Rich Ridenour has had an impressive career. After studying music at the University of Michigan and Juilliard, he went on to perform around the country. But his greatest passion—spreading his enthusiasm for piano and music—is what drives his career. To perform around the country. He also arranges, tackling music ranging from classical to ragtime to rock ‘n’ roll. But his greatest passion—spreading his enthusiasm for piano and music—is what drives his career.
“The nicest compliment I ever got after a concert is, ‘You made it look like it’s so much fun to play piano,’” he says in a phone interview from his home in Florida. “They said, ‘I want to go home and I just can’t wait to play, I’ll never play like you, but …’ And I said, ‘It doesn’t matter. To sit down and play and it’s you; every person has a different personality in the music. That’s part of the joy of it.’ That’s the best compliment: to turn people onto music.”
Ridenour has found several ways to do just that. He created a program called I Love a Piano where he performs with orchestras to blend music spanning Rachmaninoff to Elton John. The format makes the music accessible and fun for audiences, to the point that he even takes requests.
“I say, ‘I’m going to come out and want to know what you want to hear,’” he says.“I go to the lobby at intermission, learn what people want to hear, and keep lists. I started seeing the same requests.”
Ridenour compares it to the process at a piano bar. People make their requests and some become standards. Then, over time, tastes change and players need to keep up.
He has also helped spread his passion for piano by heading programs where pianos are obtained, decorated by local artists (with themes that correlate with the various cities that house the pianos) and then rolled out to the streets where they are available to the public. Anyone can sit down to enjoy playing and/or listening to the music.
“I just watch people see it, walk past, turn around, start looking for cameras, and then they might sit down and pluck out a tune they know from childhood. Some play really well,” he says. “It’s a social engagement. Once someone sits down, someone else comes to watch, and before you know it, a circle forms.”
Ridenour has done similar projects in Jacksonville and Sarasota (Sarasota Keys) to amazing results. “One homeless guy said, ‘This is better than Prozac!’ It fills the community with music. Everyone deserves to have music in their lives,” says Ridenour.
Ridenour had music in his life from an early age, though he didn’t appreciate it until later on. “I was one of those children who was told, ‘You’re going to take piano lessons,’” he says. He wanted to quit after two or three years, but his mother made him continue until he was 12 years old. Right around that time, Ridenour played a school talent show—and it scared him to death. But, it wasn’t stage fright; he was afraid of what others would think.
“I didn’t know how my friends would react to me playing piano, I thought I was going to get beat up on the playground!” he says, but to his surprise the response was all positive. “The guys in my class all wanted to start playing piano. I was a shy kid and girls started to talk to me, too. That wasn’t bad either.”
Today, Ridenour spends his time performing, arranging, or setting up programs like Sarasota Keys. He notes that arranging is a long and difficult process. “I sit there with a keyboard to my right, computer in front of me, playing music back and forth all day. I create scores, bindings, it’s a lot of work.”
So, for all those asking, “Why we should learn the piano?” Ridenour is ready to respond. “Knowing the piano is a good basis to go anywhere, to any instrument, with ease,” he
explains. “Studying the piano further enhances the ability to compose and arrange music.” Being able to visualize a keyboard is useful for any musician he says.
To see Ridenour’s latest projects visit www.richridenour.com
–If you liked this post you might also like our feature article on songwriter Jason Matthews.