“With most people of my generation and the generation that preceded me, we tend to be doom and gloom because everyone isn’t doing it the way we did it . . . , no matter what people tell you, bands are better today than they’ve ever been.”
James F. Keene took a break from conducting the ILMEA All-State Honors band at IMEC 2019 to sit down with R. Scott Barnas and I to talk about adapting music for ensembles, the role of a university director of bands, and commissioning new works. Professor Keene also speaks about his experience with international outreach and talks about identifying quality literature for bands.
Special thanks to R. Scott Barnas for connecting all of us and for guest-hosting on this episode. Special thanks to the Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA) for helping to make this interview possible at the Illinois Music Education Conference.
In 2008, Professor James F. Keene retired from the University of Illinois School of Music, where he held the titles of Director of Bands and Brownfield Distinguished Professor of Music. Appointed in 1985, he was only the fourth person to hold the Director of Bands position since 1905. During his 23-year tenure at Illinois, the UI Symphonic Band and Wind Symphony, under his direction, were selected to perform for every major music conference in the U.S., have toured internationally and have performed in many of America's most prestigious concert halls, including New York's legendary Carnegie Hall and several performances in Chicago's Orchestra Hall. The Illinois Wind Symphony and Symphonic Band have produced one of the most extensive bodies of commercial band recordings. These recordings have been broadcast on National Public Radio in the U.S., as well as radio programs in Asia, Australia, and several European countries.
Mr. Keene is a Past-President of the prestigious American Bandmasters Association and also served as Chairman of the Board of Directors. He is a Past-President of the National Band Association, having previously served in several other NBA offices, and is a Past-President of The Big Ten Band Directors Association. For several years he served as chairman of the ABA/Ostwald Composition Contest, and is currently a member of the Editorial Board of The Journal of Band Research.
In addition to membership in several professional and honorary societies, Mr. Keene is an Evans Scholar, Past-President of the Champaign Rotary Club, and a Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary International Foundation. In 1993, Professor Keene was named as an honorary member of the Board of Directors of the International Percy Grainger Society in recognition of his devotion to the music of Grainger and he also serves on the Board of Directors of the John Philip Sousa Foundation and the historic Goldman Memorial Band of New York City. Prior to his appointment at Illinois, Professor Keene taught at all levels, including building nationally recognized programs at East Texas State University (now Texas A and M-Commerce), and at The University of Arizona.
In 2002, Professor Keene was named Honorary Life Member of the Texas Bandmasters Association, becoming only the sixth person to be so honored in the 55-year history of that organization. He is in constant demand as conductor, clinician and adjudicator and has appeared in those capacities in forty-four states and on five continents. In 2009, Professor Keene conducted in Australia, China and Europe, in addition to a busy schedule of appearances in the United States.