With a wild mind, an impassioned spirit, and a wide open heart on his sleeve, 24-year old Chris Keller summons up a whirlwind of creative energy. This dynamic teacher uses that force to cut a path for his students to follow that leads them to a stronger voice, rich in artistry and technically unshakable.
At the age of six the native of Pekin, Ill. was introduced to music through piano lessons at the request of his mom. It wasn’t long before those lessons began to take root and bear fruit.
“I remember sitting at the piano as a child, pounding out what I heard,” he said. One of his earliest memories is seeing the movie Aladdin and then trying to play all of the songs from the film’s score.
“I’d try to make the songs as close to the original as possible. I’d get the gist of it just enough so I could reproduce it,” he laughed. So at the ripe young age of eight or nine, Chris had already learned how to take a song to heart and make it his own. But it wasn’t until he was 16 years old that he began to find his voice as a singer.
“I’ve always been a late bloomer,” he said. “I really didn’t think I could sing until I started getting compliments from classmates; and then, it all kinda clicked.”
Discovering his voice led to a summer job at a music store when he was 18. He then started teaching piano and voice to make some extra money. Two years of college in Illinois led to another key step.
“I knew I didn’t want to be a music major really. I was also interested in recording and engineering,” Chris said. “There were two schools in Illinois that offered programs in recording and two in Tennessee. I decided to go to MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University).”
Chris admits that the southern exposure was a bit of a culture shock, but the move of shaking things up and taking a few hard knocks was another key life lesson.
“You have to get out of your comfort zone so you can grow,” Chris said. Now he knew that hard knocks open doors. One of those doors was life-changing. That door was opened by Brett Manning who became his mentor and friend.
“Brett knocked me down a few pegs so I’d have to work my way back up artistically,” the humble student said. “He told me that I sang too well, and I needed to focus on other things in my voice like pushing consonants, getting up to notes properly, compressing a word to make it more meaningful or stand out.”
It was his work with Manning that led to another turning point. Chris wanted to be able to move the master to tears and goosebumps with his voice. But in order to do that he had to move himself.
“I wrote a song about my grandfather and the last time I saw him before he died,” Chris said. “I was holding his hand when he was dying. I went back to that moment in time. I had to be clearheaded so I could connect with the emotions.”
He took the song to Manning and performed it. By the end of the song Manning was moved to tears, as was Chris. “My hand was shaking really bad as I got to the end of the song,” Chris said as the goosebumps returned. “It was the first time I realized what being an artist is all about.”
Chris Keller looks for the unexpected in his students. He works to bring them to those goosebump moments that lead to true artistry and deepen the connection between singer and song.
“I want to make each student a better singer, a better artist,” he said. “I want them to pull people into the music and turn a song into something that’s fun to sing. I want people to enjoy singing because they’re really good at it.”
He works patiently to push his students to breakthroughs and to heighten their journeys through the plateaus. “Some people have good voices but struggle with technique,” he said. “Some are truly gifted singers but technique can make them even better. Technique gives you tools to enhance performance.”
There are a few things Chris asks of each student who walks through his studio door or buys the Singing Success DVD’s. “Have an open mind and relax,” he said. “There’s nobody you have to impress. Don’t think too much because it’ll only complicate things. My goal is to make you a better singer. So don’t hold back. Show me what you’ve got, and we’ll work on it.”
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