VMI AFROTC Officer is Accomplished Pianist

Lt. Col. Michael “Keystone” Rose during his time touring with Tops in Blue, the Air Force’s Las Vegas-style entertainment group. -Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Michael “Keystone” Rose.

LEXINGTON, Va. March 13, 2023 — Growing up in Nashville, Lt. Col. Michael “Keystone” Rose, director of operations of the Air Force ROTC detachment at Virginia Military Institute, and pilot with over 1,200 combat flight hours, was naturally exposed to music. Being raised in the Music City may not necessarily guarantee proficiency in a musical instrument, but when your mother is also a piano teacher, it is almost assured.  

Rose’s mother, a very accomplished life-long piano player and instructor, taught all nine of her children, as well as neighborhood children. Rose began his lessons at the tender age of five. “I, and maybe two or three of my siblings have continued to play, and are teaching our children how to play as well,” said Rose.

Like any typical piano student, as Rose reached his teenage years, sports, scouting, and other community organizations took time away from his piano studies. “Your time starts running thin. From eighth grade through high school, I was really involved in athletics, so I wasn't as dedicated to piano as I had been. However, I still continued to learn from my mom, memorize pieces, and even perform in public. Unfortunately, there was a period of about eight years after I left for college and through pilot training, that I rarely ever played,” he said.  

At one point in his youth, Rose studied music theory from Dan Truman, the keyboardist of Diamond Rio, a Grammy Award winning country music band founded in Nashville. “Having those lessons provided the basis for a lot of the compositions and arrangements that I create now,” stated Rose. 

Rose does not have a favorite kind of music. He likes all music, especially if it lends itself to be to played aggressively and passionately. “A lot of classical music can be played aggressively, and I enjoy that. I like a lot of rock too, to the extent that I can take a piece of rock music and create an arrangement of it for piano. That's very satisfying to me. I like and appreciate a lot of different styles of music, as long as it has a thumping bass, a good beat, and movement. I love making my fingers move,” he explained. Rose is currently focusing a lot of study on boogie woogie and jazz methods.  

Pianists Rose admires include Jon Schmidt, who had a solo career, but now plays with the Piano Guys, as well as British star, Elton John. “I find it interesting how he layers his chords and structures his songs. I've always been interested in songwriting and chord progression. Other than those two, I don’t not necessarily have a particular favorite composer. If there's a piece I like by Bach, Beethoven, Jerry Lee Lewis, or a pop artist, I will play it, sometimes by ear and sometimes with sheet music, then write my own rendition of it,” he said. 
Rose has performed in bands in the past, and for 10 months, toured with the Air Force’s Las Vegas-style entertainment group called, Tops in Blue. The group entertained troops and their families around the world. Now when Rose performs, he does so for community events or church meetings where they need a special musical number. “I often play pieces that I’ve written, or maybe a variation of a hymn. I sometimes accompany other musicians,” he said. 

Rose has deployed many times throughout his military career, providing air support during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Inherent Resolve, and Operation Freedom Sentinel. “Sometimes I’d deploy and there wouldn’t be any available keyboard or piano, and I’d have to stop practicing for the length of my deployment. Other times I’d deploy and the morale center on base would have keyboards and other instruments on hand to play. I remember one deployment, every night after my work shift, I would go back and play for a couple hours, and there was an entire band PA system set up in the room. Sometimes drummers would come in and play with me, sometimes guitarists would come in, sometimes I jumped on the drums. I would spend hours either practicing or playing with other musicians,” he reminisced fondly.

Rose confesses that he doesn’t always have the time to practice while at home. With six school-age children, a full-time job, and other community obligations, he finds himself on the piano bench only a couple of times a week. He hopes to pass his passion of music on to his children. “They are into a lot of other things, and right now don't appreciate music as much as I do. I've given them lessons for the past five years, and some of them are pretty good. They could be good musicians, if they kept at it, and if we had regular lessons. Instead, they are content to listen and sing along to their favorite songs on our Alexa,” he quipped. 

Rose firmly believes in developing and sharing talents. “I try my best to share my talent with others, because music makes people happy—it speaks to people in ways that words sometimes can’t. I never turn away opportunities to play if I'm available.”  

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Marianne Hause
Communications & Marketing

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