CINCINNATI (April 3, 2002)—If Ryan Slone one day follows his father's footsteps into the tire business, it might just be because, in terms of being a “typical” 11-year-old, he's already done everything else.
Ryan is currently living in the Augartenpalais, a palace in Vienna, Austria. There, he's studying, training and singing with the Vienna Boys Choir, perhaps the most famous singing group on the planet. To say his opportunity is unique is understating things. Americans in the Vienna Boys Choir are about as common as pink tires. In fact, prior to Ryan, only one American had joined the choir.
Ryan got the opportunity when he and another Cincinnati youngster, Donald Smith, were recommended by the director of the Cincinnati Boychoir, in which both boys had been performing. When the chance presented itself, the Slone family didn't hesitate.
“We had to let him take advantage of it,” said Ryan's father Dave, a customer service manager for Raben Tire Co. Inc. in Cincinnati. “Some people said, 'No way I'd let my 11-year-old go 6,000 miles away.'”
Keep in mind that Ryan left in early January, with the memories of Sept. 11 still clear in the minds of everybody. People were leery enough of domestic air travel.
“You can call me naÃ¯ve or whatever,” Dave Slone said. “My family, we would base that on a good Christian belief that you put yourself in God's hands. That doesn't mean God will prevent bad things from happening, but you go with life. We could either wrap him up in a shell and not let him do anything (or let him go).”
So Ryan jetted to Austria, where he joined the choir, which is actually four choirs of about 25 boys each. He is slowly adjusting to a new land, new culture and a new language—perhaps the biggest adjustment.
“I don't think I've picked it up as most people thought I would, but I think I'm doing pretty well for only having 1½ months of tutoring,” said Ryan, who added that it helps that most of the European choir members can speak English.
Talk to him and you hear the voice of an 11-year-old, but listen to him and you hear a maturity level of someone twice his age or more. A kid will grow up fast when he's dropped into a strange land where he doesn't speak the language.
Beyond that language barrier, though, it's as normal of an existence as you might expect. Austria, while not Cincinnati, is comparable enough. Outside the Augartenpalais—a Baroque-period castle that's home to the choirs—are McDonald's and other various Western staples. Inside are Game Cubes, N64s and plenty of partners for a game of video cops and robbers.
It's not all fun and games, of course. The Vienna Boys Choir did not get to be the most world renowned group of singing boys this side of Backstreet without some hard work. That means rehearsals of an hour or two daily.
They'll need the practice, too. Upon returning to Vienna in early April following a week back home, Ryan and the choir will head to Japan for a 90-day tour.
All the while, Ryan must keep up with his studies. Currently a sixth grader, he will most likely have to repeat that grade if he comes home after one year, though he's hoping to stay for three. During that time, Ryan said, Austria's quicker-paced educational system would catch him up with his peers in the U.S.
If he wants, he can stay in the choir until he's 14. Sort of like Menudo—once members reach a certain age, they are replaced because the need to maintain a soprano voice is paramount.
If Ryan's voice does change, so will the parameters of his stay in Vienna. The cost of keeping him there is relatively low—save for the occasional $350 monthly phone bill—provided he is singing. If he can't participate, the family would have to pony up for expenses.
For that to happen, Dave Slone would have to move a few more tires from his Raben outlet, a wholesaler primarily selling Goodyear, Michelin and General products.
Not even 12 yet, it's a safe bet Ryan won't have to worry for the time being. And as long as he's there, he plans to love every minute of it.
“He has shown no signs of wanting to come home,” his dad said.