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Celebrating a lifetime of making music

Local resident gearing up for a unique musical concert


George Ryan offers that one simple word as a summation of his life in music.

The life path that has taken him from New Zealand, to the Kootenays, to Germany, to Vancouver, and on to New Westminster and Burnaby has been one filled with the kind of happy and unexpected fortune that he could never have foreseen back when he first sat down at a piano as a child at his great-aunt's home.

That life path will be celebrated on Sunday, Oct. 2 when Holy Trinity Cathedral offers up a retrospective concert of Ryan's work.

Dare To Dream: The Music of George Ryan is an idea that was, in part, prompted by Ryan reaching his 70th birthday.

"When you get to another birthday milestone, . you start thinking, what do you leave behind, what kind of legacy do you leave?" Ryan muses, in the resonant voice that still carries a touch of his native New Zealand, over tea at his Burnaby apartment.

He looked back on the career that included time teaching in Trail, B.C., a 17-year stint at St. George's boys' school in Vancouver, years working abroad in Germany, a long affiliation with the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival and, of course, his tenure as music director of Holy Trinity - and he started to realize just how much music he'd written over the course of that career.

"I started finding what you might call hidden gems," he says with a smile.

At first, he thought he might record a CD of some of his own work. But then he thought how much more entertaining it would be if an audience could share his work as it was written to be heard: live, on stage, and sung by a variety of talented people.

So the idea of the retrospective concert was born.

The concert will feature the Holy Trinity Cathedral Choir, augmented by extra singers, and a wide range of special guests. Ryan can't reveal them all, but expect to see some top-notch professional talent with whom he's been associated over the years.

"I think of it like a painter, a retrospective of what I think is some of my best stuff," he says. "It shows a range of stuff that my friends at Holy Trinity don't get to hear."

It will raise funds for two causes close to Ryan's heart: the City Stage New West theatre company and Holy Trinity Cathedral.

The concert showcases work that dates back to Ryan's arrival in Canada. He came, incidentally, on a holiday just after Expo 67. He knew the sum total of one person in Canada then, a teacher with whom he'd worked in New Zealand and who had moved to Castlegar.

Ryan arrived for a visit, armed with a $99-for-99-days Greyhound travel card to see the continent - and his friend ended up introducing him to the superintendent of schools in her district.

That was in November. He was almost immediately offered a job for the following September.

It was the first of several serendipitous moments that set the course of his life.

Another was his decision, in 1974, to apply to teach with a Department of National Defence-run school in Germany. His school district in Trail allowed him to stay for five years.

"Those five years, they were important and life-changing," he says, noting the appeal, for musicians, of being in Europe.

His German experience would open the door for him to return to Germany many years later, to teach for two years at an international school in Dresden.

"For a musician, there's Vienna, then there's Dresden. It's one of the great music cities of the world," Ryan says, adding the chance to experience Dresden is priceless for a composer.

Perhaps the biggest "serendipity" moment of them all, however, came after Ryan returned to Canada from his first German teaching stint and eventually decided he wanted to move down to the coast.

But it was 1983, an era of restraint in public spending, and there were no public school jobs available. Ryan found one private school job listed in The Vancouver Sun: music teacher at St. George's.

"It was very serendipitous," he says. "It couldn't have worked out better. It was a terrific decision. It just did so much for my career."

The job gave him the opportunity to write and stage original musical theatre productions - expect to hear selections from several of them at the Dare to Dream concert.

Even more importantly, his contacts in the St. George's community opened new doors for him.

There was, for one, John Juliani - the late actor-director-writer whose son

Alessandro (now a well-known actor) was a student at the school. Juliani hired Ryan to write instrumental music for some radio plays, and through that radio work Ryan was introduced to Christopher Gaze.

These days, of course, Gaze is best known as the artistic director of the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival. Then, however, he was just beginning to dream up the idea - and Ryan was one of those who volunteered to get in on the action right at the beginning.

"I remember the early days beating the bushes and helping Christopher," Ryan says, recalling a time they put on a performance in one of the shop windows at the downtown Vancouver Bay store, and another time they appeared as special guests on a radio cooking show.

The then-fledgling festival went on to become a great success, and Ryan was associated with Bard on the Beach for 12 years - writing and arranging music and even, in the first days, performing it.

Some of Ryan's Shakespearean songs, from productions such as Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet, will be featured on the concert program.

Another contact from Ryan's St. George's days, who was then the warden at St. Laurence Anglican Church in Coquitlam, proved to be instrumental in getting Ryan involved in church music - work that is now his primary focus.

He worked as a musician at various churches before meeting John Bailey, the rector of Holy Trinity, at a church function. There, Ryan found out that Holy Trinity's music director was moving on and there would be an opening in New Westminster - where Ryan was living at the time.

"Again, serendipitous," he says with a smile. "I have been very happy there ever since. They've treated me very well."

The cathedral choir, only about a dozen voices strong, has dedicated itself to learning all the music for the retrospective concert, and extra singers are coming from the Holy Trinity congregation, from St. Laurence's and from St. George's for the occasion. Some are even coming in from Trail. Performers from City Stage New West - for whom Ryan composed the historical New Westminster musical Stump City Stories in 2009 - will also be taking part.

"It's probably going to be a very emotional evening," Ryan admits. "It's also going to be a great amount of fun."

"It's going to be a fun evening, an enjoyable evening, a chance to hear music they would probably otherwise never get to hear, performed by some very good, talented performers, with proceeds for two good causes," he says, then adds, "At a very reasonable price."


What: Dare to Dream: The Music of George Ryan, will be a fundraiser for Holy Trinity Cathedral and City Stage New West. Tickets are $20.

When: Sunday, Oct. 2 at 7 p.m.

Where: Holy Trinity Cathedral, 514 Carnarvon St. Reserve by emailing hori41@ or call 604-521-2511.