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PopShop program to continue on in Morgantown, despite founder relocating

MORGANTOWN — Executive Director Chris Russell is passing the baton after more than a decade of bringing music performance into the lives of many through PopShop, a nonprofit music program.

“He’s been here so long and everyone knows him,” said Brian Spragg, longtime PopShop instructor and soon-to-be operations manager. “He is irreplaceable as a person and friend.”

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Russell and his family are relocating to Raleigh, N.C., at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Recognizing the importance of the program in the community, Russell is confident it will continue on for years to come.

Although he won’t be working directly in the studio, Russell plans to continue working remotely as the executive director. 

“PopShop will thrive here under the staff that we have,”  he said. “My vision is for it to keep going as it is.”

Taylor Morgan, a former student of Russell’s, joined PopShop in middle school when she heard about the program through a friend. She participated as a drummer for about five years before becoming an instructor while studying at WVU.

Morgan said Russell has been one of the most influential people in her life and within the community. She said she has always valued his compassion for others, the way he approaches music and how he believes in every single one of his students.

“Everywhere I looked that involved music or the arts, his name was stamped with it,” Morgan said. “When I think of the arts in Morgantown, I think of Chris Russell. It hurts to hear he is leaving, but it is nice to hear PopShop is staying open.”

Russell first started calling Morgantown home nearly 30 years ago when he studied percussion at West Virginia University. After graduating, he taught middle school band in Pittsburgh for three years before returning to Morgantown.

Soon after, Russell became one of the founding band members of The Argument and was the drummer for about a decade. As they toured around the country, the band members came up with the idea of sharing their knowledge and experiences as musicians with schools.

“We were all educators on the side and we came up with this idea of PopShop,” Russell said. “We had this idea of going into schools and talking about popular music and what we did for a living.”

In 2006, the band parted ways, but Russell continued teaching private drum lessons. He noticed many of his students did not have the opportunity to play alongside other musicians and decided to change that.

Russell divided up 11 of his students into two bands and began playing anything from rock to country to metal music. A new kind of PopShop was born, and from then on, his students learned not only the fundamentals, but also how to perform with others and build self-confidence on stage. 

Eleven years have since gone by, and the program has grown exponentially. Russell said each week, the organization works with as many as 125 musicians of all ages and musical abilities.

After outgrowing three studio spaces, PopShop found its permanent home at the former Woodburn Elementary School. 

Russell has watched many of his students grow into adulthood. Getting to see many of them continue to play even after graduating from the program has been a rewarding experience. 

He said some of his former students use playing music as a therapeutic hobby, and others continue working to make music a profession.

“I love playing music first and foremost, but I love teaching and I had so many wonderful students over the years from all backgrounds,” Russell said. “Now, these are adults I can still look at and say I am so glad they are still picking up their sticks or are still playing guitar.”

At the start of COVID-19, PopShop was forced to close its doors. They remained closed for seven months, but camps and lessons continued online. When it was safe to begin reopening, Russell said the program had to cut back on the number of in-person students. 

As an additional safety precaution, Russell also created a system of 6-by-6-foot barriers made from shower curtain liners, which allowed players to still see one another while remaining safe. 

Working remotely has also been a silver lining for Russell, who said getting to work from home has proven that even when he moves south, he doesn’t have to give PopShop up for good.

 He said he plans to return to Morgantown as often as possible for performances, and knows PopShop will always have a special place in his life.

“Morgantown I think is always a part of you,” Russell said. “I think it will always be a great homecoming coming back here and seeing people.”

For more information about PopShop or to contribute to the organization, visit

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