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Editor's Notebook

Haydn to Shubert to Slone

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Ah, it’s springtime! Flowers blossom. Warm breezes bring welcome relief from winter’s chill. And a young boy’s fancy turns to…singing in the world’s most famous choir.

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That’s what 11-year-old Ryan Slone is doing right now. Ryan and fellow Cincinnati Boychoir member, Donald Smith, 13, are full-fledged, sailor suit-wearing members of the Vienna Boys Choir – only the second and third Americans ever to become members of the 500-year-old group.

In fact, right now Ryan and the other 24 members of the HaydnChoir – one of four groups that comprise the entire Vienna Boys Choir – are on a 90-day tour of Japan.

"This has become a way bigger thing than we imagined when we started," said Dave Slone, Ryan’s father and wholesale customer service manager for Raben Tire in Cincinnati. "It was hard to let him go, but we couldn’t dream up a better opportunity."

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No, you couldn’t. Full-time schooling in a centuries old palace on the Danube. World-class musical instruction. A tradition that counts Franz Joseph Haydn and Franz Shubert as members and Mozart and Bruckner as directors. Weekends snowboarding in the Alps. Concert tours of the world. Celebrity-level media attention.

Pretty heady stuff for a hot dog- and baseball-loving, all-American boy.

And Ryan gets to enjoy all this through eighth grade, or when hormones kick in and his voice starts to crack – whichever comes first.

Ryan’s great adventure all started when he came home from choir practice and told his dad, "I want to go to Vienna."

Being a dad, Dave shrugged it off with the usual, "Sure, whatever you want to do, son." Little did he expect that his ambitious boy was dead serious, and had the talent to make it happen. Oh, and he had an inside track.

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"Both boys have a crystal-clear sound, and they sing absolutely on pitch," Dr. Randall Wolfe, director of the Cincinnati Boychoir, said of Ryan and Donald in an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Talented enough that Dr. Wolfe contacted his personal friend, Vienna Boys Choir director Gerald Wirth, and pressed their cause.

Usually, prospective members have to audition. On Dr. Wolfe’s word alone Ryan and Donald traveled to Vienna in early January, sight unseen and voice unheard. After a two-week trial, both gained probationary status. They earned their stripes, I mean, sailor garb, in early March.

Sounding far more mature than his 11 years, Ryan says he’s enjoying the adventure but is adjusting to the still unfamiliar surroundings. He loves singing, and he appreciates his unique situation. "It’s the best choir in the world," he says with pride.

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He doesn’t say it, but you can tell he understands the enormity of what he’s accomplished, and the unbelievable opportunity he has. Still, Ryan misses home, his family, his friends and his baseball team. He calls home once a day, sometimes five or six, depending on his mood. Even as I was talking to Dave on the phone, Ryan called.

Classes are tough, he says, complicated by the fact they are all taught in German, though English is the Choir’s official language. After class he’s with a German tutor or in choir practice or musical instruction.

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While there’s virtually no homework, the dawn to dusk routine leaves little time for much else. There are extracurricular activities, and every 11-year-old boy has his creature comforts – a Gameboy and portable CD player for that rare private time.

Most of the boys live close enough to go home on weekends. Ryan and a handful of others, though, have no place to go. Fortunately, some local families have "adopted" him on weekends, giving some taste of home life – Austrian style.

Mom has made a few trips over, and Dad hopes to get some time to visit. With a little luck they’ll both get to see him perform next year. Word is the HaydnChoir will tour the U.S. in 2003.

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Homesickness or hormones will dictate the length of Ryan’s Weiner Sangerknaben experience. And while he now has a lot of people pulling for him, Ryan has already succeeded.

Ryan is that junction where hard work, immense talent and luck meet. Except he didn’t sit around waiting for the luck part. He went after his dream, and earned one of 100 prestigious seats in the world’s oldest and most famous boys choir.

We should all be so driven.

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