AHS Student Learns From Internationally-Acclaimed Guitarist

AHS Student Learns From Internationally-Acclaimed Guitarist
Posted on 03/15/2024

CLIFTON FORGE — How many high school students get an opportunity to receive a one-on-one lesson from an internationally-acclaimed classical guitarist?

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor who provided a scholarship, Alleghany High School senior Sam Brookman recently spent time learning from Ana Vidović, who is hailed as one of the world’s finest classical guitarists.

Fresh off a performance at The Historic Masonic Theatre in Clifton Forge, Vidović schooled Brookman on classical guitar in a master class she conducted the next day. In music terms, a master class involves an expert in a particular discipline working with a student individually.

Born in Karlovac, Croatia, near Zagreb, the 43-year-old Vidović developed a passion for music through her family. Her father and brother are both musicians. Inspired by her brother, Viktor, she took up a guitar at age 5.  

She went to a music school in her hometown beginning at age 8. By the age of 11, Vidović was performing internationally and showed such an extraordinary talent that at 13, she became the youngest student to attend the Academy of Music in Zagreb. She attended the academy while Croatia was embroiled in its War of Independence.

As her reputation in Europe grew, she received an invitation to study at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Md. Vidović graduated in 2003. She has won more than  20 awards at international competitions, and her performances take her around the world. Her international career includes frequent recitals, concerto engagements, festival appearances, and tours. Her current tour brought her to the Historic Masonic Theatre in Clifton Forge.

Brookman, 17, began playing the guitar at age 15. As his interest in guitar music has grown, he takes guitar instruction from Adam Eggleston, who serves as the band director for AHS, and Amanda Sprouse, the school’s choral director. Brookman is currently enrolled in Guitar II at AHS. Sprouse and Eggleston are co-teaching a multi-level guitar class this semester. It includes Guitar I and Guitar II.

Brookman has also achieved notoriety as a member of the high school’s choir, under the direction of Sprouse. He was enrolled in Sprouse’s Guitar I class previously, has taken choir for four years under Sprouse, and he credits her for influencing his passion for music.

“Mrs. Sprouse always tells us, ‘Music is a language. It takes a lot to understand it,’” he said.  


Brookman is a member of the concert and treble choirs at Alleghany. He recently served as one of eight AHS deleages to Virginia Choir Director Association’s District VI All-District Chorus. He also recently performed with the All-District Chorus in Blacksburg. 

As his penchant for playing the guitar has evolved, Brookman mostly enjoys playing pieces written by heavy metal band artists. He also delves into jazz. Recently, Brookman developed an interest in classical guitar music.

The classical guitar, also known as Spanish guitar, features strings made from gut or nylon. It is a precursor to the modern steel-string acoustic and electric guitars. Both of those guitars use metal strings. Playing a classical guitar requires greater coordination between the fingers of the string-plucking hand, and the fingers of the fretting hand. The fretting hand is the hand that’s placed on the neck of the guitar and holds down (frets) the strings to select notes and chords. 

“I learned to play the guitar for enjoyment and proper technique,” Brookman said. “I mostly play rock songs, but I have watched quite a bit of Ana Vidović’s stuff. It is amazing to watch her perform, and it gives me inspiration.”  

His opportunity to learn from Vidović came when a donor expressed interest in seeing a high school student work with the international musician in a master class setting. The donor funded a scholarship to pay for the session. Brookman was chosen to attend the session with Vidović after The Historic Masonic Theatre worked with the Alleghany Highlands Arts Council and the music department at AHS to identify an appropriate student.

“Sam attended a recent song-writing workshop we conducted at the high school, and he stated that his goal is to be a professional guitarist and play in a band,” said Tammy Scruggs-Duncan, executive director of the Arts Council.

“The Masonic Theatre contacted the Arts Council to help choose a student since we do a lot of work in the schools. I talked to Amanda Sprouse at the high school, and she said Sam would be a perfect fit for this scholarship,” Scruggs-Duncan said.

As she worked with Brookman at the theater, Vidović observed as he played a guitar and gave him valuable pointers to improve his skills. She also praised Brookman for his interest in a wide variety of music genres.

“You have to like and enjoy what you are playing, whatever you choose,” she said, while also encouraging Brookman to continually develop his ability to read sheet music.

“Slowly, you should work on that, because when you read the music, you can see it,” she said.

Vidović’s current tour includes upcoming stops in Northern Virginia, New York State, California, Germany, Spain, Canada, and Japan. 

“It was a really fun experience,” said Brookman of the individualized training he received from Vidović. “I enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with and learn from another musician from a different background and type of ear for music. I learned a lot of new techniques and playing styles that I definitely want to incorporate into my playing going forward.”

March is national “Music in Our Schools” month. The observance highlights the opportunities available to children through music programs in public schools.

“Music is not just a space filler, an elective, or a side item. Music is an essential part of human development in all ways. Music study improves critical thinking and coordination, communication and the ability to work with others, builds self-esteem and fosters intrinsic motivation and self-discipline, enhances empathy and emotional maturity, and much more,” Sprouse said.

Band, choir, guitar, piano, musical theatre, music appreciation, theory, and adaptive music are offered to students by AHPS. The school division views these courses as a vital part of a well-rounded education. Many students who have participated in music programs have gone on to become influential members of their communities. 

An area high school alumnus, Cody Ratliff, will return to the Highlands on March 22 to conduct an AHPS intermediate honors choir that will be composed of more than 100 students in grades 6-8. Ratliff, an assistant principal at Van Devender Middle School in Parkersburg, W.Va., also serves as a choral director. 

Another area high school alumnus, Mitchell Garcia, will return to the Highlands for an organ recital in association with the Alleghany Highlands Arts Council on April 4. Garcia is the director of sacred music at St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic Church and School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.  

“I have seen countless lives changed for the better because of our music programs. We have many graduates living and enjoying careers in music all over the country, and others simply enjoying music as part of their lives into adulthood,” Sprouse said.

“I am so pleased we have the support of area community organizations and our school division. I am blessed to be a part of music education in the Highlands, and I hope we can continue to offer these opportunities and even more in the future,” she said.   

Alleghany Highlands Public Schools in a jointly-operated school division, funded by Alleghany County and the City of Covington. AHPS was formed in July 2022 when Alleghany County Public Schools, Covington City Public Schools, and Jackson River Technical Center merged. The school division serves approximately 2,700 students.

Follow AHPS on Facebook at AHPublicSchools, and Instagram at ahpublicschools. Information is also available at www.ahps.k12.va.us.
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