Several years ago, I met a remarkable young man at the Sedalia Ragtime Festival named Brandon Byrne. Later, I discovered an on-line newsletter he produces and have been even more impressed by his ragtime interest, talent, life, and work. Three remarkable ragtime authorities are quoted on Brandon’s personal website, and their endorsements more than validate my appreciation for his music and commentary.
During a recent telephone visit with Brandon at his home in Brown City, Michigan, I learned he became a ragtime devotee at an early age and holds a BS degree in music. What has attracted me to Brandon since I met him personally is the monthly newsletter he has published on-line since February 2017.
In its first incarnation, “Perspectives in Ragtime Composition,” he analyzed and commented on ragtime generally by using compositions of the early master composers. As you all know by now my knowledge of music theory is very superficial, but I was impressed that I could somewhat follow his writing though I am only a novice. To add, while I thought I was fairly well acquainted with the early progenitors of ragtime, I found Brandon regularly introducing me to a new original talent and in the process, increasing the CD sales of performers who recorded the early music since I wanted to hear what he was critiquing. I also discovered that what he likes, I tend to enjoy as well.
I learned early in my teaching career that there is nothing like experiencing something firsthand. Textbook summaries are usually too general, one-size-fits-all attempts at educational support, and I quickly came to seek out firsthand primary sources and authorities who provided depth and breadth to the information purveyed. Though Brandon’s commentaries on pieces and segments are usually brief, they are loaded with insightful information in addition to being fine criticism.
The second transformation of his newsletter in July 2019 is “The Composers’ Corner” where he features modern ragtime composers with all the rich influences the original writers lacked.
I was pleased to discover that much of the inspiration for his newsletters came from Danny Matson’s Ragtime Wizardry albums and Danny’s “Buying CDs Project.” Not only has our “Wizard” brought wonderful new ragtime music to us but the project has inspired many new composers to try their hand at syncopation and given us Brandon’s commentaries.
I could not resist asking him, when we were on the phone together, if he would name some of his favorite composers. He was quick to point out that if he devoted a newsletter to a composition it was because he had been attracted to it, but he did mention contemporary names that could have come from my own play lists.
Then, with little provocation, Brandon kindly explained that he is not only fascinated by great composers and the beauty of their work, but he is intrigued by what inspires a composition, “what gets them going.”
He also sees his newsletter as a stimulus for composers to communicate with each other. Further, he is anxious to showcase different examples of composition and style. He likes to analyze the sources of inspiration and training that contribute to a composition.
Before I discuss his own creative work, I will mention that he is a stay-at-home father. He and his wife have two children. He has a background in liturgical music and is the music director for a small rural Catholic Parish near his home.
Brandon produced a CD titled Vista in 2018. It includes some of his own ragtime works and the compositions of Californian Hal Isbitz and Brian Keenan from Minnesota. He has written three settings of the Mass, his favorite is “Christ the Morning Star.” When I inquired about his own compositions, he pointed out several favorites including “Daffodil Bud Rag” and “Blue Chicory Rag.”
One of the elements of Brandon Byrne’s work I find most unique, is that I discovered his folio of original work and his newsletter are available through his website, at no cost. Check out his Maple Valley Music site at sites.google.com/site/brandonbyrnemvm
If Brandon’s newsletter sounds like it would interest you, subscribe on his website and enjoy his monthly exegesis on ragtime. You will not be disappointed.