Aaron Ragsdale is Associate Professor of Music and Director of Percussion at South Dakota State University, where he teaches applied percussion and percussion pedagogy, conducts the SDSU Percussion Ensemble, and serves as Assistant Director with the Pride of the Dakotas Marching Band. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he is an active performer as a soloist, chamber musician, and member of the South Dakota Symphony. Aaron holds a DMA from Rutgers University, a Master of Music degree from the University of Arkansas, and a BME from the University of Oklahoma.
Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a university percussion professor, what career could you see yourself having pursued?
Aaron Ragsdale: Coming into college, I had a variety of interests including creative writing, American history, and theatre/acting. I even won a statewide award as a playwright when I was in high school. But the career I think about as another I would have liked to go into would be sports journalism and broadcasting. I love the idea of making a living watching and commenting on the world of sports, both of which are things I do constantly anyway, as anyone who has had to watch sports on TV with me knows. I also enjoy collecting cookbooks, watching all the kitchen challenge-style shows and Jon Favreau’s Chef series on Netflix, and listening to the David Chang podcast. I’d love to have a BBQ joint like Aaron Franklin’s.
R!S: What's one thing in your institution or city/town (other than your school of music or music department) that you are proud to tell people about?
AR: Brookings is a terrific college town and a great place to live. We were just named the seventh most arts-vibrant, small-sized community in America and recently gained our second straight perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. When people come to visit, I want to be sure they get to Nick’s Hamburgers and to our SDSU Dairy Bar for the ice cream that we make on campus. SDSU even lays claim to being the place that created Cookies and Cream ice cream!
R!S: What's one thing about you that your students would unanimously proclaim?
AR: My students aren’t unanimous about very much, but I think they’d be in agreement that, no matter what they’re working on in lessons, there’s always a story for it, and that I like to celebrate their successes a lot; my favorite way to do that is with food. Whether it means a drumline cookout in the middle of marching season, our end-of-the-fall-semester cookie party, or the year-end BBQ, we do a lot of scheduling around meals.
R!S: What is your all-time favorite album and why?
AR: The first album I clearly remember making a big impression on me was Paul Simon’s Graceland. I was caught up in the uniqueness of the backing band, the sound of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and how different the music sounded from what else I was hearing. It didn’t hurt that the music video for “You Can Call Me Al” featured Chevy Chase, either. Growing up, our house watched a lot of his movies. That album and Rhythm of the Saints are two that I can, and do, go back to often, and they still work for me just like they did 30(?!) years ago.
R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?
AR: I grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, up in the northwest corner of the state and the home of the Razorbacks. The most interesting thing about my childhood is probably how musical it was. I made my semi-professional orchestra debut as a sixth-grader playing triangle on “Also Sprach Zarathustra” with the Arkansas Music Festival Orchestra and haven’t really looked back!