Born and raised in England until he completed university, Keene State Music Department’s Hugh Keelan realized his passion for music around the age of 11 to 12. “My final year of high school it was very clear to me that music was the direction that I was going, and I wanted it to be that way,” Keelan said.
Keelan began working at Keene State three years ago, and works as a collaborative pianist for vocal and instrumental classes, as well as for student lessons. He mentioned that he likes to provide more of a contribution than a collaboration when he is working with students. “What I really love is being able to make a difference,” Keelan said. Outside of Keene State, he and his wife own TUNDI Productions, an opera company located in Brattleboro, VT., which they have run for the past few years. The company invites performers from all over the world to perform. Keelan said he considers a high point in his career to be anytime he is able to form a personal connection with an artist or group. One particular case that stuck out to him was when he was able to guest conduct an orchestra in The Hague, Netherlands.
“It had the distinction of being an orchestra that had been conducted by [Arturo] Toscanini a few times… It was a very heady experience to be conducting an orchestra that had been conducted by possibly the most distinguished, famous Italian conductor who’s ever lived,” Keelan shared about the experience.
Although Keelan has experienced various highs throughout his career, he has also had to battle obstacles to get where he is. “Realizing that what I wanted from my career wasn’t being provided to me by other people [was a low-moment]… If I looked at the world honestly, they weren’t that interested in me; I was much more interested in me than the world was interested,” Keelan said.
Keelan added, “I could [be] jaded and resentful and a grudge-holding person and live with regret and envy… I’d call that a low period, the decade of reformulating myself, rediscovering myself, really any ill feeling… And [my wife] felt the same way, that the world is not giving either of us what we want, so [we decided] we’re going to make it ourselves.” During his three years spent at Keene State, Keelan has earned high praise from both fellow faculty and students.
“Hugh Keelan is an amazing source of knowledge, expertise, energy and inspiration for faculty and students,” said Dr. Christina Wright-Ivanova, associate professor of music and director of keyboard studies.
“The most memorable [moment] would be when he was working with each one of our students and just taking the time to get to know them individually… It’s really unique,” Wright-Ivanova said. Senior Alice Browne said Keelan has made an impact on her as a music education student.
“His ability to make you feel good about yourself is just phenomenal… time I have a conversation with him about music, about my performing, I always come out just feeling even the littlest bit better about myself,” said Browne. “When he’s playing piano, you can tell that he loves what he’s doing… he makes the music come alive.”
Browne recalled a funny moment with Keelan during Opera Workshop last school year. “We were doing this comedic
opera scene, which ended with one student getting to pie another student in the face, and he was like, ‘Yes, you are going to do that,’” said.
Keelan said it was important for anyone who wants to become a musician to identify the drive behind their passion.
“Always be examining what your drivers and commitments are… It’s actually quite a lot of work for any musician to really look at themselves and work hard on figuring out what real drivers and motivators are,” Keelan said.
Keelan said his future goals are to be “really living my commitment as a musician more and more fully… I don’t really think of concerts as goals anymore; they’re just particularly shaped things that happen inside of a lifelong process of growing as a musician.”
Keelan added, “It really is about commitment for me–the commitment of me being true to my values, me being very clear how I define myself, so I have a life of clarity and artistic sanity and wellbeing, those things are very important to me.”
Emily Sloane can be contacted at