Chrystal Sircely practices mallets inside a school rehearsal room.
By Jamie Wiggan
When Sto-Rox High School found itself without a marching band director last summer it looked like the program would be suspended, at least temporarily. But senior student Chrystal Sircely was determined to keep the group alive, so she reluctantly agreed to lead while a permanent replacement was found.
She spent the next six weeks picking out tunes, organizing rehearsals and leading her peers through each session, until the district eventually filled the vacancy.
This kind of can-do attitude is typical of the 18-year-old percussionist, according to her teacher Suellen Englehard, who described Sircely as the “hardest working” student she’s taught.
“She sets a goal and she’ll do everything she needs to do to achieve that,” Engelhard said.
Shortly after passing on the band director’s role to a paid adult, Sircely set her sights on a new goal: becoming the first Sto-Rox student to perform in the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association’s All-State Wind Ensemble.
After many late evenings practicing at school and a series of grueling auditions, Sircely recently learned she’s earned a place at the annual All-State concert in April. She will perform there as one of six percussionists selected from schools all across the Commonwealth.
“When you hear the news it’s exciting,” she said. “But then it actually hits you, you’re going to have to put the work in.”
As a percussionist, Sircely will need to master parts on different instruments – likely mallets, timpanis and the snare drum. And, unlike most wind players, she can’t simply practice these at home.
Compared to many of the students she competed against for her place in the All-State band, Sircely has overcome a host of other disadvantages as a competitive performer at an under-funded school.
Sircely’s stint as marching band director is not the only time her music education needs demanded a resourceful approach. To find a private tutor suitable for Sircely’s evident talent, Engelhard had to seek out a qualified instructor – Katie Whorton – willing to teach on a voluntary basis. Sircely has also seen other programming cut – like the jazz band – as she’s progressed through the Sto-Rox system.
To Englehard, these setbacks add to Sircely’s achievement in reaching the all-state.
“She’s a K-12 Sto-Rox student,” Engelhard said. “This is a tremendous achievement for Sto-Rox.’
Sircely credits the support of a small circle of friends and family and teachers for carrying her through.
“It’s been a long journey,” she said.
When her final term in the district ends this summer, Sircely will move up to Slippery Rock to pursue a degree in music education. She credits Engelhard as her inspiration.
“I look at her and I’m like, that’s what I wanna do,” Sircely said. ”She made me realize I would like to do this as a profession. I hope I can make that kind of impact on future musicians but those are pretty big shoes to fill.”
Despite her plans to teach, Sircely’s been bitten by the performing bug and hopes her career won’t be totally confined to the classroom.
“Although I want to go into music education, I don’t ever want to close the door to performance.”