Composer with local roots has a harmonious future

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By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer

Keane Southard Photo/submitted
Keane Southard
Photo/submitted

Southborough – Keane Southard is well on his way to his biggest goal: “To make a positive impact on people in the world through music, which is what I am most passionate about.”

Southard, 30, who grew up in Southborough, is a pianist and composer, completed a Fulbright Scholarship, and speaks six languages. He said that he learned Spanish in high school, Italian in college, taught himself French and Portuguese, and is now studying German.

This fall, Southard will begin Ph.D. program in music composition at the Eastman School in Rochester, N.Y.

In Southborough, Southard studied music under longtime public school music teacher Stephen Curtis.

“I started playing piano when I was 7 since my mom played. Looking back, I progressed pretty quickly,” he said.

Southard’s first piano teacher was Mrs. Chung, in Westborough. In 9th grade, he moved on to Barbara Jones, in Stow, who helped him study music theory.

“It was good for me to be able to understand how pieces were constructed,” he said.

In middle school and high school, Southard kept busy playing for school musicals, in the jazz band, and even started his own rock band called Coda.

During that time, he started composing what he called, “Really bad rock songs and poor imitations of Chopin piano pieces.”

His teacher, Jones, who was president of the New England Piano Teachers’ Association, connected Southard with Kenneth Girard in Arlington, who was a local composer. Southard found Girard’s feedback valuable and encouraging. With him, he took monthly lessons on composition and music theory.

Southard graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Conservatory at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, where he double majored in music composition and music theory with a minor in English literature.

“I wanted a fresh start, and it seems really good. It ended up being fantastic.”

Next up was a master of music in composition from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Southard studied under Carter Pann, whose music he said he adored.

“I noted that my music ended up being really happy and joyful, and it might be a result of studying with him,” he said.

After a couple of years in Massachusetts, working as a freelance musician and teacher, Southard embarked on a major adventure as a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil.

He studied Brazilian programs that were inspired by Venezuela’s music education program, El Sisteema.

“I looked into how Brazil adapted the program, and what the U.S. could learn. It’s about social inclusion by bringing together people of different backgrounds and races.”

In 2012, Southard married his wife, who he met at Baldwin-Wallace.

After some time in England, they spent two years at Bennington College in Vermont, where he taught. He is now Music Director of the First Congregational Church of Walpole, N.H.

As for Southard’s compositions, he said, “From short pieces for a single instrument to large-scale works for large ensembles, I count 97 works I’ve written since 2004 when I was a senior in high school… I’m drawn to traditional acoustic instruments. There are jazz rhythms and harmonies in my writing, and plenty of popular and rock music, but that’s hard to point out. As for traditional music, I like to focus on less well known composers.”

It’s been seven years since Southard was a student.

“I wanted to wait until I really missed being a student, and now I am ready. I love to teach, and once I earn my Ph.D., coming back to New England to teach would be great. I’m really excited about going back to school,” he said.

Southard is well on his way.