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Professor Keith Critcher helps give students “the keys” to musical success

11.01.2023 | By: Valerie Spears
Keith Critcher sits at a piano and smiles

Seated gracefully at the piano, Keith Critcher’s fingers glide effortlessly over the keys as he plays masterfullly with a student singing or playing their instrument. Critcher conveys a profound connection to the music with closed eyes and a furrowed brow, his body swaying in harmony with the rhythm. The room resonates with the rich, emotive tones while his foot taps softly on the pedal, controlling the sustain and adding depth to the music. As the final notes linger, his mastery leaves the room in hushed awe, a testament to the power of his skill and the intimate dialogue he shares with the piano. 

Critcher has delighted the campus with his artistry at various events since 2005. From graduation ceremonies to the President’s Honors Concert and more, Critcher spends endless hours tickling the ivories alongside students and faculty, bringing the campus to life through music.  

Beyond being the university’s collaborative pianist, he is also Vocal Area Coordinator and Instructor of Chamber Piano and the Music and Worship course. He says that the job's most rewarding part is watching the students grow in their musical talents and careers. 

“It's just amazing to see their journey in just four years,” he said. “During their time here, you work with each student and see them grow in their musicianship from freshman to seniors. Then, years later, it is rewarding to see these students being skilled music educators or career singers. That is the great joy of working here!” 

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Like many musicians, Critcher grew up loving and playing music. He began playing piano at a very early age and started formal lessons in third grade. Before learning to read music, his mother would draw the Sacred Harp shaped notes for him to play gospel hymns.

“Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, it was maybe not the coolest thing in the '60s and '70s for a guy to be playing piano,” he laughed. “Being a skinny, fast runner, I actually played a bit of sports in Jr. High.” 

However, he decided to persist in his music throughout high school and then received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. He described the feeling of having a family while getting his music degree and says that it is the same kind of feeling he wants students at Texas Wesleyan to share.  

“What the students experience here is a family... and it's just such an encouraging part of your whole life. You begin to see a new vision of ‘This is what I love to do. And this is how I want to make a difference in the world and through my career,’” he said. 

During his career, Critcher has been a musician and a music director in churches and has also been the musical director for multiple musical theater productions in DFW. He’s been to Edinburgh, Scotland as part of the Fringe Festival and went to Vancouver to perform with a baritone soloist for the National College Music Society Convention. 

“My favorite thing about playing is the thrill of making sounds turn into music from seeing what's printed on the page, a bunch of black notes, come to life,” he said. “I think one of the most exciting music experiences was being hired to play with the Dallas Summer Musicals  Broadway cast of "My Fair Lady," a production where they had two pianos instead of an orchestra in the pit. Along with many other wonderful experiences, this was memorable.”  

He encourages his students by having them think about being a musician as an athlete — it takes practice, dedication and a willingness to learn and not be afraid of making mistakes. 

“Whatever level we are, we constantly try to improve ourselves — no one reaches perfection. What we are looking for in a student is dedication, that they apply themselves. I think part of developing a student's skill is not just the technique — it's the joy, it's the love of the music,” he said. “I'm there to encourage them to show them the passion, the love for what they're doing and what they're reading off the score to create beautiful music.” 

Critcher says he loves teaching and playing at Texas Wesleyan because the smaller class sizes allow him to devote more time and attention to each student.  

“I truly believe in Texas Wesleyan’s model of Smaller. Smarter.,” he said. “I've been in larger universities with hundreds of music majors. But when you have a small group of students that you can concentrate on, there's no question they get your immediate attention.”  

Critcher is not just a pianist and educator but a charismatic mentor whose warmth and love for music inspire new generations. His journey, from the mountains to international stages, and ultimately to Texas Wesleyan, embodies the spirit of the RAMily. In this close-knit community, music, passion, and mentorship converge in perfect harmony.