Careers are funny things. Some are realized early in life, some are started as we grow older and really know what we want to do. I was born and raised in Iowa, attending Mt Vernon Community Schools (www.mt-vernon.k12.ia.us) while growing up. I knew what I wanted to do, or at least pursue, while still in Kindergarden, which sounds funny. I didn't know whether or not I wanted to make it a career, necessarily. However, after the teacher played a rousing rendition of Yankee Doodle on the her beat-up, upright piano, I just knew this was something that I had to pursue. So, I started piano lessons at age 5, studying with a local country teacher that happened to live close by. Later, I switched teachers as I became more advanced. My next teacher was Elizabeth Sloan of Cedar Rapids, a local teacher who had taught for many years in the school system. She taught me the importance of scales and to sight-read. After several years of lessons with her, I moved on and found another teacher in Mt Vernon, Ena Rhodes. Mrs. Rhodes was a student herself, taking private lessons at the Univeristy of Iowa. With her, I learned the approach of how to relax at the paino, which is a science unto itself. I probably took lessons from her for over a year.
Actually, I did come from a musical family, in a way. My folks didn't play, except my Mom had played trumpet in her younger years. My two younger sisters took up piano at an early age, but later one decided upon the flute, and the other decided the trumpet was her pursuit. They can still play today, but pursued other non-musical careers. Actually, the Mt Vernon school system had stage bands for pep rallies that supported their musical abilities.
RDK at Cypress Records Recording Studio - Jacksonville, FL (1987)
While in high school, I auditioned for a retired college professor, Max Dahler of Coe college (www.coe.edu), and he took me under his wing for a couple of years. During this period, he taught me basic theory, encouraging me to learn it, as it would be so useful later in my studies. Also, he let me explore music which I wanted to learn and explore. There wasn't any limitations put on me, as I suppose he was testing my true potential. Upon his death, I was pretty directionless, unable to decide if music was the thing for me. In fact, I dropped it for some time as I entered Kirkwood Community College (www.kirkwood.cc.ia.us ) , hit upon being a Business Major. However, after only a few semesters, the business route just didn't seem the way to go. So, after finding another teacher, Mary Wick, who was teaching piano at Coe College. I decided music just seemed to be my calling. I was really lucky because Mrs. Wick was the pianist of the Cedar Rapids symphony (www.crsymphony.org ) , and an assistant professor. So, with renewed interest, I continued my studies once more.
Senior recital at Mt Mercy College, Cedar Rapids, IA
After a year of taking lessons from her, my folks told me that national touring artists, Bill and Patricia Medly were to make Mt Mercy college (www.mtmercy.edu ) their home. What really made them so special, was not only were they nationally known, they also performed with orchestras, playing music that was written for two pianos. So, changing colleges seemed like the thing to do, so I enrolled in their program. From them, I learned the true meaning of practice, which usually meant 6 hours a day, concentrating on Hanon exercises, and building a solid music background. This included studying the Beethoven sonatas, Chopin preludes/etudes, Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier series, and even Scott Joplin rags. However, every Thursday afternoon was recital day, which if you had a piece prepared, you were usually on the roster. I learned a really strange thing while attending these mandatory recitals, and that is, stage fright is a learned thing. When the Medleys brought their students with them to the college, these students were unlike any other students I had ever been around. They had such intense concentration whenever they approached the piano. They hardly ever made mistakes, either while doing incredibly difficult scales or hard piano passages. I've always had stage fright, in various degrees, but just being with them and around them, their sense of composure and sense of professionalism began to rub off on me. So much, in fact, that the next year when new piano students came to the college, I was amazed at how frightened many of them were. So, what did I learn and making a point about? That stage fright is a frame of mind, an illusion, if you will. Something that has helped me in playing in various bands. That, and the value of practicing. One can practice by themselves, but the real practice is in performing before people. Why else does anybody really learn to play an instrument? I've heard some people say they play for their own enjoyment. Yeah, right! I like to play for myself, too, but that gets rather pointless after a bit. There is NOTHING, and I repeat, NOTHING like playing in front of an audience.
I do teach private music lessons, when I have the time for students. I feel that having the right teacher who teaches according to each students' needs is most important. What does this mean exactly? Well, I know from my own experience, that I grew up learning classical music. Of course, nothing is wrong with that, and I feel, as many other teachers do, that this background can build a player up to have a solid background. Solid, meaning that it can give the student the foundation for finger strength, body endurance, and the ability to focus. Music, like any other occupation makes certain demands on an individual. A student must learn to sit an their instrument relaxed, especially if practicing many hours. In college, it was not unusual for me to practice 4-5 hours (or more) a day. The student must learn to read the music, because it is the "written" language of music. It is true, that many people can learn to play an instrument by ear, just as children learn to talk by listening to others. However, if you don't know how to read the music, how do you know if you are playing the right notes or not? I have watched many piano students struggle with the fundamentals of playing the instrument, which is sad to see, because this could have been corrected by having the proper teacher. I guess this all stems from me being in the computer industry for many years. I didn't have a real strong background in computers when I started, and if I had really had some solid basics when I was first starting out, maybe I wouldn't have had such a hard time with the theory aspect. So, in my opinion, every student should and needs to have a solid background. But, does every student, either child or adult, want to play classic music? Of course not, because there are lots of other styles out there: jazz, rock, easy listening, gospel, country and western, and you name it. I knew that I didn't want to play classic music because I just wasn't "solid" enough. Plus, rock and roll music meant more to me than classical music. Tons of people in the music industry play lounge piano and make a great deal of money doing it. Many musicians play jazz, and lots of really good poeple play rock. However, it takes the best of the best to play classical music, and you really have to be at the top of your game. But, the major point I'm getting at here is: "Have a good foundation to start and learn the instrument the right way!"
RDK with Norfolk, Virginia's Wunderkind - Grant Austin Taylor - 2004
After graduating from college in 1977 with a BA in Piano Performance, I knew that I wanted to be in a band or working in some capacity with music, so this is what this website is all about. As far as being a "multi-keyboardist", instead of just being a piano player or organist, my thoughts are pretty simple. First, with the evolution of electronic instruments, the sound of today's synths are astonishing. To carry a real Hammond organ (and I used to), or grand piano is relatively stupid, mainly because they weigh so much. Second, I compare myself to a drummer. Each drum in a kit has a certain function, and all my keyboards have various functions, as well. It's true, I could change presets like a madman on stage, hopefully, hit all the right buttons. But, as I get older, I can't see all that well in the dark, even with backdrop lighting on stage. So, I assign one keyboard as my piano, another as my organ, another as string/horns and so on. Is it worth it to carry that many keyboards? Well, I get compliments from fans and other musicians that the bands I am in sound just like the original band or even better. So, yeah, it's worth it to me. In fact, the greatest compliment I ever heard was from a fan who had just heard us play "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd. The fan said that they had experienced goosebumps while we were playing the song.
I am especially grateful to my sister, Sara, and my wife, Della, both who have followed me around throughout my career and taken most of these pictures of me, that have been posted here. Without them being there, most of my documented career would not have been possible. To both Sara, and Della, I say "Thank you!"