It was four years ago that the dynamic father-son piano duo of Donald and Barron Ryan made their first trip to the Coulee Region. The occasion was a performance at the Marie W. Heider Center for the Arts in West Salem and, given the kinds of concert halls the two usually play in, they had relatively modest expectations.
“When you hear you’re going to be playing in a converted high school gym you don’t get too excited, but this was really nice,” Barron said. “The people were warm and welcoming, the staff and volunteers were a delight to work with and it went really well.”
The Ryans, who play a mix of everything from Rachmaninoff and Gershwin to Billy Joel, ragtime and funk, say they try especially to appeal to the kinds of people who “don’t already know they like piano music.”
By all accounts, that mission was accomplished during the 2013 concert. In fact, it’s one of the reasons the personable duo will be returning to the Heider Center on Oct. 26.
“We are bringing them back because the show delighted so many of our patrons and because we’ve had numerous requests to have them again,” said Heider Center arts director Dan Heerts.
The Ryans have an impressive resume and a unique background. Although they live in Oklahoma now, Donald came there from Trinidad to study music at the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts University. A holder of numerous classical awards, he’s also a member of Oklahoma’s Jazz Hall of Fame.
A graduate of piano studies at the University of Oklahoma, Barron has won numerous piano competitions and has been the featured soloist for both the Tulsa Performing Arts Center and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
Heerts also noted that the timing for the Oct. 26 concert is perfect since the Ryans are debuting a new program they’ve put together in support of their latest album. It’s called “Kickin the Clouds Away,” which also is the name of a famous Gershwin tune from “Tell Me More,” a 1925 Broadway musical.
“We’ll be featuring a lot of great American piano,” Barron said.
Besides the title song, there will be plenty of Gershwin tunes, including “Rhapsody in Blue” and a number of tunes from “Porgy and Bess.” For classical lovers, there will be some Rachminoff.
“The two pianos give us a chance to stretch out and become more orchestral,” Barron said.
He added that one of the most gratifying thing about what he and his father do for a living is hearing some of the comments afterward. “We love it when people tell us ‘I didn’t know I liked this music, but I do,’” Barron said. “When we hear that, we know we’ve connected with the audience.”