Ranaan Meyer, double bassist extraordinaire for acclaimed string trio Time for Three, attributes his passion for music to his parents’ annual rendition of Yom Kippur’s Kol Nidre service.
As members of Congregation B’nai Tikvah-Beth Israel in Washington Township, N.J., Meyer’s father would take over cantorial duties for Kol Nidre while his mother directed the accompanying choir.
“One of the most beautiful moments of my life every year that I can remember is my dad singing that super-important prayer, which is put on a pedestal for a good reason — atoning for your sins,” Meyer said. “It really was helpful as I’ve grown as a musician, because even when I play Bach or Debussy, or something that is high-level in the classical ‘faith,’ I’m not nervous about it because I know what Kol Nidre means.”
The parental inspiration clearly worked its magic on Meyer, who picked up the double bass at age 11 and hasn’t looked back since.
Since establishing Time for Three with violinists Zach De Pue and Nick Kendall while the three were students at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute for Music at the turn of the century, the group's success has reached unheralded heights for a classical ensemble.
They have played sold-out gigs around the globe, including performances at the Indianapolis 500 and Manhattan’s venerated Carnegie Hall.
The group’s sound derives from its Philadelphia roots, according to Meyer.
“It’s this Philly sound that has survived over 100 years now, like something they put in the water,” said the 36-year-old, who now lives in Cherry Hill with his pregnant wife and “teddy bear” dog. “It’s a milk chocolate-y, just beautiful, warm sound.”
The group’s latest self-titled album includes several guest appearances from well-known performers such as pop singer-songwriter Joshua Radin, jazz saxophone icon Branford Marsalis, cello star Alisa Weilerstein, ukulele-wielding Jake Shimabukuro, and folk-pop sister duo Lily & Madeleine.
Songs like “Banjo Love,” which was arranged by Meyer as he imagined his bass to be “the world’s largest banjo,” and a beautifully rendered version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” reflect the band’s eclectic musical tastes and tendencies.
“We’re inspired by so many different artists,” Meyer explained matter-of-factly.
Another new song, titled “Love Song,” a solo bass piece written by Meyer that is not featured on the album, was inspired by an “Avinu Malkenu” melody that harks back to Meyer’s Jewish influences.
But mainly the group feeds off one another.
“I’m really lucky to be in a band with two guys that inspire me all the time,” Meyer said of De Pue and Kendall. “We’re buddies, we’re brothers.”
The group’s unique musical fusion and vibes of brotherhood will be on display when Time for Three graces the stage of World Café Live on July 23 at 8 p.m.
With the group touring around the world for nearly half the year on average, according to Meyer’s calculation, gigs in the Philadelphia area serve as a much-needed and “amazing” homecoming.
In an effort to return the love, Meyer recently founded a nonprofit organization called Ranaan Meyer Entertainment, through which he writes music curricula targeting budding musicians at underserved schools in the Philadelphia area.
The idea for the organization popped up when Meyer learned that a former neighbor from the Art Museum section of the city had quit playing classical music upon graduating high school after becoming frustrated with the genre.
“Sometimes it’s hard for a kid from an urban area, who likes the violin, to play Mozart — that doesn’t necessarily speak to that kid right away,” Meyer said. “So I’m creating cultural music that connects. It’s sort of like one extra step before you get to the Mozart — sort of throwing these kids a rope and trying to make them feel, for lack of a better description, cool.”
For some, the lights of fame and success carry the potential danger to blind and burn, but not in Meyer’s case. The unassuming double bassist is just keeping things simple.
“Humbly speaking Nick, Zack and I just really need to be ourselves. We really have a good time — we’re lucky in that way,” Meyer said. “The secret is to take who we are as people and put it into our music — it’s all about the emotions, the story.”