Playing the piano makes Sunny Ritter shine

Sunny Ritter after her performance in Bucharest, Romania. Photo: Ovidiu Tintareanu

Life is pretty sweet on Sunny Ritter’s side of the street.

She lives with her mother in Vienna, Austria, one of the most exciting cities in the world. She’s got friends and she has music. She especially has the piano.

Sunny calls the instrument her “magic bone.” The reference is to one of Sunny’s favourite books in which a dog named Sparky uses his magic bone to travel. Sunny believes the piano can … and will … take her anywhere in the world. So far it’s working.

“The keys of the piano are black and white and they open everybody’s heart and make even more colours in the rainbow,” Sunny says. “And I like that I’m allowed to be the boss when I play.”

As you might have guessed Sunny is young, eight years old in fact. And she’s already demonstrating a remarkable aptitude for the piano.

Sunny will travel to Ottawa for a noon-hour concert at Southminster United Church on Sept. 5. The concert is part of the Doors Open for Music series that runs through the fall and winter at the church located at 15 Aylmer Ave. The series is put together by Roland Graham and offers a platform for musicians of all ages to perform in public.

For Sunny, it’s a chance to step forward in her mother’s hometown in an hour-long concert, with family and friends and others in attendance. It’s also one more chance to do something that she loves deeply.

In a Facetime interview, Sunny said that she discovered the piano when she started taking ballet classes.

“I realized … I wanted to start. It felt really nice to play. My life was very nice before I started playing the piano but something was missing. That was the piano.” 

Sunny was six when she started playing piano, Margaret Ritter said.

She met her first teacher through ballet. That teacher, Aya Kaukal, is an accompanist at the State Opera Ballet School in Vienna. 

Since then, Sunny has been riding a wave of success. Winning several prizes at competitions in Vienna, in Hamburg and in Munich and in St. Petersburg, Russia. And she was invited to join the enrichment program for gifted childrens at Vienna’s University of Music and the Performing Arts, where she has a second teacher named Vladimir Kharin.

This summer she won a major competition in Romania. Her Ottawa concert will be her first solo recital. She will play Mozart, Rameau and Chopin.

It’s all been a bit dizzying for her mother Margaret.

She travelled to Vienna about a decade ago with an idea of writing a novel about music and musicians. The novel is still pending but meanwhile,  Sunny, who was born in Austria, is Margaret’s main focus.

She probably should have known that Sunny would be musical, she said, because when she was pregnant with her, she was at a party one time which featured friends playing a two-piano version of a Brahms quintet and Sunny started kicking really hard.

That Sunny is interested in classical music is understandable.

In Vienna there is classical music everywhere, so it’s not that strange for a kid to like that kind of music.”

Still Margaret said she was surprised that Sunny would take to the piano so keenly.

She had even planned to return home to Canada before Sunny’s interest in the piano was kindled. 

“We are (still) here because of her success. I had made some attempts to get her involved in music in Canada, but just when I was doing that she was invited to join a prestigious school for gifted young musicians in Vienna. So we haven’t managed to move back.” Margaret’s visa expires in a year, adding focus to the matter.

Margaret admits to being a bit homesick.

“Ottawa is my hometown. But Sunny has such a strong connection to her teachers and her friends here, it doesn’t feel like the right time yet to move to Canada.”

Sunny is in Grade 4 which is an important year in the Austrian system because it will determine which educational stream Sunny would enter. She goes to regular school until about 1 p.m. each day and then a few times a week she goes to the gifted program. And then she plays with friends and she plays the piano. 

She doesn’t call her time at the keyboard practice.

“I don’t really practice at all, I play. I do scales but I don’t practice them, I play the piano.”

All the attention Sunny is attracting has Margaret a bit wary.

“I am over cautious. We were at a friends who asked why she didn’t have a Facebook page. I feel she should be protected, but at the same time I’m wondering if I’m holding her back and anxieties of mine are getting in the way.

“We are deciding what to do because we are getting invitations to go places and we have had to turn so many of them down.” 

The show in Ottawa was prompted by Margaret’s father who had attended DOMS concerts before. He urged Margaret to reach out to Graham to consider Sunny for a performance. Margaret did that and he put Sunny on the list. In fact, she’ll kick the season off on Sept. 5.

Sunny comes to Ottawa every summer to visit with family here. So while Margaret and Sunny ponder the options of where they might eventually go when they come to Canada, a final decision will wait. Right now they are getting on Canadian time and getting ready for the concert.

In time, Sunny may lose interest in music, “but right now, the way that it is looking, she’s pretty into it,” Margaret said.

The Doors Open for Music at Southminster weekly noon-hour series gets under way Sept. 5 at noon with Solar-Powered Mozart featuring Sunny Ritter.

Sept. 12: Baroque Meets Folk blends Celtic harp and violin.

Sept. 19: Soul Hour With Beats and Keys: Singer-pianist Jeff Rogers, drummer Jamie Holmes and trumpeter Ed Lister interpret music by Ray Charles, Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder.

Worth noting

A three-part series featuring all six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. The first will be presented on Oct. 17, featuring Concertos Nos. 3 and 6 for strings. The second will be presented Feb. 27, 2019 and the final instalment is to be performed May 15

DOMS is freewill offering from patrons (donations of $10 / 20 are encouraged). For more on the concerts:; 613-730-6874.   Southminster United Church is located at 15 Aylmer Ave. Doors open at 11:30 a.m.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.