University of Florida student composer scores his own destiny
June 10, 2019
GAINESVILLE — Jordan Alexander Key sat in composer Jack Gallagher’s office in his first week at the College of Wooster in Ohio. Key had chosen music composition over a promising career in physics and Gallagher wanted to make sure he knew exactly what he was in for.
“I make sure to have that talk with every student of mine, so they know how hard it will be,” Gallagher said. “I have to say Jordan took it to heart more than most composers I speak to do. I knew early on that he was going to do well.”
Since that first talk with Gallagher, Key’s career as a composer has taken him from his hometown in Roanoke, Virginia, to Ohio, Arizona and now to Gainesville, where he’s pursuing a doctorate in composition at the University of Florida.
“I had self-taught myself some stuff before, but (Wooster) was the first time stepping into that world formally,” Key said. “After that talk, I was all in, and I haven’t really regretted it since.”
At UF, he found success using the school’s connections to land frequent performances — most recently on May 18 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where his music was played live in the ballet “To Say Pi.”
Key’s interest in music spawned early in his life after he began fiddling with the piano in his family home and took lessons. He fell in love with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and learned to play the pipe organ and bagpipes. He eventually became the drum major in his high school’s marching band and began to write his own music.
Along with his musical flair, Key had a talent for mathematics and physics throughout high school but put that on the back burner in college.
“I think my parents thought it was going to be a no-brainer, and that I was going to choose the physics road,” he said. “When I didn’t, there was some concern at the beginning, but it was okay . . . They accepted it and haven’t looked back.”
At the College of Wooster, Key was taught the rules of composition and music as well as how to creatively break them to form his own style. He’s been told by performers that his style is difficult to perform and, because of that, he didn’t have much of a portfolio when he began applying for graduate school.
Key was rejected by almost every school he applied to before he was finally accepted to the University of Arizona for his master’s degree and, eventually, UF for his doctorate in composition, where he has found more interests besides music on the stage.
He has begun research on early classical music as well as teaching undergraduates in music courses and “What is the Good Life?” a course that uses works of art, music, literature, history, religion and philosophy to help students consider what makes a fulfilling life.
Key manages his time between working on his pieces, his research and his blog, “The Neglected Composer,” which introduces readers to unrecognized composers as he hopes to broaden the horizons of anyone who will listen.
Key, now 28, said he wants to continue to teach students about the world of music. He has begun plans with his partner, Jason Johnson, a graduate student at UF in mathematics, to build a private school in Gainesville that uses both of their talents to give kids a better education in a place where they feel it is lacking.
“Jordan has always been one of the hardest-working and driven people I know,” Johnson said. “But he has really become much more confident in the stuff he puts out and the things he does in his life and for others. It’s really been something to see.”