Putting a little zing into music class

Published 7:40 pm Saturday, August 8, 2009

The halls were alive with the sound of music this summer at Paul D. Camp Community College.

That’s because Karey Sitzler of Portsmouth, orchestra teacher at Lakeland High School and Forest Glen Middle School, picked up the beat in her classroom by blending live music with classroom instruction.

“I knew it was hard for them to get to concerts, so I decided to bring the concerts to them,” she said about the music appreciation class she taught in her first semester as an adjunct professor at PDCCC.

During a session about Baroque composer and violin virtuoso Antonio Vivaldi, the class was visited by a string ensemble composed of Sitzler and her high school students.

She not only sings, but also plays keyboards and an array of string instruments.

Sitzler’s son, David Weirich, who is studying Impressionism in a graduate program at the University of New Mexico, conducted a program, as well.

“He is a pianist and also a composer,” said Sitzler, “so that gave them a unique perspective of theory.”

The students performed well on a listening test after hearing portions of music from different eras.

“I wanted them to do enough critical listening to be able to identify styles — all classical music doesn’t sound alike,” she said. “They were getting it, and they were talking about what they like.”

Sissy Jumper of Zuni enjoyed Sitzler’s style of teaching.

“I learned about different techniques and how to identify different styles of music,” she said. “She teaches you how to learn better.”

Melissa McPhillips of Franklin was skeptical at first of how much she would learn.

“It was very informative,” she said.

One of Sitzler’s goals was that the students learn about how music from different cultures has evolved throughout history.

“It very much mirrors the development of society and sheds light on another side of history, besides wars and kings…” said Sitzler. “…We had a glimpse into the lives of our forefathers, and that is a very important part of a college education.”

It was also important to Sitzler that the students hear live music, right up to the last day of class.

“They have lots of exams and papers due,” she said. “I wanted to make the day fun.”

The students brought refreshments and learned from Bill Weirich, another of Sitzler’s sons, who is majoring in jazz studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. He talked about jazz music and performed melodies on the vibraphone. Karey sang the lyrics to Bill’s original song.

“The class has really bonded,” she said.

In addition to teaching middle and high schoolers, Sitzler works for Williamsburg Youth Orchestras and teaches private students. Instructing for 31 years, she has taught students of all ages.

She is credited with starting a music program at an art center in Michigan that wound up drawing more than 450 students by the end of its first summer.

She has played professionally with the Kalamazoo Symphony, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and the Mesa Symphony. She and her husband, Tommy, are currently in a praise band called The 4th Day Band and play in the Hampton Roads area.

Sitzler is co-writing a college textbook along with some other band instructors, who asked her to add a section on strings to the publication.

The music appreciation class will be offered in the fall on the Franklin Campus.