Nathan Kniffen (Art & Music)
Photograph Ray J. Gadd
School: Wood River High School
Pets: A Golden Retriever named Elvis
Groups: Sun Valley Summer Symphony, The B Tones and many others
Styles: Classical vocal training, guitar, bass, percussion and piano
Ketchum’s Nathan Kniffen is something of a musical prodigy, though he’d probably cringe at the use of the word. Nathan’s one of those people who found his gift early in life, embracing and enjoying it for its own sake. He’s a vocal student and musician, and participates in almost a dozen different musical programs and groups.
How did you get into singing? Was there one breakthrough moment or did it develop over time?
In the second grade, the school district gave a musical aptitude test and I scored in the 99th percentile—the highest in the district. From there I started slowly. I sang in the choir and experimented with some instruments. Then in sixth grade, I took up the guitar and drums at the same time. That’s when it really took off. I taught myself bass and took up piano lessons. In my freshman year, I jumped into singing with R.L. (R.L. Rowsey, School of Music Artistic Director) and joined the B Tones. Now I’m also in an all-men’s singing group. I’m in a total of 11 different groups.
Wow, how do you do it all?
It’s a lot of juggling. I focus on whatever group has the next performance.
Which discipline is your favorite?
Guitar is my specialty. I’ve taken to that the most. But it’s hard to compare to say Drum Line, where I ‘m the captain. I play the snare drum. It’s different instrumentation so it’s difficult to make a comparison. And a vocal performance is a much different sensation than a guitar performance.
Can you describe the sensation you get from vocal performing?
Any instrument can show emotion to an audience. More than anything, singing does that. You’re speaking the music. It’s a lot more intimate; it’s you—you are the instrument. It’s the most personalized. Growing up and watching videos of Metallica and Led Zeppelin, guitar for me is more about feeling like a rock star. It’s exciting. It’s fast. It’s in your face.
Who inspired you?
My father has a huge passion for music. His knowledge of musical history and music theory is all self taught. He may not know the correct terminology, but I can have a conversation with him about serious music. My first teacher, Hart Gibson, really got the ball rolling. But I’ve really gotten the most from R.L. It’s been a true honor to work with him.
So do you sing in the shower?
No, I’m not a shower singer. I mean there’s nothing wrong with it. I just wake up really early. I have really early rehearsals. I can’t wake up my parents.
Favorite thing to do when you’re not singing and or playing music?
When I have time free, which isn’t a lot, I like reading and learning. I’m naturally really curious.
Who’s your favorite singer or musician?
I have a lot of influences. Overall, I’m a big Elton John fan. He has it all—an incredible voice with its own essence, stage presence, all of it. When he goes off on the piano, it’s just amazing.
What’s your favorite movie?
Indiana Jones, the series. It’s such a unique, peculiar sort of idea. An archeologist with a whip; it’s just so cool.
Where would you most like to visit?
There are so many places. I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt. History fascinates me. Hopefully things there will get better there.
If I were president for the day, I would...
I wouldn’t necessarily propose any sort of policy. I would frankly tell both parties in congress to suck it up and work together to do something for the country other than annoy us with their arguing.