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Hill Country Youth Orchestra honors Robert Earl Keen’s contributions

For 14 years, the famed Americana and Texas artist worked to benefit the Hill Country Youth Orchestra, and on Thursday he was honored his efforts.

It’s without question that singer-songwriter-musician Robert Earl Keen loves music, it’s been his avocation for most of his life, and he’s worked to give back and to build opportunities for others to enjoy music. 

When it was time for his daughter to learn music, he sought out the help of Lynda Ables, the founder and dynamic force behind the Hill Country Youth Orchestra. The connection between Keen, the touring icon of Texas music, and the Hill Country Youth Orchestra helped produce 14 years of memorable sell-out concerts, all to keep the orchestra free for any child who chose to participate. 

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“I was thinking about this and how was I going to be part of the community,” Keen explained. “(Patricia Lee, the orchestra’s artistic director) started teaching my daughter Chloe to play the violin, which is six I think, and when I came to the here and heard the kids and heard what they’re doing, I thought this is what I want to support,” Keen said. “This is a great, great program.” 


For his efforts, the Hill Country Youth Orchestra board of directors honored Keen’s work, along with his wife, Kathleen, for ensuring the orchestra’s mission continued. Kerrville Mayor Judy Eychner read a proclamation declaring Jan. 18 as Robert Earl Keen Day during a short ceremony at Kerrville’s First United Methodist Church, where much of that music is taught. 

As part of the honors, Keen’s name now adorns one of the teaching chairs in the program, which violinist Theresa Britt leads. Britt teaches in Kerrville and Fredericksburg and plays in Symphony of the Hills. 

Kathleen and Robert Earl Keen were honored for the efforts benefiting the Hill Country Youth Orchestra during a Jan. 19, 2023 reception at First United Methodist Church.

“There’s nothing like this in the United States,” Keen said. “There’s none where people can just bring your kids here, and it doesn’t cost them anything. There’s no exclusion in any way, and it’s a come one, come all. All you have to do is put in your time, and there are a lot of similar programs, but they all have some exclusion day or cost, which keeps some kids from ever getting a chance to learn how to play.” 

Part of Keen’s fundraising efforts has taken on a unique twist. For instance, his last concert featured an online auction for his vintage Rolls Royce, which languished for a few years under a carport. Keen called upon Chip Miller, owner of Kerrville’s Wagonmaster, to consider restoring the car. Miller’s specialty is restoring vintage Jeep Wagonmasters, but he was up for the task. The restored Rolls’ earned $65,000 for the orchestra. 

Keen retired from live performances and touring last September, but don’t count him out when it comes to being a fan and supporter of the Hill Country Youth Orchestra. 

“It’s something that Kerrville should be most proud of,” Keen said. 


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