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'A prodigy': 13-year-old musician excels at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts with mentor by his side

Oskar and Mr. Thornton
Posted at 5:34 PM, Sep 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-15 17:10:11-04

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Thirteen-year-old Oskar Ryan-Garrard's father first bought him a guitar when he was 1 year old, not knowing his son would later be considered a musical prodigy.

Oskar, who is now in the 8th grade, is the lead guitarist of the high school jazz band at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts. Outside of school, he's part of the Kansas City Jazz Academy with the American Jazz Museum.

He also has weekly private lessons with Will Matthews, the lead guitarist for the 18-time Grammy-award winning Count Basie Orchestra.

“When I started playing guitar, I basically started off with punk rock, and that includes classics like The Ramones, Weezer, The Pixies, My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Nirvana," Oskar said.

To top off Oskar's skills, he has perfect pitch and sings "catchy pop" songs he writes "in about five minutes."

“I mean, Oskar is exceptional," Willie Thornton, Oskar's mentor and music teacher at Paseo, said. "Anyone to have absolute pitch is like one out of 10,000 people that have absolute pitch. And the age he is, I am just scared to see him at 16, because he is incredible now.”

Oskar revealed his perfect pitch when he was just five years-old and began taking his first private music lessons for both guitar and piano. Today, Oskar closes his eyes while Thornton plays random notes and chords on the keyboard, and Oskar never misses a beat when recognizing the notes.

Oskar transferred to Paseo in 2022 to specifically focus on music. Ever since, Thornton and Oskar have developed a special student-teacher relationship. Thornton goes as far to describe Oskar has a "prodigy" and "genius."

Oskar was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at 5 years-old, and he also has "extreme" attention-deficit disorder (ADD).

Despite his diagnoses, Oskar excels in music, and is also placed in 9th grade math. Thornton works with Oskar to ensure he continues to grow as a musician.

“I think Mr. Thornton understands musicians because he is a musician," Oskar's mom, Julie Garrard, said.

Oskar lives in Midtown with his mom. His father, Paul, who was also a passionate punk-rock guitarist, passed away when Oskar was two years-old. Oskar says he gets his passion for music from his father, and toys with the idea that his skills are genetic.

“I mean, when doing guitar, some people think I am possessed by the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. If ghosts were real, that would be the case," Oskar said.

Oskar Ryan-Garrard

Last year, Paseo put on 'High School Musical,' and not only was Oskar the only child playing an instrument in the pit, but he memorized the whole two-hour-plus performance.

Thornton, who said he's never taught a student like Oskar in his 15 to 16 years of teaching, said Oskar has matured immensely as a musician and vocalist since last school year.

“He has allowed me to be a better teacher, he has made me be a better teacher," Thornton said. "I thank him for challenging me as a teacher. I may be teaching him, but he doesn’t know he is teaching me.”

As far as Oskar's future, Thornton believes he will attend a prestigious music-focused college, such as The Julliard School or Berklee College of Music. Oskar said practicing will help him get there, along with sharpening his technique and maybe starting a band.

“Thirteen years old and he’s playing like this, can you just imagine what he’s going to, I mean he’s going to be famous one day there’s no doubt in my mind," Thornton said.

The room, full of school staff and students, erupted in laughter when Oskar responded, "I mean, he's got a point."