Alumni Spotlight: Ryan Kehn

Blue Knights Alum, Ryan Kehn, recently had the challenge of being in the director’s chair for the production of Super Bowl 51!!

We took a few moments with this remarkable alumni to ask him some questions:

What year(s) did you march in the Blue Knights?

2002, 2004, 2005

What section?

Soprano, Trumpet, and aged-out as a Drum Major.

Where did you attend high school?

Monarch High School in Louisville, CO (Go Coyotes!).

Education beyond high school?

Graduated with a Bachelor’s in Music and a concentration in Computer-Mediated Communication from Colorado State University in 2008.

What is your current occupation?

Currently the Creative Director for VWSE Productions, a live-sports event production company.

Why did you choose to march with the Blue Knights?

I chose to audition for the Blue Knights because they were the home team (I’m a Colorado native). Truth be told, I didn’t know much about drum corps when I auditioned other than what I saw in one PBS broadcast of Finals in 2000 and circling up to watch a few Finals tapes (yes…VHS) in the band room. My band director marched with the Blue Devils in ’76 and was a big drum corps proponent, so when a few of us showed interest, he encouraged us to audition.

What is your favorite drum corps memory?

My favorite drum corps memory probably sounds a bit cliché, but our rehearsal on finals day of my age-out year is unforgettable. For three years, the goal always was to “peak” at the right time, always get better and do your best to beat Mark Arnold’s famed learning curve. Finals day of ’05 we peaked. There was a strange calm over everyone that morning, a calm that almost felt like a lack of energy or focus, but I honestly think everyone was just relaxed. As the drum major, it made me really nervous as we walked to the rehearsal field down the street. Today was not the day to let our guard down!!! From the moment we took the field, it was clear that I had nothing to worry about. The hornline played as if possessed…every lick was tight and I don’t know where they found the extra 10db that day, but it put a nice coat of mustard on the big moment. When we ran the impact moment at page 83 in the closer, it blew my hair back on the podium, chills ran down my spine and I was overcome with emotion. I remember Matt Taylor coming to the base of the podium, trying to contain a huge grin, and saying “no matter what happens tonight, especially if it’s something like that, you’ve gotta stay in control”. He smiled and walked away clapping.

How have the Blue Knights impacted your life?

The Blue Knights are, unequivocally, the reason why I am where I am today. I grew so much as a member of the corps and was constantly pushed to grow. After I aged out, I was left with a huge void and wasn’t sure how to fill it. I struggled with depression that year and was frustrated in school pursuing a degree that I didn’t want as a career, but didn’t know what else to do. I had tried to stay involved with the corps but was overwhelmed with my struggles in school and sort of fell off the map. One day, out of the blue, I got a call from Rosalie. She was simply calling to check-in, was worried that they hadn’t heard from me, and told me I should come to the next camp. So I did.

That visit changed the course of my life. Mark and I talked and he mentioned that he was looking for someone to go on the road that summer and create video content for the web. I had just completed an education technology course and had gotten my fingers wet with Windows Movie Maker (big-time production chops right there) and had enjoyed it, so I tricked Mark into thinking that I could handle the role, and he signed me up to go back on tour. Long story short…that led to tricking Mark (again) into thinking that I could build some graphics for the Video Board at Mile High Stadium for Drums Along the Rockies last year, which led to an internship with the Broncos, and eventually a full-time position with them, and now I get to be a part of some of the largest sporting events in the world!!

What are some the Blue Knights’ core values/principles that have resonated with you in life?

I poked fun earlier, but Mark’s “Learning Curve” talk has always stuck with me. Remembering to keep your foot on the gas pedal even when it feels like you’re not going anywhere is probably the one lesson that engrained itself more than anything.

You’ve recently had the challenge of being in the director’s chair for the production of Super Bowl 51 — tell us how you came about this unique and exciting opportunity!

The company I work for specializes in producing live shows for in-venue video displays (Jumbotrons) for sporting events around the world and one of our marquis gigs for the past 30 years has been the Super Bowl. Think of it this way, when you go to a game, everything on the big screens is us. It’s just like a TV show, without as many talking heads.

My first Super Bowl with the company was XLVIII (48) in New York…for those Broncos fans reading, that’s all we’ll say about that…I’ve been a part of the Super Bowl/NFL team for the past 4 years, producing events for everything from kickoff concerts, to games in London, the Hall of Fame and of course the big one in February. Our team restructured a bit this past year and I was honored to be given the privilege of playing the role of director for the first time at that event. It’s an enormous responsibility and honor and so far I haven’t been told to take a hike, so I guess it went alright…other than the Patriot’s winning! Sorry, couldn’t do anything about that!

What about the Blue Knights prepared you for this moment of directing/producing an event — where so many people were watching and the pressure was quite intense?

I can’t think of many things better to prepare someone for a role like this other than Drum Corps. In many respects, it’s no different from stepping onto the field in front of 20,000 people, all eyes on you. It comes down to sticking to what you know. Prepare diligently.  Know your show. March/Call your show. Follow the charts/script and do what you know how to do. Don’t be a hero…heroes miss the release.

The night before a big show, I sit in my hotel room and with my script, make my notes and run through it in my head, chunk-by-chunk. If I can’t give my cues to myself in the mirror, I don’t feel confident giving them through a headset when the lights go on and everyone’s paying attention.

What advice would you tell someone considering trying out for the Blue Knights?

Do it, and put your whole heart into it. This activity gives back to you what you put into. My rookie year I was a shy, stubborn introvert who was afraid of change and just wanted to go home and be with his girlfriend, and undoubtedly I missed out on a lot of the experience. It wasn’t until taking a year off that I realized how much I enjoyed most of it actually, but I let the struggles define my experience, and retreated into a shell.

Drum Corps will push you, bend you, sometimes may even break you, but if you keep your head up and fight back when it gets tough, rely on the team/friends/family around you and approach it with the mentality that you’re going win that day, then you will, and you’ll walk away with an experience that’s impossible to replicate anywhere else.

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