MEET OUR STUDENTS: Geoffrey Keitel: From the Mountains of Appalachia to Rhode Island College

RIC student Geoffrey Keitel comes from “the middle of nowhere,” he said. He was raised in northern New Jersey at the tip of the Ramapo Mountains, a forested chain in Appalachia. “It’s a small, home-values kind of place,” he said. It’s also the place where he found his voice.

Keitel, who favors thick black-framed glasses, blond hair from a bottle and black tennis shoes, is a choral singer. He began as a member of his church choir at age six. Later, he joined the middle school choir and by seventh grade, his ambition was to become a choral conductor. It was his teacher, he said, who modeled his future career.

“She was a music major right out of college, and I thought she was the coolest person I had ever met in my life,” he said. “I was amazed at how much she knew about music. She would say all these amazing things to me. She would teach me more about music outside of class than she would teach in class. She taught me basic theory and how to sing. I remember a specific conversation we had after choir rehearsal when I asked her what she had majored in in college. She said music education, and she talked about my options. I just knew that that was what I wanted to do.”

Keitel applied to Rhode Island College, upon the urging of a high school friend who had already been admitted. Though the friend would later drop out to join the Marines, Keitel would find in RIC’s music department all the familiarity of home.

“The first friends I made, I met through Dr. Coffman,” he said. Teresa Coffman is professor of music and conductor of the RIC Chorus. “She phoned one of the chorus upperclassmen and said, ‘Hang out with Geoff. Get to know him. Make him feel welcome in the department.”

“Dr. Coffman comes from Arkansas and has this cool Southern accent,” Keitel said. “She’ll come into chorus rehearsal and greet us with ‘Hi ya’ll.’ She’s also insanely busy, yet always finds time for the students.”

Coffman helped him obtain various paid positions, including section leader of the Junior Providence Singers, choral teacher at a Cranston elementary school, vocal clinician at Barrington Christian Academy and choral conductor at the Robert J. Coelho Middle School in Attleboro.

Keitel spoke about the life-changing world experiences that Coffman also exposed him to. Every two years, she takes the RIC Chorus on an eight-day concert tour abroad. In his freshman year, Keitel traveled to Ireland.

“Ireland was my first experience outside of the country,” he said, “and our touring schedule was vigorous. There was a 7 a.m. wake-up call, 8 a.m. breakfast and 9 a.m. departure. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., we went sightseeing with a tour guide, and in the evening we performed at various churches, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.”

The RIC Chorus also took part in the first inaugural Mayo International Choral Festival in Ireland. Choirs from all over Europe came to take part, including the Berlin National Cathedral Choir. “That trip made a lasting impact on me,” Keitel said. He is now considering applying to graduate school in Europe.

In the spring of 2014 the chorus will tour Germany and Prague. Keitel said he is particularly looking forward to this trip because he is 75 percent German and has made plans to visit a second cousin. He admits his journeys have taken him a long way from Appalachia.

“In my sophomore year at RIC, I Facebooked my friend from my hometown to thank him,“ he said. “I told him I wouldn’t have found RIC if it hadn’t been for him.”