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Teen percussionist gets a shot at Juilliard | Kids Who Make SA Great

Three years ago, Ty Keller kicked his viola to the side for the cool rhythm of percussion. His decision has evolved into a spot in a prestigious music school.

BOERNE, Texas — Ty Keller is serious about music. To be more specific, he is obsessed with percussion in a good way.

"Honestly, percussion is sort of my life," he said.

The 17-year-old musician realizes that it would be obnoxious if he walked around Boerne-Samuel V. Champion High School beating on everything with mallets and drumsticks. So, he doesn't – as tempting as it is.

"I do practice a lot, pretty much as much as my schedule will allow me to," Keller said.

His parents have set a 10 p.m. curfew on drum playing at the house. But it doesn't mean the beats stop playing in his heart and head. 

"I'm really the only musician in the family," he said. "I sort of just picked it up on my own." 

Keller said he played the viola until the eighth grade but got eyes for percussion. So, he started taking drum lessons from his church's drummer, and Keller loved the variety in the percussion section.

"He has all of the skill sets, and we're continuing to develop him," Jason Younts said. "And he's developing himself at such a high level that he's going to have a lot of opportunities."

Younts is the head band director at Champion High School. According to him, he's had many stellar percussionists. 

"But very few that are as self-motivated and disciplined as Ty is," Younts said.

Keller is a percussionist in the school's marching band, front ensemble and wind ensemble. He is also a member of Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA) and is academically sound.

An off-campus instructor encouraged the high school junior to put his skill to the test by applying to the Juilliard Summer Percussion Seminar.

"My confidence for applying to this was really low," he said. "But I knew that if I applied to it, either way, I would be getting good experience out of it."

First, Keller learned was not to procrastinate. He needed to record a video submission with solos on the snare, marimba and timpani.

"I think when we talk about talent, what we fail to recognize by using that term is the time that people put in to develop skills," Younts said.

Keller's talent and skills allowed him to pull the selections together with minimal coaching. The process gave him a chance to build performance esteem and focus on preparation, and it all paid off.

"I woke up, and I checked my phone, and I saw that I made it, and I was ecstatic," he said. "Like my whole body was like shaking. My heart was racing like it was a feeling like no other."

He leaves in July for New York, where he'll spend two weeks with world-class instructors and teens who share his love for percussion.

"So that sort of national networking in the program is an experience that most students don't have," Younts said. But Ty created that opportunity for himself."

Samuel Solomon, Julliard Summer Percussion Seminar Artistic Director, said they have not yet settled on the final student enrollment. But Keller would likely join a class of 17 applicants selected from around the world.

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