TCM presents a Ragtime Concert with Donald Ryan

Tulsa resident Donald Ryan has a lifelong love of music. As a 3-year-old boy growing up in the West Indies’ twin country island of Trinidad and Tobago, the burgeoning musician would sneak into the church where his father was the pastor and pluck at the congregation’s piano. A lifetime later, Ryan is a noted professional pianist who has performed for audiences across the world. An Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame inductee and Steinway Artist, Ryan is a master of every style from classical to pop.

On Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, Ryan shares his love of Ragtime music during two, all-ages, afternoon performances in the John H. Williams Theater of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

“I grew up in a music-loving family. My father played just about any instrument he could get his hands on,” Ryan recalled. “I was always fascinated by the piano. My mother also played. She was my first teacher.”

African American composers such as Scott Joplin and James Scott brought Ragtime’s syncopated rhythms to the public in the late 19th century with songs like “Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer.” This new, energetic genre of music had broad cross-cultural appeal at a time when the United States was a racially segregated country. According to Ryan, Ragtime is important historically both because it was a uniquely American form of music and because it subtly impacted societal norms and barriers.

“Ragtime helped to break down at least a few social norms because the music was so infectious,” Ryan explained. “The heyday of Ragtime was in the 1890s to about 1920, and the Jazz Age took over. Ragtime is considered to be the parent of Jazz, and that broke down even more social barriers.”

This concert is part of the Tulsa Children’s Museum ongoing Family Concert Series. According to TCM volunteer Tobey Ballenger, who was instrumental in creating the concert series in 2009, “The mission of both the museum and the Family Concert Series remains to inspire children, connect families and build community through exploration, exhibits, programming and play.”

In keeping with those goals, Ryan’s performance will be a multi-media event that includes music, narrative, photos and dancers. There will be free, hands-on, educational activities relating to the material before and after each of the 2 and 4 p.m. performances.

Ballenger has four children of her own and values the role music plays in their lives. “I think it’s important for kids to experience different kids of music with their families for several different reasons,” Ballenger said. “Like a good book, good music is a window into another world. Each genre of music has its own cultural background and its own historical context. Listening to and learning about music from another culture can spark curiosity and help kids ask important questions about other cultures and time periods in history as well as think about their own culture, background and the time they live in.”

Ryan would agree about the importance of music in everyone’s life. “It brings an expression that just talking or writing won’t do. It’s an added dimension to communication and to self-expression,” he said. “We don’t live without music, no matter if the music is highly sophisticated, processed, skilled, or if it’s just singing a lullaby to quiet a crying child.”

JulieJulie Wenger Watson is a freelance writer who’s worked in all aspects of music promotion. She’s also Co-Director of “Live From Cain’s,” a public radio show pilot.