Lovestruck Balladeers and Young Pianists

My first attendance at a live concert in months brought many emotions and memories. First, and foremost I was reminded how much pure joy radiates from ragtime and traditional jazz. I was listening to the Lovestruck Balladeers in the John Edson Anglin Performing arts Auditorium at East Central College (ECC) where I taught for many years. And yes, the gentleman for whom the theater is named, and my dear friend, was in the audience to the delight of the performers.

The Lovestruck Balladeers in performance at ECC. (Photo by ECC Piano)

This concert was added to the performance calendar when it was learned that the group would be in the area. Dalton Ridenhour is a well-known New York pianist and had been a student of Dr. Jennifer Judd in the summers while he was attending the Berklee School of Music several years ago. Dalton is from a beautiful small town, St. James Missouri, just 45 minutes south of the college. Dr. Judd is a renowned pianist and teacher at ECC, respected for her own remarkable talent and for the annual concert series she arranges for the college.

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I was blessed to join the Balladeers for dinner and had an opportunity to meet the group personally. We were joined by Bonnie Ridenhour, Dalton’s exuberant mother who came with a group from St. James. She reminded me how important parent support is for children, especially in the performing arts.

At East Central College in Union, Missouri, on Oct. 11, 2022 (from left): John Anglin, Dalton Ridenhour, Dr. Jennifer Judd, and Larry Melton. (Photo by ECC Piano)

The Balladeers offered a delightful evening of ragtime, old standards, their own compositions, and music from around the world. The talented musicians are a touring ensemble comprised of Jake Sanders, guitar; Aaron Jonah Lewis, guitar and banjo; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, violin, and mandolin; Sean Cronin, bass; and Dalton Ridenhour, piano.

This year’s tour took the group from Wisconsin to Missouri; to Arkansas and on to Chicago (for a concert and recording session); and then to Michigan, Ohio, and New York. The performers have individual CDs and one popular Balladeer CD that includes many of the pieces they performed.

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As the group played their rendition of “Maple Leaf Rag,” I recalled that one of Dalton Ridenhour’s first public performances was at the 1991 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival, in Sedalia, Missouri. He was a piano prodigy and at ten years old he thrilled the audiences with his syncopated skills. As my mind continued to be inspired by the music, I got to thinking about the youth programs many ragtime and jazz programs sponsor.

In ragtime, the West Coast Ragtime Festival highlights young performers every year in a youth concert and as with the other programs, many of them come back as professional adults. Dr. William McNally mentors the competition for young talent at the Sedalia Festival financed by the Larry Karp Memorial Fund and the Festival Board sponsors an annual artist in residence program providing concerts in each of the city’s schools during the week. The annual World Championship Old Time Piano Playing Contest in Oxford, Mississippi has junior divisions. and the recently concluded Glenn Jenks Ragtime Revue in Rockport, Maine, recognized a recipient of their Future in Music prize. The young performers astound audiences with their talents and form a great assembly of future headliners for our entertainment.

The Lovestruck Balladeers program ended far too soon for the audience enthusiastically enjoyed the evening. I heard many compliments including a common refrain, “bring them back, soon.”

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected]

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