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James River High School recording studio upgraded following donation from country music star

Published: Mar. 3, 2021 at 5:27 PM EST
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BUCHANAN, Va. (WDBJ) - The crescendo of a quiet project reached the ears of a famous country musician. Now students at James River High School in Buchanan have the tools to explore music in new ways.

“I come here almost every day and I am starting to bring my friend in here and we start to jam out during lunch,” sophomore Cayden Shorter said.

Students like Shorter and senior Bradley Gunter are filling a room in the high school’s library full of rhythm.

“I’ve started to try and write songs with my friends,” Shorter said.

While the pair does not typically play together, they are both finding a new passion.

“When you’re sitting there and you’re playing something, it makes you feel good that you’re actually getting a song down,” Gunter said.

But the gear and guitars weren’t always there in the library.

Jim McLeese is the school’s librarian. He started finding the resources to make the recording studio a reality several years ago.

When he taught English, he would keep a guitar in his classroom. When he moved to the librarian position, he added a microphone and a basic recording setup to give students new opportunities to get creative.

“I think some kids came to school just so they can play the guitar,” McLeese said.

The single guitar grew and now there are instruments, microphones and a soundboard lining the walls.

“The arts are important to our lives, to society, and what’s the first thing that gets cut when we are having budget issues? This room will never get cut now,” McLeese said.

That security and much of the equipment is thanks to a famous alum from Buchanan.

“As soon as you strum a chord you buzz a little,” country music artist Matthew Ramsey said.

Ramsey is a singer/songwriter for the band Old Dominion. Despite all his success in country music, Ramsey hasn’t forgotten his hometown. He returns home for performances and raises money for his non-profit the Ramsey Foundation.

“I’ve benefited from a supportive community and if I could somehow inject a little fuel into that support for someone else, then it seems like the right thing to do,” Ramsey said.

That fuel was a $50,000 donation to the high school from his foundation. Nearly $20,000 went to beefing up the recording studio.

“The point is that they do get some sort of release when they go in there or they get some sort of comfort by picking up that guitar and strumming a chord, because it can save you,” Ramsey said.

“We need more things in life to make us happy and guitar or drums or any kind of instrument is a tool to help us achieve that,” McLeese said.

McLeese is working with Lee Hartman & Sons to learn the equipment and plans to have it completely up and running at the start of next school year.

For now, students like Shorter and Gunter are playing with the new instruments, excited to continue to use the room in the future.

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