Home on the Road: Ryan McKinny

Boy, it's been a long time since I posted a Home on the Road feature, and it's not because I've got living on the road all figured out, let me tell you. I'm still struggling with the packing, and the settling in, and the phone calls, and all the rest of it. I think it's time to call in some more experts, don't you?

I'm so excited to feature bass-baritone Ryan McKinny here. Ryan and I started working in Houston at the same time, and in the time that I have known him he has gone on to sing all over the world, all while he and his fabulous wife Tonya have grown their beautiful family. They have been based in Germany for the past 2 years, but they just bought a house in Houston (in our neighborhood, no less), so they'll be coming back stateside this summer.

Ryan has been on the road for 4 years. In the last year he spent about 9 months at home, but "home" changed once during that time. He and Tonya have never been apart for more than 2 weeks in the past 5 years (take a moment and let that sink in—it's practically unheard of in our business)!

LMB: Do you have any stuff that you always bring with you when you travel to make your temporary home feel more like a real one? Or any special routines to help you acclimate quickly to a new place?

RM: Not really, but I probably should.  Finding a decent grocery store is usually the first thing we do when we get to town. Then a gym. Some of that can be checked ahead of time, but finding them in person is important.

LMB: You often travel with your whole family. I'm sure there are special challenges to traveling with children. Any tips on how to make it go smoothly?

RM: This is extremely challenging and extremely rewarding. My children have been all over the United States and to six other countries. Travel days have different rules for the kids. They can eat special treats, watch shows on the DVD player, etc. So they (really the older one, Emma) get very excited about it. However, long flights can be quite difficult. Sometimes you have to realize that they are children and occasionally scream, and if people give you dirty looks it's only because they don't have kids and don't have the slightest clue of what it's like. We try our best and our kids are generally well behaved, but everyone gets a little cranky on an airplane. As far as packing, we try not to bring too many toys because they really can play with anything. But they do get to bring a special stuffed animal and a book or two and a few small toys so that it feels like home. The thing that has become super important is finding activities and planning them ahead of time. The internet is our best friend. We are pretty digitized. If we didn't have laptops, iPad, and iPhones we would be lost.

LMB: How has life changed since you moved the family to Berlin? Are you finding it easier/more difficult to navigate your career and your life on the other side of the ocean?

RM: The biggest initial hurdle was the language. My German has gotten a lot better over the last year to the point where now I would say I “speak German” though maybe not “fluently” just yet. My five year old daughter speaks fluent German now after having spent several months in a German kindergarten, which I find completely mind-blowing. It's also culturally much different and you can feel isolated from the world. We have made lots of expat friends, though, and that has made it feel nearly like home. We love Berlin as a city and we love our apartment there. Now two years later we are moving back to Houston, but being in Germany for two years have been very rewarding. We will miss it when we leave, but such is the life.

LMB: I'm always looking for advice on how to make a relationship/marriage work despite spending time apart. How do you and Tonya make it work when you're not together?

RM: I am the luckiest man I know in this department. I have a truly amazing wife. From the beginning of our relationship we decided that we would put each other first. She is more important to me than anything (including music) and I am the most important thing to her. We communicate about everything, always, and we do it in as gentle a way as we can. We decided early on that we would travel together. That means that she is a full time mother and does not have a paying job. This has been a major sacrifice on her part, but one that she is happy with, and one that I try to honor. We have seen relationships in both our families and many of our friends fall apart, and I don't think this has anything to do with one's career choice. Relationships are hard work to sustain, and you have to learn to love that work. People continue to change their whole lives if they're lucky, and my plan is to keep getting to know the new Tonya every day.

Also, we stay faithful to each other. Seriously. In this business there are people who everyone knows are married and people who everyone knows are “married.” I'm in the first group. 

LMB: In order to have the career that you have, you have to be willing to be away from home a lot of the time. What makes it worthwhile for you?

RM: Making impactful art is worth it. It sounds extremely na├»ve, but I believe that people can walk away from an opera with a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the greater scope of humanity. Now, not every gig achieves this—in fact, it's really rare. But that's the possibility that drives me forward. If through my voice (and the voices of my colleagues, the sound of the orchestra, the drama that unfolds, etc.) someone can be moved enough that they can never go back, that is worth it. 

LMB: Any other advice you wish someone had given you when you were just starting out on the road? Or advice that you did get that has been helpful to you?

RM: Some advice I gave myself early on— Don't follow too much advice! Listen to it all and take it in, but you are responsible for your own life. If you have a crazy idea that everyone thinks is ridiculous it doesn't mean it can't be wildly successful, and likewise just because everyone says it's a good idea doesn't mean it is. Weigh your options, make your choice, never look back. Good luck.

Thank you so much to Ryan! You can find out more about him at www.ryanmckinny.com. For more on his marriage to Tonya, check out this post from my Happy Marriages I Know feature.   


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