All in the family
Father and son musicians, Donald and Barron Ryan, work and play well together.
Barron and Donald Ryan recently released their latest CD, “Face to Face.”
Most Tulsans are familiar with professional local pianist Donald Ryan who has entertained area audiences at concerts and fundraisers, on national and international tours, as well as through his 11 CDs. For the past four years, Donald and his son, Barron, a music graduate of the University of Oklahoma, have teamed up as a popular father/son piano duo. Recently, TulsaPeople caught up with both men to learn more about their latest CD (“Face to Face,” recorded on the Tulsa Community College southeast campus), their concerts, and how they choose the music they play for their audiences.
Donald, whose idea was it for you and Barron to become a performing father/son duo, and when did you begin performing together?
I think it was (my wife) Sharon’s and mine. Barron and I had done the dedicatory performance of Holland Hall’s Steinway concert grand during his junior year, and a Brown Bag It performance at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center during his freshman year at OU. So while he was at college, we broached the idea.
Barron, was your father your first piano instructor? Have you always wanted to follow his career or did you have other aspirations?
Dad was my first piano instructor, and for 13 years, he was my only one.
I always liked performing, but for a long time waffled between other options, from a chef (that was from my younger days) to an engineer (that was when I heard how much money Bill Gates made). During my junior year of high school, I realized how much I loved playing music, and decided to pursue it more seriously. I haven’t looked back since.
Have you been touring lately, or are you planning any tours for the near future? Do you have an agent?
DR: We have not been out of town since early this year. In the fall we’ll play in Nebraska, Wisconsin and Illinois. No agent yet, but we do have a concert manager who handles our bookings.
BR: We haven’t been touring in the sense of playing several concerts without returning home, but have had several individual concerts we’ve traveled to perform. This year we’ll be traveling more than ever, and have engagements scheduled in five different Midwestern states. We’re steadily working to build our audience through participating in area performing arts conferences, and are enjoying strong success in that effort.
Tell us about your CDs.
DR: We’ve recorded one CD so far — “Face To Face” — which was done at TCC Southeast. A new one is in the planning stages. To my personal credit, I have 11, nine of which were recorded in Tulsa. The others were in Des Moines, Iowa, and Berlin, Germany.
BR: We plan to record a yet-unnamed album featuring film music next year … I also released my first solo album this year, “Classical with Attitude,” which features concert music infused with jazz or ragtime.
You include a wide variety of musical genres in your concerts — classical, hip-hop, funk, etc. Which are your favorites, and which are the favorites of your audiences?
DR: And included in that “etc.” are jazz and ragtime! Well, we do like everything we play, but not all styles are done in each concert, since we tailor the program to whoever engages us. I’m especially pleased that Barron is infected with most — if not all — of my music preferences and I like how he’s put his own personality into the mix. We have few disagreements about what to play. Audiences like to see us enjoying ourselves while playing excellently so I’m hard pressed to identify a style that is favored. We do try to keep our performances upbeat, rhythmic and even slightly edgy and so manage to please all who hear us.
BR: I most enjoy the music we improvise, like jazz and some ragtime. We interact on those styles because we usually haven’t planned exactly how we’re going to play them, which makes it all the more fun. Our audiences also like when we play those styles, but I think their absolute favorite is our rendition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”