showcase events, practice-performances freely open to the public, and workshops by music professionals of vast disciplines to show kids that there are endless pathways to realizing their vision. I’m excited to say all this out loud because it keeps me accountable to making it happen.”
“Something that’s helped me to recenter is to daydream. During a recent period of overwhelm, I spoke to my seven-year-old self and recounted the things I naturally turned to for fun and comfort. I daydreamed as a kid. I drew my ideal home. I visualized narratives as I stared into my popcorn ceiling. I just wondered about things. This brings a wash of calmness for me, to just allow myself to be curious and see what’s possible.“