Tony McDonald is a sort of Music Man for All Seasons.
Tony McDonald is a sort of Music Man for All Seasons.
On the one hand, he's the music director at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Clintonville. On the other hand, he's the founder, director and chief arranger of Dr. Tony's Original Ragtime Band.
Although he grew up listening to rock and roll and the sounds pumping out of Motown, McDonald was in several jazz bands as a young man and is a classically trained trombonist.
While he has a doctor of musical arts degree from Stanford University, McDonald has directed musical theater for more than 35 years, dating back to his undergraduate days at California State University, Los Angeles. He has been director for the past four years of the Nationwide Children's Hospital's Pleasure Guild fundraising musical.
"I like all kinds of music," McDonald said last week, putting it mildly.
McDonald, 61, and his wife, the UU Church's artistic director, Lea Pearson, live in the Northland area.
Tony McDonald, who has been music director at First Unitarian Universalist for about four years, following a 15-year stint teaching college, was born in California. His father was in the U.S. Air Force, one of the Tuskegee Airmen, and the family moved around a lot when McDonald was young. McDonald said he was often the only African-American kid in otherwise all-white communities.
His father retired from the military to Los Angeles when McDonald was in junior high school and he spent the rest of his youth there. McDonald played in the band all throughout junior high and high school before majoring in music, with a minor in secondary education, at Cal State.
McDonald, who has directed orchestras, bands and choirs, began his college teaching career at the State University of New York at Oswego, followed by stints at Hillsdale College in Michigan, Centre College in Kentucky and Antioch College.
McDonald and his wife, who have two sons, came to Columbus in the mid-1990s when Lea Pearson, who plays the flute, got into the doctoral program at Ohio State.
McDonald formed Dr. Tony's Original Ragtime Band about 10 years ago, the result of some arrangements he happened to have and a willingness on the part of Westerville Symphony Orchestra officials, where he was among the musicians, to let him experiment.
Eventually, McDonald said, the ragtime group he formed began getting more and more gigs to play at outdoor venues, where violins don't come across that well for audiences.
Dr. Tony's is an eight-player band, featuring John Vermuelen, orchestra director at Westerville North High School and Genoa Middle School, on saxophone; Lea Pearson on flute and piccolo; Melanie Richards, band director at Mifflin and Champion middle schools, on clarinet; Richard Scranton of the Westerville Symphony and the Scioto Valley Brass and Percussion Company, on trumpet; Tony Zilincik, assistant professor of tuba and theory at Capital University, instructor of tuba at Otterbein College, former soloist with the Brass Band of Columbus and former director of the Central Ohio Brass Band, on tuba; Joyce Stonebraker, choral director at Westerville North High School, on piano; Rick Soriano of the Silky Ray Band and After Hours on drums; and McDonald on trombone.
"We go beyond just straight ragtime," said McDonald, who writes all the arrangements for the band. "It's really a lot of fun. I call us the perfect concert-in-the-park, old-time music band."
As music director at one of the country's larger Unitarian Universalist churches, his is more of an administrative role, working behind the scenes to support the efforts of two choir directors, four choirs and an accompanist.
"I think of music as a director of concerts and events," McDonald said.
He also serves in a directing role for an ongoing series of chamber music concerts put on by wife Lea Pearson featuring the works of international composers. Last year's performances by the resident chamber ensemble at the church featured the works of African-American, Asian and Arab composers.
"She wanted to do something that would bring in a whole new and wider audience," McDonald said.
The music director position was created specifically for McDonald in 2006, following the retirement of a longtime choir director.
"I'm really glad I got it because it's a great job," he said. "I've been very lucky because I've gotten a lot of cooperation from many different parts of the church."
Dr. Tony's Original Ragtime Band will be performing next in mid-June at an event in the Park of Roses, following in July by appearances in Westerville and Hilliard.
McDonald has two sons, both of whom were very active in the UU Church. Older son Carey McDonald will be getting married in July and then moving to Boston to become head of youth ministries for the national Unitarian Universalist Church while his wife attends graduate school at Boston University. The younger son, Peter McDonald, followed in his dad's footsteps by attending Stanford University, only he will be graduating in June as an English major.
Actually, dad may have something of an English minor, anyway, in him, as well. McDonald said that he is in the process of editing a catalog of music that was written in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He self-published the work 10 years ago, but now Scarecrow Press Inc., based in Lanham, Md., has agreed to publish the revised and updated version.
The catalog will include information on more than 100 pieces composed in honor of the slain civil rights leader.
"I don't think people have any idea how much there is," McDonald said.
He's also expanding the catalog to include works dedicated to the memory of the late Rosa Parks, President Abraham Lincoln and President Barack Obama.