After 5-year absence, choir returns to West Vigo High School

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza The choir returns: West Vigo High School choir director Christiana Wittenmyer laughs with her students as she plays the piano during choir class on Tuesday at the school near West Terre Haute.

WEST TERRE HAUTE -- Early Tuesday morning, a loud hissing sound could be heard coming from the classroom of West Vigo High School teacher Christiana Wittenmyer.

No reptiles here — just choir students, doing some breathing exercises for class.

Wittenmyer lead her students through a series of physical stretches, breathing exercises and vocal warm ups.

After 5-year absence, choir returns to West Vigo High School

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza Warming up: West Vigo High School student Sadie Herring warms up with her classmates during a vocal exercise on Tuesday at the school near West Terre Haute.

The students sang a few silly songs, aimed at helping them relax and put their guard down. One song included the lyrics "Super Duper Double Bubble Gum," with the musical purpose of improving articulation.

Occasionally, Wittenmyer would tell a student to sit up straight.

Another time, she praised them. "The sound you gave me is what I'm looking for."

After a five-year hiatus, choir is back at West Vigo High School, and first-year teacher Wittenmyer couldn't be more pleased with re-starting the program.

"What a unique opportunity for me to build a program and truly make it my own," said Wittenmyer, who graduated in May from Indiana State University with a degree in music education.

While there's much laughter in her class, the students take what they're doing seriously — as does their teacher.

Sophomore Sadie Herring is among the students in Wittenmyer's first-period choir class.

"It's awesome. I think it's crazy that we haven't had choir for five years," she said.

She sang in choir for three years in middle school.

After 5-year absence, choir returns to West Vigo High School

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaStretching for better vocals: West Vigo High School choir director Christiana Wittenmyer demonstrates a stretch as she prepares the choir for practice on Tuesday at the school in West Terre Haute.

"I've always loved to sing. I've always been in our plays and musicals. I think it would be a lot easier to recruit for plays and musicals if we had a choir program and had kids singing and getting them interested in music," Herring said.

Wittenmyer "is a lot of fun. I think she's perfect for bringing back the choir and getting kids interested," Herring said.

Wittenmyer, a 2015 Terre Haute South Vigo High School graduate, was hired in May as the new West Vigo choir director. About 35 students are enrolled in her two choir classes.

She plans on one choir for performances as she begins to build the program, but the hope is to have two to three choirs in coming years, including an auditioned choir.

Paul Ellison, Wittenmyer's own high school choir director, had a major influence on her wanting to pursue a career in music, but she did not initially have her sights set on teaching. She was majoring in music business.

"I didn't want to teach at all when I first started at ISU," she said. But then, her sophomore year, she attended an IMEA [Indiana Music Education Association] conference that involved a collegiate choir ensemble. It enabled college students from across Indiana to participate and work together.

"Our director had such passion and energy ... everything about him made me want to be like him for students" of her own. "That next week, I changed my major to music education," she said.

When she started looking for a job, she learned from Ellison about the opening at West Vigo.

After 5-year absence, choir returns to West Vigo High School

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza An eye for music: West Vigo High School choir director Christiana Wittenmyer leads her students through a face exercise to help them warm up for singing on Tuesday at the school in West Terre Haute.

And Aug. 6, she started a new musical era at the school. She plans on a fall, winter, and spring concert for the 2019-20 school year. Wittenmyer also spends part of her day assisting with the middle school program.

Wittenmyer says her high school students "seem to really enjoy the class; they leave smiling and singing."

Among them is Junior Conner Mackey. "I've always been a choir kid. I really enjoy it. People have always said I have a really good voice, but I need to refine it. This is the opportunity I've been looking for," he said.

He said he's learned a lot in the short time he's worked with Wittenmyer.

"I'm glad she's here," he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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