Two classified ads costing $2.46 have given a Columbus woman a half century of riches far beyond any finances she can imagine.
A public farewell gathering April 15 will thank Sarah Kittle for decades of music teaching, choir direction, performance and ministry before she returns to her native North Carolina next month.
The woman who has given a disciplined vocal gift to hundreds of students who have sung at the Met and opera houses worldwide, on cruise ships, at nightclubs and area musicals will hear a community speak with one voice to say thank you.
Her voice-teaching career began locally with a pair of small, seeking-student notices in The Evening Republican newspaper in 1967. The chorus of her life ever since has been selflessly singing others’ praises, if you will.
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“God has gifted me to hear the potential in a student’s voice,” the 70-year-old Kittle said, sitting at the piano in the living room of her home on Lafayette Avenue. “And immediately, something goes off inside of me.”
It may be adjusting the breathing or perfecting the tone. Kittle’s student roster includes vocalists from age 5 to 85.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people who walk through my door have no idea of the scope of the vocal ability they have,” she said.
Nor do they have any idea of the instructional and motivational ability of Kittle, who moved to Columbus after earning bachelors and masters degrees in vocal performance from the prestigious Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
“I always knew I loved teaching more than performing,” she said.
Nevertheless, on the stage, she has sung with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. She has crooned her way through then-Mill Race Players’ musicals and enough concerts and recitals to last another lifetime.
In Christian ministry, she has led worship for weeping audiences of Brazilian believers and floated downstream in a dugout canoe in a Venezuelan river filled with piranhas to spiritually feed people hungry for the gospel.
But now she feels God’s heart-tug to move 750 miles away to her hometown port city of Wilmington, where she is partly uncertain of what awaits. Still, she trusts that his guidance is sure.
“God is always about newness,” she said.
Whether here or elsewhere, Kittle’s impact is so widespread that Columbus resident Julie Beerwart mentioned that her mother vacationed in Hawaii a few years ago — and discovered that the singer at an area hotel act on one of the islands was a Kittle alumnus.
To say that she has changed lives is like saying that Columbus has some nice buildings.
Columbus native, globetrotting opera singer and current Indiana University associate vocal professor Jane Dutton summarized her former instructor’s impact as succinctly as a aria’s final note.
“Without Sarah Kittle, I would not have had my life I have today,” Dutton said.
When Dutton’s teen voice never quite fit into local musicals, Kittle gently suggested she try Italian art songs, and then began working with her to eventually point her to operatic training at IU.
Yet, forget the idea that Kittle was training only singers-turning-professional-performers.
Columbus native and Indianapolis resident Julie Watson mentioned that, when she was in high school, it was normal for many nervous students to want Kittle to attend their auditions and competitions “to hold their hand and counsel them.” But that often was impossible for a teacher who sometimes taught dozens of students amid 60-hour work weeks.
Kittle offered Watson a galvanizing response one day: “If after all the lessons we’ve had together, you can’t go out there on your own and perform to the best of your ability without me being there, then what have I taught you all these years?”
“She gave us all our wings,” Watson said.
Kittle broke into laughter when she heard such comments.
The woman who said she has been called “a motor-mouth” found herself momentarily speechless. Even her 2-year-old Maltese dog, Tapioca, stared at her, cocking her head in disbelief a few feet away, next to Kittle’s piano.
“It sounds like they’re talking about someone else,” Kittle finally said.
But she hardly is done.
“I feel like my best years are still ahead of me,” she said.
Her future has been falling seamlessly into place. She sold her Columbus house to former student Janie Gordon without even picking up the phone. She recently discovered that her newly rented North Carolina home is right next door to a junior high and high school friend.
As much as she hates to leave Columbus, she loves the idea of returning to the beach and the ocean. You could figure as much by glancing around her home.
The shoreline seemingly lies right outside the front door, given the beach grasses that bookend her shrubs. Beach artwork hangs in the living room, not to mention a placard with the message, “The beach is my happy place.”
She has emphasized that her move is hardly retirement. She will teach in some capacity in her hometown. Besides, how does a lifelong teacher simply stop her lessons?
A good example surfaced as she ended a conversation. She wanted to show off her little dog’s smarts. So, step by step, Tapioca quickly and enthusiastically moved through each of her tricks: high-five, sit, stay, lay, spinning in circles, you name it.
In fact, in less than five minutes, the pooch did nearly everything but sing.
But remember — Sarah Kittle is not done yet.
What: A farewell gathering for longtime voice teacher, singer, choir director, and ministry leader Sarah Kittle, who has served in Columbus for 50 years.
When: 7 p.m. April 15.
Where: First United Methodist Church, 618 Eighth St. in Columbus.
Why: To say goodbye before May 30, when she moves back to her hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Encouraged by organizers: Cards, photos, clippings, memories. Those unable to attend can send notes to First United Methodist Church, 618 Eighth St., Columbus IN 47201.
Information: Julianna Jerome-Drerup at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Facebook page for A Farewell Event for Sarah Kittle.
Hometown: Wilmington, North Carolina.
In Columbus: Since 1967, while attending Indiana University. Her parents, now deceased, moved to Columbus in January 1967 from Wilmington to be near her.
Education: Earned a bachelor’s of music in vocal performance in 1970 and a master’s of music in vocal performance in 1972 from Indiana University.
Community involvement highlights: Private vocal music teacher since 1967; former music director of several shows of the then-Mill Race Players, but also worked with groups such as Theatre Arts Guild; has worked with vocalists with the local Lasting Impressions dinner theater group; co-founder in 1981 of the 20-voice audition ensemble Columbus Camerata, now defunct; choir director at East Columbus United Methodist Church in the late 1980s, music director at Faith Victory Church in the mid-1990s and one who has assisted with worship music at a range of local Christian churches over the years; founder and leader for years of her local Season of Song ministry, using music to spread the gospel in various countries, from Estonia to Peru.
Of her students and her Christian ministry work: “I love to see transformation.”
Pageant princess: A former Miss Wilmington (North Carolina) and fourth runner-up in the Miss North Carolina pageant, former Bartholomew County 4-H Fair Queen, and a former Miss Madison Regatta.