BY INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA- Dave Keen has always loved music and the violin stuck out to him at a very young age.
“The violin has been my voice as far back as I can remember,” Keen said.
Growing up in Niskayuna, his parents Annette and Roger would play classical music so he thinks that where the initial attraction came from.
But what started out as an interest has turned into a career. His music has been used on the Colbert Report. He has performed for countless productions and occasions, the latest was for a gala held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.
Here, Keen answers a few questions on how he got his start as a musician in Niskayuna and how he can to be a freelance musician in New York City.
Q: What age did you start playing?
A: I was about seven when I started playing and I took lessons with Nicoli Sikorski (whose father invented the helicopter interestingly enough). He was great. He instilled a love of the instrument and of the music rather than the other side.
Q: What would the other side be, extreme discipline?
A: Early teachers tend to be extreme and they tend to discipline in extreme ways, I would say to the point of abusiveness in some cultures.
Q: So after Sikorski, who did you move onto?
A: In Niskayuna high school, I really started to branch out. I love classical music but I’ve always loved rock too. So I started taking bass lessons with Jeff Herchenroder, who was the music teacher there. He taught me how to play contrabass and so I went from contra base to violin to bass guitar pretty fluidly.
Q: You were also in the Empire State Youth Orchestra for a few years, right?
A: I was in that all through high school and I was concert master for three years too. That was a lot of fun . . . we got to meet Mariah Carey at one point. MTV selected a group of us string players to play with her at Proctors Theater, which was pretty crazy to have that opportunity in Schenectady.
But I was also employed by the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra. I was on their payroll while I was in high school and was playing beside professional musicians.
Q: Did that experience give you a better idea of what it took to be a professional musician?
A: Definitely. Student orchestras like Empire are great. But if you show up and you’re not completely prepared, you’ll get a dressing down. If you show up to a professional orchestra and you’re not prepared, you get fired. We [Keen and another young Schenectady Symphony Orchestra member] had that professional standard and that focus at an early age.
Q: What about after you left the Schenectady area?
A: I graduated in 1993 and took a year off. I just got kind of blue at the end of high school because everyone was leaving. But I started writing a lot of songs and taking lessons with a professor at SUNY Albany. Then the following year I went to SUNY Purchase and I’ve been a freelance musician ever since.
Q: What does that look like exactly?
A: Well, I traveled all around the world. I’ve played in Korea. I’ve played in the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra and all around the country as a violinist and as a bass player. I teach, write music and play in shows. I’m blessed to make a living doing it.
Q: You mentioned that you created music for the Colbert Report. What was that like and how did it happen?
A: That was a lot of fun. We were hired to do it and so we wrote it and performed it all in Garageband, just to send in a clip to the producers. I thought that we would have to do it again for the show with a different system. They called us up the day before the show and told us ‘okay, get here a few hours beforehand.’ So we went in and we only had to re-record some of the vocals.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve actually branched into film making. It began with the idea of making silly videos. But I’ve made one film with a few others called Adventures of Boof Margarine.
Q: How has that tied into your music career?
A: Well, I write and record all the music for it. But film making it similar to composition because there is a cinematic grammar or small moments or shots that you also have in music. If you have a musical idea, unlike with physical art, it starts at a certain point in time and you know something will happen during it. There’s an expectation and the art happens in time.
Q: Even as you’re branching out within your career, do you ever find yourself thinking back to any of the instructors you had or experiences you had in Niskayuna?
A: Absolutely. It’s not every day that I’m asked about this, but yes. Especially Jeff Herchenroder. He got to Niskayuna High School the same time I did. He was not only a great bassist but taught me base and how to love music. He still lives in the Capital Region. I also used to spend my summers at the School of Orchestral Studies at Skidmore College in this month-long program where they would have members of the Philadelphia Orchestra teach us. It’s incredibly lucky to have that in the region. Looking back, it’s important to have those sort of experiences growing up.
Q: Any advice you would give to high school students who are interested in being a freelance musician, composer or artist?
A: Practice your craft and always ask ‘Why not?’ Don’t limit yourself.