Meet Ryan Keeling, Associate Conductor for the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh

The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh (MCP) is made up of dedicated, talented people working tirelessly to present exceptional choral performances to our patrons here in Pittsburgh. One of these individuals is Dr. Ryan Keeling, Associate Conductor for MCP. Ryan will be preparing the choir for MCP’s December performances of Mozart’s Great Mass, Handel’s Messiah, and Highmark Holiday Pops — so we’re taking this opportunity to formally introduce him to our community. 

Having served as Associate Conductor for seven years, Ryan directly supports Music Director Matthew Mehaffey and the chorus with a wealth of expertise, leadership, and passion for choral music. 

In 2011, Ryan joined MCP as a Professional Core tenor, singing with our chorus for four years. He then went on to pursue his Doctorate of Musical Arts degree in Conducting from West Virginia University, not knowing that the road would eventually lead him back to MCP. When Matthew Mehaffey was named Music Director in 2016, a role opened for a new Associate Conductor. Given his history with the chorus, Ryan was eager to apply and thrilled to accept the role. 

So, what does a day in the life of the Associate Conductor look like?

“I support and collaborate with our Music Director in many different ways,” Ryan shares. “We sometimes split the choir and rehearse the different sections separately. I do extensive research on our choral scores and editions to be sure that they are consistent with each other. This is especially important when collaborating with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as we sometimes utilize different editions. During dress and orchestra rehearsals, I also serve as a second set of ears, listening closely to ensure everything is perfectly balanced.”

Ryan takes the reins when it comes to preparing our singers for PNC Pops, an annual concert series with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) featuring iconic music spanning many eras and genres, including the beloved Highmark Holiday Pops. He also leads the chorus in preparation for other special collaborations with the PSO, such as Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton in 2018, Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy in 2022, and the upcoming Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 2023. 

Of all the concerts and performances he’s contributed to over the years, Ryan says MCP’s 2022 performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony holds a special place in his heart. “It was our first performance back in Heinz Hall after the long hiatus we took due to COVID-19, and what a powerful piece of music to return with,” he recalls. “And the very next day, we were delighted to perform it again at Saint Vincent Basilica in Latrobe. Bringing such an evocative piece to that space was incredibly meaningful.” 

As much passion as he has for the music itself, the most rewarding part of his time with the Mendelssohn has been getting to work with extraordinary people, Ryan says. “The chorus, the board, our generous donors, everyone at the PSO, and of course, our incredible audience members — all of these people make what we do worthwhile,” he shares. “A lot of a conductor’s work, like the research, the planning, and the preparation, is done alone. So when we get into the rehearsal space and begin collaborating with others, and when we get to connect with our community in-person, these are the best parts of the job. Working together towards a common goal, and then presenting what we’ve created to a community who’s just as passionate about music as we are… there’s nothing else like it.”

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