Peter Ryan: “Go Out and Get Some Life Experience That Doesn’t Involve Your Instrument”
Accompanying pianist. Copywriter.
This comprehensive interview with musician and educator Peter Ryan unfolds a narrative of artistic evolution, pedagogical philosophy, and the unique challenges faced within the academic environment of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA-Wise). Ryan’s musical journey commenced in childhood, marked by early exposure to the piano and immersion in orchestral experiences as a cellist. Departing from a conventional path during his undergraduate studies at the University of Cincinnati, Ryan interrupted his music education to enlist in the Marine Corps Infantry, providing him with invaluable perspectives beyond the realm of musicianship. Post-military service, Ryan rediscovered his passion for music, completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Florida and the University of Colorado, respectively.
As a music educator at UVA-Wise, Ryan reflects on the unique challenges posed by a student body largely unfamiliar with classical music due to the region’s economic constraints. The interview unveils the school’s commitment to holistic education, encouraging students to explore diverse academic disciplines beyond music. Ryan discusses his teaching philosophy, emphasizing a broader perspective that encompasses historical, political, and societal dimensions of music. In addressing the economic realities of the region, he underscores the transformation of raw, inexperienced students into individuals with a profound appreciation for music, rather than solely aspiring to be professional performers.
The interview delves into Ryan’s teaching methodology, spotlighting his focus on releasing physical tension in piano students and fostering a Zen-like approach to practice. Notably, he emphasizes the importance of guiding students toward alternative career paths in music beyond traditional performance and academia. Ryan’s advice for both students and teachers revolves around encouraging a holistic understanding of music, advocating for life experiences outside the musical sphere. He concludes by sharing his commitment to researching and performing works by underrepresented composers, challenging the convention of predominantly showcasing compositions by deceased male musicians in his concert repertoire. Overall, the interview provides a nuanced exploration of the symbiotic relationship between Ryan’s multifaceted musical journey and his pedagogical approach at UVA-Wise.