Composer Spotlight – Ryan Keebaugh

Ryan-KeebaughComposition for school-age musicians is not always an obvious path for a professional composer, but it is one that Ryan finds gratifying and a source of consistent opportunities.

Professional composer Ryan Keebaugh has some personal insight into the uniquely creative opportunities that arise when high schools and middle schools decide to directly commission a composer. No stranger to the world of composition for student musicians, Ryan is currently working on new wind ensemble pieces for Hickory Ridge High School of Charlotte, NC, Kettle Run High School of Fauquier, VA, and Johnson-Williams Middle School of Berryville, VA. Ryan well describes the joys and challenges of composing for this unique audience: “I believe each ensemble has its own distinct sound and vision. When a piece is composed with a certain ensemble in mind I believe there is a presence and feeling behind the music’s construction. Also, it gives the students a personal and emotional attachment to the piece—knowing that this piece of music was composed just for them… Finding each ensemble’s personal niche… Each ensemble has a sound, attitude, and an assortment of performance levels. Not all high school band programs are designed the same way. As a composer it is often a challenge to find the true voice of any ensemble. Once I discover the “Ah-ha” factor of the ensemble—the piece begins to write itself.” Ryan focuses on new sound worlds and soundscapes within a wind ensemble, and says this gives him the opportunity to educate students through performance. In Ryan’s music, students have the opportunity to discover new instrumental and aural combinations that they may not have previously experienced, and likely would not have, were their music program geared towards more traditional works.

Composition for school-age musicians is not always an obvious path for a professional composer, but it is one that Ryan finds gratifying and a source of consistent opportunities.

“The majority of my connections were made on the marching field,” he says. “I’m an active composer, arranger and brass clinician for many marching ensembles across the country, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with each of these conductors, (Chris White of Hickory Ridge High School, Matt Yonkey of Kettle Run High School, and Greg Abell of Johnson-Williams Middle School), and their ensembles.

After we established close working relationships, we expanded our work together to the concert stage.” Ryan says that getting to know the ensembles and directors personally gives him an edge. “I understand what the kids can do and what each wants to achieve. Having this personal connection allows me to highlight the ensemble’s strengths while minimizing its weaknesses.”

Ryan foresees plenty of opportunities for beneficial collaborations between composers and schools, beyond strictly composition and performance. “I would love the opportunity to work with more ensembles and school music programs through various guest lectures on the importance of new music for the enhancement of music education in our public school. Besides performance, composers need to be the poster child and voice for new music.”

Ryan, besides his work as a composer, is also an arranger, conductor, performer and sound artist. He lives in the Northern Virginia/Washington DC area, and is currently the composer-in-residence with Factory 449, a theater collective in WashingtonDC. Stay tuned with CSIC to keep track of Ryan and his innovative work with schools— perhaps your school will be next!

Enjoy this piece by Ryan Keebaugh, commissioned by Composers and Schools in Concert for the Kettle Run High School under the direction of Matthew Yonkey: