Monday Musical Moment: Passion & Perseverance

Justin Langham   -  

Happy Monday to all!


Music is a subjective artform (thank goodness!) and everyone has their own opinion on what makes any particular piece, genre, style, or performance good or bad. For me, when I listen to any performance, or when am performing myself, the thing I am most focused on is what exists beyond the notes and rhythms: passion. If music doesn’t have that element, no matter the skill or expertise of the performer, the performance will fall flat. A lack of passion, or to put it another way lack of a genuine conveyance of the meaning behind any form of music, is sensed by any audience member, no matter what level of musical acumen they claim. I personally have attended many concerts by artists and virtuosos, masters of their craft, but left feeling like something was missing. Like a public speaker, musicians convince the audience that they believe in what they are doing.

There are those rare performers, however, in which audiences find both the technical mastery and unbridled passion. Performers like this bring the audience in and create a powerful connection with them that makes them truly beloved by those listening. For example, have you ever traveled to another city, or even another country, specifically to hear your favorite rock band? While I was living in Germany early in 2020, I saw that one of my favorite rock bands was going to be doing a tour in Europe, hitting a few cities in my area of the country. I had seen them in the Woodlands north of Houston a couple of years prior and couldn’t wait to travel and see multiple shows… unfortunately COVID-19 also arrived in Europe in early 2020 but that’s another story…

One artist that I, and countless others, truly admired for his genuine passion for music is a trumpeter by the name of Ryan Anthony. He was most well-known for his career as a member of the Canadian Brass from 2000-2003 and as principal trumpet of the Dallas Symphony, a position he held since 2006, as well as many other performing groups. He was a master performer, whose playing exemplified the blend of technique and musicality. There was no one who had such a genuinely joyful personality and way of playing the trumpet, and I say ‘was’ because Ryan tragically passed away in June of 2020 after an eight-year battle with multiple myeloma.

The way in which he played, and more-so the way in which he lived, was an inspiration to me and countless others. Towards the end of his life, his focus shifted from performing full-time, to growing awareness and helping others. In 2015, Ryan founded the Ryan Anthony Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting cancer research through a concert series called “CancerBlows.” Ryan was also awarded the “Spirit of Hope” award in 2016 and the “Courage and Commitment” award in 2017 due to the success of CancerBlows and his continuing work with other patients. Before his passing, he kept performing through his chemotherapy and would frequently post videos of himself playing trumpet from his hospital bed. Although he would also miss concerts, or not play to the same level as before, his dedication to the artform motivated him to keep getting back on the stage, as if he knew how much his playing inspired others. After my own injury earlier this year, and the uncertainty of if I would ever play trumpet again, I thought a lot about Ryan and his struggles. Even after his death, his memory and the music he left in the world is still inspiring so many.

In the final years of his life, Ryan performed one piece probably more than any other and that was Gabriel’s Oboe by Ennio Morricone. It may be familiar to you as a central theme from the movie “The Mission,” or from countless arrangements that have been written since the movie’s release. You may remember organist Stephen Distad from Memorial Drive UMC and I performed by own arrangement of it my second Sunday here at First UMC. The tune itself is beautifully simple, which in turn requires more from the performer to make it their own and connect with the audience. This was second nature to a musician like Ryan Anthony.

Even though there are many videos of him performing this tune, the video I chose was from a year before his passing. By this time, Ryan has lost most of his hair from the latest round of treatment and playing the trumpet is far more of struggle than it used to be, but yet he continues fearlessly. I chose this performance because of that perserverance, in the face of all of the struggles, to make music for others. In typical Ryan Anthony fashion, after failing to make it to the end of the last note, he gives the conductor a little smile and signals, “almost had it.”

You can tell by the faces of the audience, conductor, and fellow musicians in the orchestra that he is giving everyone in that room one final gift. And what a gift music is.

Have a great week!