Ryan McAdams, ’00

Orchestral and Opera Conductor


Photo from McAdams

Ryan McAdams, Class of 2000, became a famous conductor after graduating from Juilliard.

As Ryan McAdams finished the last notes of “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin, he stood up and saw the teachers, the band and the people who supported his music throughout his high school years at Clayton. He knew music was right for him.

Having graduated from CHS in 2000, McAdams is now a world-renowned orchestral and opera conductor. He studied piano performance at Indiana Jacobs School of Music and conducting at the Juilliard School.

McAdams was born into a musical family, with his mother as an opera singer at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and his father as a theater director. At CHS, McAdams enjoyed participating in theater and music programs.

“Clayton gave me a tremendous amount of space to pursue [my different interests],” McAdams said.

As a freshman, McAdams loved to hang out with Erik Anthony, the choir teacher of CHS at the time, in the choir room and talk about music.

“He was an extraordinary inspiring force for me. He zeroed in on my talents quickly,” said McAdams. “[Also,] Kelley Ryan cast me in a bunch of musicals, “South Pacific” and “Pajama Game”. That was a fabulous outlet for me.”

Besides music, McAdams also loved history and literature. At CHS, he adored Bill Mickelson, his AP US and European history teacher, and Kathleen Puhr, his AP English teacher.

“[Ms. Puhr] and I would have lunch once a week and talk about music and literature,” said McAdams. “I still have books of hers that she give me that she thought I would love. Clayton High was an amazing place for me.”

In college, McAdams continued to study philosophy and comparative literature as minors.

“I didn’t just want to go into a hole and just study music in a vacuum for the rest of my life,” McAdams said. “I think it was really because of my history and English teachers in Clayton that I realized that I wanted to keep studying literature and be a well rounded human being for the rest of my life.”

McAdams ran the New York Youth Symphony as his first job, and he has continued to work with high school students.

“The best thing that you can do in high school is to not worry that the things that you really like are in any way negative and do your best to find the people in the school that have the same passion,” McAdams said. “If you can find your family, it just allows you to define yourself in such a clear way so that when you go to college and you go out of college and into the workforce, you have a clear idea of who you are, what you love, what you don’t love. The interest, the passion, the talent that you have, that make you feel separate from everyone else, the things that make you feel less part of the Clayton society, uncool, unpopular. Those are the things, four five years later, will be the best and most interesting about you. So whatever is making you feel weird, that is the stuff that will make you attractive four years from now, so cling to it and the people around you who love it.”