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John Andersen: Keezer did more than keep the beat

John Andersen: Keezer did more than keep the beat

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The Book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 tells us this: To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Yet there is one thing missing from that good book.

In the life of any kid there is a time for playing in band and a time not to play in band. There is a time to choose an instrument and a time to go sing in the choir. Then there is a time to play drums and a time for parents to say “there will be no drums in this house.”

Thankfully for Chippewa Falls, native Ron Keezer chose to play drums and never gave it up.

There is a hierarchy of musical instruments in the band and orchestra. The strings are on top of the list. Woodwinds a close second, third the brass and then, living in the outer darkness and appearing like a comet in the sky, percussion.

Of course depending on what instrument you play, that hierarchy can be overturned in a minute.

I met Ron Keezer at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the fall of 1970. He was the instructor of percussion at UW-Eau Claire’s Music Department where I was a music major. I am not going to relay all the information of his life or accomplishments as they are readily available, unfortunately for us all, in his obituary.

There are several things that stood out to me from the day I met Ron.

Ron’s energy was unbounded. He approached his classes with discipline and dedication but it was the joy of the man that was untouchable.

From his daily classes at UW-Eau Claire to his participation as a faculty member of the Shell Lake Arts Center, he could be spontaneous. It was a quality you rarely saw at UW-Eau Claire.

His formal title at UW-Eau Claire was associate professor of music. It took Ron awhile to earn that title and to achieve tenure at UW-Eau Claire. Remember that hierarchy I mentioned above? It is my opinion that it exists at a music school and music departments worldwide.

Yet the art and complexity of playing percussion is extremely challenging. You do not acquire it by sitting back and watching.

Everyone knows what a drum set is. That is the most common percussion instrument. It is featured at rock concerts, musical productions, movies and any good polka band. To play that instrument well you have to have hand-eye coordination, the ability and dexterity to use both hands and both feet independently and simultaneously. You need to be able to read percussion music — which is far different than piano music.

If you play a keyboard percussion instrument like a xylophone, a marimba, tympani (kettle drums) or a vibraphone, you have to be able to have both hands work independently and at times have two mallets in each hand.

Our youngest daughter played excellent four-mallet percussion on the marimba and was extremely proficient. She and the late Chi Hi Band Doug Greenhalgh had scale races; she could beat him. Perhaps she would have had Ron as a teacher.

However, our percussion-playing daughter did not go into music. She did go to UW-Eau Claire for a bit. I am sorry she never got to experience the joy of learning from Ron Keezer, his love of teaching, his awful jokes, his knowledge, his passion for conducting and composing.

In an atmosphere of formal education where titles mean quite a lot and the atmosphere can be rarefied, Ron was a bright ray of sunlight and a breath of fresh air. He was a local boy who made good.

If you would like to remember Ron, please contribute memorials in his name to: Shell Lake Arts Center, P.O. Box 315, Shell Lake, WI 54871; or the Jack and Margaret O’Farrell Jazz Advancement Fund at the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, Box 4004, Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004.

Thanks for the memories, Ron. Godspeed.


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