Jake Ritchey (‘15) is an alumnus of Lancaster Bible College who holds a degree in instrumental music performance – and he’s been keeping himself quite busy since graduation! We caught up with him to talk about life as musician, touring with legendary rock ‘n roll singer Chubby Checker, and his role at Lancaster county’s own American Music Theatre.
1. What did you do following graduation?
I went to West Chester University to work on a master’s degree in percussion performance. God opened up the door for me to go to WCU with a graduate assistant scholarship. This, along with some other considerations, gave me confidence with the idea that God was leading me in this direction. When I graduated in 2017, I got married to the most incredible girl, Priscilla, and started touring with Chubby Checker. Both of these events continued to show me God’s provision and hand in the career he had set before me. I recently got hired at American Music Theater and have been blessed to continue working with Chubby as well.
2. How did you end up touring with Chubby Checker? How long were you on tour?
My drum teacher at Lancaster Bible College, Gabriel Staznik, held the job while I was studying with him. When I graduated, Gabe was moving on from playing with Chubby and suggested that I take the audition. He helped me get prepared and put me in a position to succeed. I’ve been playing with Chubby since December 2016! He doesn’t go out for long periods of time, so it’s mostly extended weekend gigs.
3. What was it like working alongside Chubby Checker?
It has been pretty surreal. I am slightly embarrassed to say that I didn’t know who Chubby was when I auditioned for him – obviously, I wised up pretty quickly once I took the time to do my research and saw how many people came out to see him every night. I feel very grateful to have such an experiential music history lesson. Playing with Chubby has certainly sharpened my playing, but it has also given me a first-hand taste of what really goes into a touring musician’s life. It’s easy for people to see the glamour and excitement of playing a show, but most of a touring musician’s job is learning how to be professional and adaptable off the stage and in-between the planes, buses, trains, hotels, taxis and miscellaneous down time. Chubby has been doing this for 60+ years, so he knows what he wants and is very adept at putting on an entertaining show. He expects the best out of us and accepts nothing less. He has given me valuable advice and confidence, and for that I’m extremely grateful.
4. Any fun stories from the road you’d like to share? Did he pass along any words of advice to you?
The travel is certainly one of my favorite parts of the gig. I’ve seen a lot of the U.S. and the Caribbean playing with Chubby, and it’s still hard to believe I’ve been able to visit some of the places I have. A few of my favorite memories include skiing in Park City, UT, driving 40+ hours to El Paso, Texas, seeing crystal blue water for the first time and cliff jumping in the Caribbean, hearing Chubby’s stories about in-person interactions with Elvis, getting to share the stage with one of my favorite drummers (Steve Jordan), playing with Charlie Thomas and the Drifters, and getting to drive Chubby’s tour bus. I’m so thankful because in all of this I’ve seen God work in crazy ways, beyond what I could even imagine. My continuing prayer is that God will use me for His Kingdom, and that my heart will be reliant on Him and not my own.
5. How did LBC’s education help prepare you for the next steps in life?
My time at LBC was unorthodox in comparison to other music programs. I started off my first semester as a vocal performance major but quickly realized that I had neither the talent nor desire for such a career. It was my professor and mentor, Dr. Robert Bigley, who informed me of LBC’s creation of an instrumental music program, and he encouraged me to be the “guinea pig” for this newly formed program – despite the fact that I had zero formal drum training. This, coupled with the fact that I had the new percussion instructor, Gabe, all to myself allowed me to catch up and thrive in the program. Gabe became a close friend and mentor and has been in my corner ever since. I can look back and see that even though this was quite an uncertain time in my life, God used these factors at LBC to prepare me for the road ahead.
6. What did you value most about your education here?
While my time in the music department was very formative, I think the aspect I value most was a steady dosage of solid biblical teaching in everything that was done at LBC. I was a music major, a bible major, and I played baseball my first two years at LBC. In everything, a biblical worldview was encouraged, curated and exemplified. This has continued to pay dividends in my life, and I’m so thankful for the guidance of professors who not only teach in the classroom, but also taught by example.
7. What’s your title with American Music Theatre? What will you be doing?
My title is resident drummer. AMT has original shows and also brings in acts from around the country. I will be playing drum set and percussion for all their original shows, and there are two per year. The summer show runs from April-October, and the Christmas Show runs November-December. I am responsible for learning each show (40+ songs), creating charts for my parts, practicing the show with the group and then performing and maintaining the show for the duration of the run.
8. Tell me more about earning a living as a musician. What’s the best part?
The best part is getting to put smiles on people’s faces while doing something I enjoy. Creating music is a very rewarding experience and I love getting to share that with band mates and audience members. It is such a collective, uniting experience to have hundreds or thousands of people tuned in and sharing in a moment. Lots of travel and new experiences are also an enjoyable part of this career.
9. What would you say to a student considering a career in music? What’s your best piece of advice?
My best piece of advice would be to make sure that God is in it. Make sure that He is the one opening up doors for you. There are certainly downsides to this type of lifestyle – most notably, it’s hard to maintain relationships or a sense of community with all the travel and lack of vacation days. These things can be very draining, even when you know God is calling you to this career. Also, make sure you have a passion to reach and move people through music. A career is challenging, and if you are doing it for the glamour or money, you will burn out very quickly. If God calls you to music, work hard even when no one is watching. Learn from those who have gone before you. Be humble and keep learning. In every endeavor, do it for the glory of God, not your own.