Dr. Keitges retires leaving a lasting legacy

(06-06-2014)

christine keitges, victoria ricci

Northern light filters through a window, softening shadows as Dr. Christine Keitges touches the piano keys, head up, a smile on her face, she asks, "How are you feeling?" Victoria Ricci '15, vocal performance major, returns the smile, "I am okay," and the voice lesson begins.

"My voice has changed immensely since I started studying with Dr. Keitges," Ricci said. "It has become easier to sing because she has taught me to know my voice and know what feels right." As with every vocal performance major, Keitges meets with Ricci once a week, through her entire collegiate career, for training.

These sessions take place in Keitges' office complete with grand piano, bookcases filled with music, filing cabinet, a desk, and a mirror, on the south wall. Here, for 25 years, Keitges guided students to vocal health, increased their vocal skills, and developed very close relationships.

"I believe music can change lives," Keitges said.

This spring, Keitges, Adams State University emeritus professor of music, retired; however her influence and training will live on through students and her colleagues.

She encourages her students but also stresses the discipline needed to succeed. "She understands my dreams of being on stage for opera and focuses on increasing my flexibility, range, repertoire, in a healthy manner," Ricci said. "She definitely does not wave a magic wand though. Dr. Keitges has taught me that I have to work hard and constantly improve as a musician."

When students first audition for the music program and begin their training, Keitges listens to achieve a better understanding of where to guide the vocalists. Kacia Schmidt, '13 said she admires Keitges' tenacity and compassion. "I am sure I am not the only student who fought her at first, because I misunderstood her persistence. But once you get past your own pride, you realize she's trying to inspire you to become your best, not to point out your flaws. It takes a tenacious, compassionate person to help you use your weaknesses and turn them into strengths."

What could be more personal and sacred than the aspiring singer's voice? Schmidt appreciates the impact Keitges had on her life. "She has made me laugh and cry, but most importantly, she has inspired me to embrace my talent and never stop striving to make myself better - whether as a musician, or just as a person."

Life lessons

Ricci agrees: "She is leaving students that she not only taught to make music but she's taught us about how to live. She shows us how to love, how to be strong, to learn and become the best version of ourselves that we can be in anything. I admire her as much as one person can admire another. I love her beautiful strengths and her beautiful weakness, the few there are, because they are Keitges."

Her sense of humor first impressed Ricci. "Getting to study under Keitges I have learned that my first impression wasn't far off. I still find her extremely funny and respect her immensely but, I've learned that there is much more to Dr. Keitges than meets the eye. She is truly an amazing woman. She gives her heart to all of her students."

Music alumni, from 20 years ago, remember, with fondness, Keitges' laughter and their lessons. "Dr. Keitges made a huge impact on both my education and my life," said Carrie Murphy '92. "I can still hear her contagious laugh." Murphy describes Keitges as the "consummate" teacher. "Dr. K. helped me to understand the mechanics of singing, and to understand that practice is the only way to advance. This is a lesson that translates to many other parts of life."

Rhonda Schoenecker '04 '06, assistant professor of English at Trinidad State Junior College Valley Campus, said: "I sometimes feel her influence when I reach out to a student who needs extra encouragement. Dr. K has clearly enriched many lives and minds through her work and her art. Even as she retires, her love of music and teaching goes forward through her students and theirs."

Musician and music teacher at Pueblo East, Andy Clementi '02 said Keitges is a "master at bringing out the best in someone. "Dr. Keitges put her "heart and soul into every lesson, every recital, and every concert."

Clementi started the rock band, Martini Shot, while a student, and continues to perform in the Pueblo-based group. "I apply what I learned in her studio every single day with my students and every single weekend as I perform around Colorado. Honestly, not a show goes by where I don't think of a technique I learned while with Dr. Keitges."

