Inspiring music alumni: Rick Galyean and Brandon Alford

Alumni Brandon Alford (left) and Rick Galyean (right). Photo by AMK Photography.

The following is a story by Kathy Still, director of News and Media Relations at UVa-Wise, written about two of their alumni who happen to also be Radford University alumni. Because of this connection, we felt the story, though slanted toward UVa-Wise, is worth sharing here.

Compelling and powerful stories unfold when the sons and daughters of UVa-Wise are asked if a member of the faculty or staff significantly touched their lives during the College’s 60-year history.

Nearly all of the 10,000 graduates need no time to search their memories for that particular story. The narrative is always there, and is usually illustrated by a wide smile. The individual stories are touching, but serve as a strong testament of UVa-Wise culture when compiled as a whole.

Alumnus Brandon Alford’s story of how Professor Rick Galyean influenced his life is worthy of a closer look. The story began years before Alford, who recently completed his master’s degree at Radford University, began his undergraduate years in Wise.

Alford was entering eighth grade at Galax High, a new school for him since his parents had recently separated. He learned during the move that his father had played snare drum during his school years. Fascinated by that bit of information, young Alford asked his guidance counselor if there was anyway he could join the marching band. The guidance counselor placed him in a music theory class, which as it turned out, was taught by Rick Galyean.

Galyean made no promises to Alford about joining the band, but he agreed to work with him over the summer. Galyean had no idea that the eager youngster had little chance of joining the percussion section.

“He didn’t have the heart to tell me that I didn’t have rhythm,” Alford fondly recalled. “I asked him about the possibility of playing a wind instrument, and he got me a tuba and told me to take it home and give it a try. Three months later I was named to All-District Band.”

Alford readily admits that he was not the easiest high school student. He would often skip class, but would show up for band. Galyean eventually caught on and had a chat with Alford’s father. The men struck a deal designed to keep the teen in school.

“They decided that Rick would drive me to school each morning and make sure I got there,” Alford said. “It worked for a while, but I’d skip again. Rick never gave up on me.”

Alford’s slew of unexcused absences eventually caught up with him, and he was not allowed to graduate. Galyean tried to encourage the young man to keep going even with the setback.

“He’s been like a dad to me,” Alford said.

Alford, with no high school diploma, landed a job with Rose’s, a local department store, and Galyean entered graduate school at Radford University. Normally, that would have been the last chapter of the story, but not in this tale.

Galyean saw that the band programs at Radford were short on tuba players, so he made another deal with Alford.

“He told me that if I got my GED, I could play tuba with the Radford University band. I got my GED and played in the Radford band for about four years.”

Alford continued his work with Rose’s for 11 years and was eventually promoted to assistant manager. Galyean was hired to help launch the marching band program at UVa-Wise as the music program grew. A new chapter in the story opened.

Galyean found the fledgling marching band lacked players, so he called on Alford to visit and play in a concert.

“He talked me into it,” Alford admits. “I wound up coming here as a student.”

By this time, Alford was a non-traditional student. Galyean still had to stand firm and push Alford on occasion, but he directed the band during Commencement 2012 as Alford received his degree.

“I was often down on myself about my abilities,” Alford said. “I felt like I had lost 10 years of time. I felt I had to compensate for what I saw as my lack of ability, but I’m slowing getting over it.”

Galyean had a major part in helping his realize that he did have the ability to not only get a college degree, but to recognize that he could share those skills with public school students.

“My time at Wise helped me develop what I need to be a good teacher…a good educator,” he said.

Alford followed Galyean’s path to Radford. He received his Master of Arts in Music with a concentration in Instrumental Conducting on May 9. Galyean could not attend Alford’s robing ceremony because the UVa-Wise Commencement was on the same day. He did attend Alford’s final recital.

Alford serves as adjudicator at regional band competitions, and he helps many local band directors with their programs and students. He also set a goal to be a mentor for young students.

“I’m trying to pay it back every day,” he said of Galyean’s mentorship. “I want to be there for someone else like Rick was for me. I want to make up for all the mistakes I’ve made in the past. I didn’t start college until I was about 26 years old,” he said. “It was great to be able to come back to school. I’m 32 now, and I am go glad that I am able to keep being involved with UVa-Wise.”

Courtesy of Kathy Still, UVa-Wise

Mar 2, 2016