Highland High School orchestra director Bill Bitter.

Bill Bitter went to college expecting to graduate and become a concert violinist, but he realized his talents were better served as a teacher than performer.

Bitter, the orchestra teacher at Highland High School in Gilbert, recently received the Arizona Music Educator of the Year award.

“I’m a little uncomfortable about that because there are a lot of great educators just at my school,” he said.

The award came as a surprise for Bitter. He was attending a banquet at a conference for music educators in February when he was presented with the accolade. Bitter’s colleagues and family knew, but they all managed to keep it a secret until the announcement was made.

His colleagues at the table made sure he was seated in a manner that blocked his view of his family, who slipped into the banquet before the announcement.

Bitter has led Highland’s orchestra program since the school opened 21 years ago. Before teaching at Highland he taught for 12 years at Gilbert High School.

Bitter said his opportunity to teach high school students has allowed him to work with the creative side of music he loves rather than teaching technique. He joked that his students play their instrument better than he plays violin.

“I think we forget the value of training that other side of our brain sometimes,” Bitter said. “We forget that students in the arts electives are not just learning an instrument or throwing a clay pot, but it really helps in terms of their critical thinking skills and creative thinking.”

Bitter said he had dreamed of performing in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but one of his first music teachers at Arizona State University suggested he try teaching to supplement his degree in music performance.

“I realized that I didn’t want to practice enough to pay my dues as a performance major,” he said.

However, after 33 years teaching music, Bitter said he is extremely blessed to be able to do something he loves for so long.

“The first time I was in the classroom working with kids, I was hooked,” he said. “I realized that was where I wanted to spend my energy — creating that love of music in other kids. I’ve never looked back.”

• Shelby Slade is a sophomore at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is an intern with the Tribune this semester. Reach her at tribintern@evtrib.com.

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