Keith Hammer III


Photos by Matt Dine


Winner, 2017 Aspen Music Festival and School Solo Percussion Competition


Aspen Music Festival and School, 2017–18; Spoleto Festival USA, 2019

When did you realize you wanted to pursue music as a career?

During my freshman year at Rice, I heard our orchestra perform Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony. The passion the orchestra showed and the beauty of the music pushed me to want to be a musician.

How did you hear about TŌN? What inspired you to apply?

My instructor at Rice recommended I audition so that I could receive more orchestra performance experience.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration has to be my late great-grandmother. She was a huge reason why I decided to pursue music, starting with piano and then moving on to percussion and timpani. She had pushed me to stay with music, as she saw such a major role for the arts in our community, both the performance and fine arts.

Which composer or genre of music do you feel you connect with the most?

I would say I’m a fan of the works of Shostakovich, Sibelius, Strauss, and Mahler. Every year at school I would hope for the chance to play in a work by any of these composers.

What is your favorite piece of music, and why do you love it?

By far my favorite piece is Ein Alpensinfonie by Richard Strauss. To me, not only does it represent a journey into the Alpine mountains, but it also represents the journey through life, including the best and worst moments, as well as our youth and old age.

What has been your favorite experience as a musician?

My favorite moment so far has been playing Mahler’s 5th Symphony in October 2019, specifically at the end of the Finale with the return of joyful motive that first appeared in the second movement. At that moment in the performance, hearing the joy and happiness written in that music gave me chills.

Do you have any embarrassing performance stories?

I performed an organ and percussion duo in the spring of 2018. I had to play tubular bells in this performance. On the very last note of the piece, the organ played a D major chord and I played a single D. When played, the chimes decided to give out and the tube’s hanger broke. The next thing I heard was the sound of the tube hitting the ground on its base. My first thought to myself was, “Are you kidding me . . .”, but then I thought, “Well . . . at least it was the last note.”

What is some advice you would give to your younger self?

Never question your resolve to make amazing music. Even at your lowest moment, you are still an incredible musician.

Favorite non-classical musician or band

I’m a fan of Rammstein, a German industrial metal band.

If you could play another instrument, what would it be?

I would love to play the cello. Part of the repertoire that we play as percussionists are works of J.S. Bach for cello, violin and lute. Playing some of his cello pieces opened me up to the expressive range to the cello (despite only playing it on the marimba).

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

I would likely be pursuing a career in the sciences, either medical in immunology, or research in genetics or cellular biology.

What is your favorite place you’ve travelled to and why?

My favorite place I’ve travelled to has to be Germany. I was there for a couple of weeks in the fall during high school. My hope is to go back there during Karnival at some point.