From Springfield to Branson
Springfield-based saxophonist Ryan Dunn finds reward as full-time musician in Branson.
Photo by Ryan Fannin
Ryan Dunn was around 11-years-old when his father, a band director, gave him the choice of a musical instrument. Without much of a second thought, Dunn picked the saxophone.
Thinking back to his childhood, Dunn laughs and says it was “probably just because I thought it was a cool instrument.” Then, just ahead of fifth grade, he first picked up an alto sax. Within a couple of years, Dunn was competing in statewide solo competitions.
“I had a beautiful opportunity when I was young,” Dunn says. “I would spend months working up these pieces with the benefit of having my own accompanist with me at home.” Success there altered his psyche, he says, and drove new-found confidence. “I was never really in the cool crowd. Having something like that gave me so much value,” Dunn says. “It gave me something to be passionate about and feel good about myself.”
Playing music professionally brings a different validation. “In some sense, I feel like I’ve succeeded with what at one point was a dream,” he says. “I’ve put enough work into transition from a hobby to a profession, and that’s rewarding.” It’s also demanding. Dunn, who grew up in Willard, plays six days a week in Branson, performing more than 100 songs from the 1960s in medley form in “No. 1 Hits of the ‘60s” at Clay Cooper Theater, and Julie Myers’ “Country Rock N’ Blues Review” at Dream Theatre. He will begin to play seven days a week from September through December.
His first season in Branson, is a far cry from previous day jobs. “I’m learning a lot about myself as far as being a consistent musician,” Dunn says. “You’re playing hundreds of shows a season and there’s no sick days.” The daily grind is building his chops. He says this is the strongest he’s ever played, but it’s about more than lung capacity and face muscles. “There’s a mental dexterity and strength to it, being able to show up prepared and ready to perform every single day,” Dunn says. “It’s cool to see that I have it within myself to come in everyday, give it 100 percent, and do well.”
A known commodity throughout the music scene in Springfield, Dunn says he still seeks to play as many gigs as possible. He enjoys the similarities between the music communities of Springfield and Branson. “[In Branson] they’re working jobs at various shows and theaters, but they’re also artists creating original music of their own. It’s exciting to network with another demographic of musicians that’s so close to home,” Dunn says. “I like seeing how the two towns intermingle.”
And the open mics in Branson? “Open mics on steroids,” he laughs. “These guys are awesome players.”