Musical Theatre

The one-on-one tutelage comprises only a part of Keitges' career at Adams State. She co-directed musicals and operettas such as Pirates of Penzance, Camelot and Little Shop of Horrors. Directing Opera Workshop Scenes and Music Theatre Revues holds a special place in her heart. She has presented workshops, seminars, lectures and clinics on a variety of topics from vocal health, choral music, vocal repertoire and technique.

Rebeckah Valentine '95 appreciated the experience of working with Keitges on a production. "We were singing scenes from Così Fan Tutte and Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. It was my first experience with opera, watching Liz, Marla, and Carrie. She had chosen scenes that showcased our talents perfectly, mixing our voices together into duets and trios and arias and it was perfect and oh so beautiful."

Not just the musical director, Keitges performed many roles to ensure performances were flawless. "It always amazed me how she effortlessly was director, costume designer/seamstress, conductor, and producer of opera workshops and operas," Valentine said. "One year we performed Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors and she coached every role and directed and designed and sewed all our costumes. She was amazing at making it look so easy."

Colleagues Accolades

"Dr. Keitges has been an inspiration to me and other members of the music faculty," said Dr. Tracy Doyle, music department chair. "She has given advice, pep talks, and encouragement, always student centered and student focused. She is an exceptional teacher and one of the most thoughtful people I have known."

"Her impact on my work as a choral director is immeasurable. Not only did I have the direct benefit of having her voice students in choir, but the lessons I learned from her about caring for each student and working with voices in the choral context have remained an invaluable resource in my professional work," said Betsy Schauer, former Adams State director of choral activities.

Dr. Beth Robison, Adams State director of choral programs and associate professor of music, agrees with Schauer: "Dr. Keitges has been such a wonderful mentor and friend to me and the rest of the music faculty. She is an inspirational teacher whose first concern is always her students and she is going to be sorely missed."

Duet in laughter and life

Keitges credits her husband, Bob, for his support and encouragement. "It would not have been possible without him." Many of her students have fond memories of Bob as well.

During a particular performance of the Mikado, Murphy said she tripped on her kimono. "With a loud thump and an animal-like screech, I hit the deck of the stage like a dropped tree." Bob had videotaped the musical. "Bob, Dr. K's supportive and kind-hearted husband played that section of the videotape...over and over and over (during the cast party). Whaaaaa Thump. Whaaaaa Thump. Whaaaaa Thump. It was humiliating and hilarious and the best way to ease the pain of an embarrassing situation."

Valentine said: "Dr. Keitges and Bob, her dear amazing partner, are both wonderful friends and mentors and I love them both."

Performer

Often, leading by example, Keitges, a mezzo-soprano, considers performing an important part of her life. Her performing experience ranges from operatic and music theatre roles to oratorios, major choral works and recitals. Some highlights are Adams State faculty recitals, guest recitals and performances in Phoenix, Georgia, Iowa, Denver, and Texas, and performing with the Taos Chamber Music and the Taos Orchestra. Favorite roles include Katisha (Mikado), Mother (Amahl and the Night Visitors), Witch (Hansel and Gretel) and Dame Quickly (Falstaff).

"Her programs were always beautiful, varied, and focused on the art of song," Valentine said. "Her lyric mezzo voice had a warmth, depth, and resonance that I will never forget and wanted to emulate."

For her students, Keitges fostered a secure environment to excel. "She attracted students to her that had incredible voices and she created within her studio an inviting and non-competitive atmosphere," Valentine added. "She gave every one of her student's equal performance time and expected us all to perform at our best."

During her students' voice recitals, Keitges said: "I am usually singing every note with them mentally and sending them positive thoughts. Of course, I want them to do their very best."

Music education major, voice emphasis, Julia Nicholas '14 started voice lessons with Keitges in 2009. "Dr. Keitges has been not only an amazing teacher for me, but a mentor, counselor, kindred spirit, general hilarious crazy person, and, in many ways, friend."

Her influence and teaching will live on in her students. "I will miss the students, their energy, and enthusiasm," Keitges said. "They are interesting people, with unique viewpoints and opinions, who I got to watch develop. It was great fun."

Article by Linda Relyea