CRESTVIEW — Keitha Bledsoe has dedicated almost 40 years as a music teacher and choral director throughout Northwest Florida.
Now, she is the one receiving attention as the Florida Vocal Association Hall of Fame’s newest inductee.
“This award is the highest honor in the profession in the state of Florida,” she said. “It was an honor and one that I felt that I hardly deserved as I looked over my numerous colleagues and friends.”
As a teacher, Bledsoe has made her mark throughout the Panhandle.
After graduating from Crestview High School in 1972, she received a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of West Florida in 1976 and taught music for 10 years at Laurel Hill School, where she was recognized as Teacher of the Year.
She went on to teach at Max Bruner Junior Middle School for two years before heading to Richbourg School. From 1991 to 1993, Bledsoe served as the Florida Vocal Association’s District 1 chairman. While at Richbourg, she was the recipient of the Teacher of the Year Award in 1995 and was the Okaloosa County Teacher of the Year from 1995-1996.
She then worked as Davidson Middle School’s choral director beginning in July 1997. While at Davidson, Bledsoe was the state chair of the Florida Vocal Association’s Junior High/Middle School division from 2001-2005.
When she initially “retired” from DMS in 2011, she stayed on as a choral assistant while her husband, Greg, who was an elementary music specialist, finished his last official year of teaching in her place. However, this initial “retirement” phase did not last long for Bledsoe, who resumed her position as choral director at Davidson in 2012.
In 2016, Bledsoe took an administrative position at the Walton County School District as the school’s coordinator of fine arts.
‘CHORAL MUSIC FOR ME’
Over the course of her career, Bledsoe’s student choirs have earned “superior ratings” from the Florida Vocal Association and received recognition at some of the state’s and nation’s most prestigious choral competitions.
It all began with Bledsoe’s family, who instilled a love of music at an early age. Her mother was a music education major at Florida State University and her grandmother began teaching her to play the piano when she was 4 years old.
“My musical taste was shaped by my mother and grandmother who were incredible musicians and raised me with classical piano and opera in the home,” Bledsoe said. “By the time I was 10 I could sing arias by ‘Madame Butterfly.’”
“I was trained to love classical music, but over the years I have gained an appreciation and love for many types and, to be honest, there is nothing that moves me more than quality choral music. I love the sound of human voices blending together to express a meaningful text, so choral music for me. My heart is with choral music.”
FINDING THEIR VOICE
Although there have been many over the course of her career, the most rewarding teaching experiences for Bledsoe are when her struggling students overcame their learning curve to find their voice.
“The bottom line is that every single time a student of mine finds their voice and is able to participate in the expressive act of singing, that for me is a highlight,” Bledsoe said. “And when I say ‘finds their voice,’ I mean that they realize how to use that vocal mechanism and find that they are singing in tune with the other people in their ensemble; finally opening up to let the sound out and have that amazing choral experience.”
Bledsoe also enjoys working with students during their formative years.
“Middle school children, [especially] boys, their voices are changing and they tend to be inhibited about expressing themselves vocally — and [eventually] they are finally in a setting where singing clicks for them and the joy they get from singing,” she said.
“It’s amazing and incredible and it’s worth every fundraiser and every test you have graded and it’s important to have had a part in that.”