Clarke County Singers Score Big Apple Gig

High School Chamber Choir Invited to Perform in National Festival in New York City.

By Wendy Kedzierski

Dr. Ryan Keebaugh directs the CCHS Chamber Choir - Photo Wendy Kedzierski

The Clarke County High School Chamber Choir has its sights set on performing in New York City and thanks in part to Dr. Jesse Hopkins, esteemed music department chair at Bridgewater College who sings the choir’s praises, they’re on their way. The 25-member group under the direction of Dr. Ryan Keebaugh, has received a prestigious invitation to participate in the 2012 National Festival of the States Concert Series.

“The Clarke County choir is doing great works, original music by Dr. Keebaugh, and novel pieces, and they are doing them with impressive energy and enthusiasm,” says Hopkins, who has heard the choir perform in Berryville, as well as at Bridgewater College. So when the organizers of the festival asked him to recommend a choral group from Virginia based on first-hand knowledge of the conductor and ensemble, Hopkins was confident in nominating the Clarke County Chamber Choir.

The annual National Festival of the States features performing groups from each of the 50 states selected on the basis of recommendation from state and national music educators, governors, senators, congressional representatives and/or by audition. Hopkins believes the festival would be a wonderful opportunity for Clarke County’s choir. “They are excited and serious about what they’re doing, and it seems to me, another goal would be a grand thing for them.”

But there’s a hurdle for the group to overcome: a matter of money. $20,000 is the estimated cost of the trip which includes four days performing venues ranging in location from standard public stages to auditoriums, exchange concerts, churches and memorials. Keebaugh says the Choir will be looking to perform at St. Paul’s Chapel by Ground Zero, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, historic South Street Seaport and The United Nations Building.

Another $2,000 needs to be raised for appropriate dress. The choir’s current performance attire consists of plain colored T-shirts, jeans and “chucks” (Converse tennis shoes). Keebaugh insists that his group’s “uniform” is pre-Glee, not inspired by the hit television series based on a high school glee club. Rather, he says, the clothes his students wear are necessary because the tuxedos and dresses that were purchased years ago have been altered so often, they have been rendered impractical. “We tried to use the old tuxes, but I found myself fixing torn hems before every performance. It became ridiculous.”

A major fundraising campaign has been launched which will keep the group busy for the next year striving to make each deadline for payment installments. “The choir wants to do it and they’ve agreed to take on the fundraising,” says Keebaugh.

Plans include the standard moneymaking enterprises: car washes, pizza and candy sales. But a major event is in the works for this fall which will be unveiled as details are finalized. In the meantime, students are committed to continuing working toward their Big Apple dream.

And why New York City? “The opportunity to perform in prestigious venues and in a mode that they simply can’t replicate because of the settings, numbers, etc. is one reason,” says Hopkins. “Interacting with other singers is a great thing for the students. Typically, the conductor finds validation – the students realize the expertise of their conductor, even though he or she has not gained the stature of festival leaders.”

To listen to the Clarke County Chamber Choir perform locally, Keebaugh invites the public to a May 25 concert at 7 p.m. at Johnson-Williams Middle School in Berryville. He also accepts invitations from local organizations that would like to host the CCHS Chamber Choir.

Donations can be sent to CCHS c/o Ryan Keebaugh, 240 Westwood Rd., Berryville, VA 22611. Checks should be made payable to CCHS, “Chamber Choir” can be written on the memo line.

Master Musician Leads Small Town Students in Song

Dr. Keebaugh - Photo Wendy Kedzierski

“There are few high school choirs which have a published composer with a doctorate degree as their conductor,” says Dr. Jesse Hopkins, Music Department Chair and Distinguished Professor of Music at Bridgewater College.

But Dr. Ryan Keebaugh, Director of Choral Activities for Clarke County Schools, is exceptional and driven – and expects the same from his students. Keebaugh’s degrees include a B.A. from Bridgewater (where he was a student of Dr. Hopkins), a Master of Music degree from Shenandoah University and a Doctorate of Musical Arts from The Catholic University of America. And while Clarke County students and parents may be aware that Keebaugh’s marching band compositions are actively performed by numerous high schools (including Clarke), most locals are unaware of his many other commissions.

Keebaugh has worked and collaborated with visual artists, dancers, actors and film directors across the east coast and has held residency at the Wildacres Artist Colony. He is the 2010-2011 artist-in-residence with Winchester Musica Viva.

In 2008, he received a commission from The Catholic University of America’s President’s Festival of the Arts: Playing, Singing, Talking Wilder to compose new incidental music for the production of Thornton Wilder’s Mozart and the Grey Steward. That same year he received an additional commission from The Catholic University to compose the opening fanfare for the annual Christmas Concert for Charity held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The work was premiered by the CUA University Chorus and was televised worldwide on EWTN-TV (a global Catholic television network).

Recent premieres include stilLness for double choir, by Millbrook High School; the last words for choir, violin and piano by the Winchester Musica Viva; and Shards for piano by Scot Hawkins (a Maryland pianist and teacher).

Referring to Keebaugh as initially “an accomplished instrumentalist,” Hopkins recalls witnessing his former student’s musical growth. “In college, he was much taken with significant choral pieces, developed an impressive and fluid conducting, and stood out among his peers. He loves making music, but more than that, his greater joy has become leading the Clarke County students to fall in love with music.”


  1. Robin Braithwaite says:

    Ryan Keebaugh is such an asset to our high school and our community! My daughter sings in this choir, and I urge everyone in Clarke to support “Keebs” and the amazing work he is doing with these kids!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Wow! Congratulations to Dr. Keebaugh and his choir. It is truly amazing to hear them perform. This is quite an honor and one they definitely deserve. This is one more example of how our students and staff are doing great things in spite of the difficult times.

  3. What “Keebs” has done during his short tenure is nothing short of AMAZING!! He is truly an asset to the High School.

  4. Alecia Schulz says:

    So glad the choir has this opportunity! I had Keebs his first two years of teaching and he is exactly what this choir needs. I can’t wait to see what else they accomplish while he teaches them.

  5. CCHS Graduate says:

    “Keebs” is the best thing that has ever happened to the CCHS choral department. Congrats to the CCHS Choir! I know you all under the direction of Dr. Keebaugh will continue to do great things!

  6. Tina Johnston says:

    Dr. Keebaugh is truly a gem. He inspires our children and teaches with incredible enthusiasm and energy! We are fortunate to have such a talented musician and dedicated teacher in our music program!

    Congratulations to Dr. Keebaugh and the Clarke County Chorus!