Alva Review-Courier -

Years of research, fine-tuning lecture notes leads to new book for Ridgway


April 19, 2019

Northwestern adjunct instructor of music Max Ridgway shows off his most recent book, "Musical Traditions in Western Culture: A Concise Survey."

It may have taken 25-plus years of continuous research and the fine-tuning of lecture notes as he prepared his information to teach students in a music appreciation class at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, but doing so has now resulted in a new book for one of the Department of Fine Arts' adjunct instructors of music.

Alva native Max Ridgway has taught various music classes at the university through these 25-plus years. His classes have included World Music, Applied Guitar, Music Composition and a strings class, but it's his Music in Life humanities class and his endless search for the best stories to tell his students that prompted him to finally turn his "ever-evolving notes" into his second book, "Musical Traditions in Western Culture: A Concise Survey."

While teaching the class, Ridgway has "endeavored to study the entire subject from scratch each time I teach it, searching through old music history texts, biographies and any other source I can find, looking for the best stories about the composers and for the clearest and most interesting musical examples to play for my class," he said.

"I made use of all of this research by upgrading my notes each semester, fine-tuning my lectures along the way. During the most recent Christmas break (2018), I decided to write out what I was teaching and publish it in book form, both as a low-cost resource for my students and as a stand-alone book that anyone could read and enjoy."

Ridgway explained that he basically had two objectives in mind when writing the book with the first being, as mentioned, how it could be of use to his students. He said he doesn't require his students to use it, but knowing they can be absent from class for various reasons, it can be a helpful resource to find what they may have missed while gone. And, because it's available on Kindle, he said students can download it and read it on their phones.

"My second objective was simply to tell an interesting story," Ridgway said. "To be perfectly honest about it, I find most music appreciation and music history textbooks to be bland and uninteresting. This is partly because they tend to whitewash the lives of the great composers, covering up their flaws, bizarre behavior, and in some cases, their political incorrectness. As far as I'm concerned, these are exactly the things that make for a good story.

"What I endeavor to do is to simply tell the story, including as much of the morbid, strange and quirky information as I can uncover, slipping in the technical aspects of the music incidentally as it becomes necessary in the narrative."

Some of those "interesting little tidbits" that Ridgway writes about in this book includes "the story of Bach's time in jail, the strange disappearance of Haydn's head (after his death, thankfully), the bizarre 'stalker' behavior of Hector Berlioz, an amusing first-hand account of a stone-deaf Beethoven attempting unsuccessfully to conduct an orchestra, and another first-hand account of Tchaikovsky's 'conducting-fail' due to a neurotic fear that his head might fall off."

In the Preface to the book, Ridgway explains that he doesn't use elaborate diagrams or colorful photographs, so this helped to keep the cost of the book low. He writes that all of the images used are in the public domain and that he created nearly all of the musical examples. He notes that all of the recommended listening examples mentioned in the book are readily available on the Internet. And, he encourages readers to not skip through the footnotes as he has provided "little gems too good to leave out."

"Musical Traditions in Western Culture" has been available at in a Kindle and paperback version since Dec. 29, 2018. But it's the third format of the book that has Ridgway particularly excited as it's now available as an audiobook via and

"I found a fabulous voice actor in the UK (Fergus Nicoll) who really makes the text come alive," Ridgway said.

The undertaking of turning the book from print to audio proved to be a longer process, Ridgway explained.

"I first had to edit the text, removing references to diagrams or photos," Ridgway said. "Then I had to audition readers. It then took several weeks for the chosen reader to make the recording. Finally, it took several more weeks for to do a quality check. The approved audiobook became available on March 27."

Another feature of the book Ridgway pointed out is the cover as it allowed him to switch from author to proud father.

"The book cover was created by my oldest son, Elliott," Ridgway said. "For the photo, he arranged my violin, some of my music books and one of my orchestral scores to set up the image."

The book also is dedicated to his mother, a Northwestern alumna who is the organist at the First United Methodist Church and teaches private piano lessons in Alva. He writes: "For my mother, Alycen Ridgway Yoder, my first and best music teacher."

Ridgway is a 1990 graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston where he graduated summa cum laude, and holds a master's degree in music education from Northwestern Oklahoma State. In addition, he curates a YouTube page with nearly 17,000 subscribers called NewMusicXX, which promotes modern music and contemporary composers. He also is a musician with wide-ranging experience, from avant-garde free improvisation and ambient music to blues-infused jazz. His first book is titled "Modernism: The Strange Story of Art and Music in the Twentieth Century" and is available exclusively through Amazon.


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