Russell Ronnebaum

Composer and pianist




Russell Ronnebaum, a Kansas native, earned a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from the University of Kansas. He then attended the University of Arizona where he received a Masters Degree in collaborative piano under the guidance of Dr. Paula Fan.

As a collaborative pianist, Russell frequently performs with the T ucson Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and the Tucson Masterworks Chorale. This year he has performance and compositional engagements with Artifact Dance Project and The Rogue Theatre of Tucson . Past engagements have been with reputable Tucson organizations such as Arizona Opera, Arizona Repertory Singers, and Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus .

In 2015, Russell was chosen to be the principa l keyboardist for the American Wind Symphony Orchestra’s annual summer tour. Russell made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2016 performing at the piano with American composer Dan Forrest .

Mr. Ronnebaum recorded and released his first album of concert arrangem ents and original works for piano titled “Winter Scenes” in 2015. Recent commissions and premieres include music for voice, choir, piano, string orchestra, and live theatre.



What does music mean to you personally?

Music (and especially piano) has always been the greatest way I’ve found to express myself. I have many thoughts and visualizations that I just cannot express with words. Music helps bring those ideas to life, and through performance, I’m able to share those thoughts and emotions with listeners.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

For the most part, yes. A lot of my compositions are inspired by stories, visualizations, concepts, collaborations, etc. Music is like a playground...the rules are not set in stone, and they can and should evolve with every performance.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

I would have probably become an American Sign Language interpreter or a network engineer.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

Not at all. I’ve played with symphony orchestras before, and “classical music” music has evolved into today’s world with the incorporation of fine film scores by composers like John Williams (Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc).

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

Music is more accessible now than ever. Streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have ushered in a new era of “on demand” listening. It’s so easy to discover both new and older music.

Do you think that the musician today needs to be more creative? What is the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

I think that musicians today can do whatever they’d please. Thanks to the Internet, we now have access to just about any kind of style of music imaginable. Just like the classical masters (Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, etc) they studied the music of the masters that came before them and ultimately, used that information as a basis for their own compositions. Over time, the composer finds their own voice, and they should concentrate 100% of their effort to figure out what their own individual voice wants to say. The world is a big enough place and they will find an audience for their music. It does oneself a disservice to exclusively imitate others.

Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

I think that performers should do more to actively engage their listeners. This can be easily accomplished by speaking to an audience before beginning a piece, and briefly explain how the music they are about to hear came to be. Conductors do this pretty naturally.

Tell us about your creative process. What is your favorite piece (written by you) and how did you start working on it?

I usually try to find a story, or try to establish a scene. My last album “Winter Scenes” traces the entire season of winter. There’s a first day, many scenes in between, and a last day of winter that ushers in the next season of spring. The album ends triumphantly, because the last day of winter is the coldest, and most threatening to the character, but they survive the worst of it and rejoice in the warming approach of spring. My favorite original work of the album Winter Scenes is “Romance”. I just bought my first grand piano and was messing around on it one day when I found the first three chords. The piece incorporates other original themes from the album and slowly shaped up into its finished product. After finding those first few chords, I realized that this piece would be best played by a string orchestra. So, after the album’s release, I orchestrated and conducted that version.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

Google: “Classical Music”. I just did and links to Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky popped up. Try a lot of different composers out, as well as different ensembles. Some basic classical ensembles are symphonies, piano music, songs, chamber music. If you find a particular classical piece you like, search for it in Spotify or Pandora. Those services are not just for popular music!

Do you think about the audience when composing?

Not usually. Sometimes when I’m playing something really delicate and soft, I’ll tune my ear to the room and assess what they need. Every piano, every room, and every audience will be different from performance to performance. My task is to fill that space with as much intelligible expression as possible.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

I’m branching out a bit. This year I’ve been commissioned to write music for Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. There will be some songs, as well as improvisatory underscoring. The whole endeavor will be very experimental because you just never know what a director is going to ask for or if you’ll have to change some of the music on the fly.