Harmonium. Nathan Kitrell says the name with confidence. He stands, explaining the constitution of the new club. The suit he wears makes him stand out, being the only one so formal for a very informal meeting.
He’s smiling as he speaks with his hands, the passion for music radiating off his body. He talks about how the club would meet to hear compositions, and the discussion erupts to what counts as a composition and what are just “GarageBand beats.”
Nathan Kitrell is the founding president of the composition club Harmonium. His involvement with music doesn’t stop there. Nathan plays the saxophone and currently sings in the Morningside College Choir.
Whether he’s singing or playing, the music seems to pulse through him. It’s in his face in the expressions he makes and in his body in the way he sways to the beat. You would only have to watch him for a few second to know he is no stranger to performing.
You would only have to watch him for a few second to know he is no stranger to performing.
However, if you had met Nathan only two years earlier, while his passion would be the same, he would look a little different.
Two years ago, on a show choir stage with his peers, Nathan is dwarfed by them. The suit he wears doesn’t fit his small frame quite right. His face is rounder than the other young men around him and his voice, as he begins his solo, is sweeter.
Nathan’s love for music started when he was small and stuck with him while he was still small. But why did Nathan remain a lost boy as his peers grew up? He wasn’t just a late bloomer. Nathan Kitrell was born without a pituitary gland.
This ailment, called panhypopituitarism, is rare. His mother, Shelly Kitrell, expressed how it scared her when he was born.
“He had a seizure that’s how we found out,” Shelly said, “and then, from there they didn’t know what caused it so he had an MRI, and they still didn’t know for about 5 days or so. And then, they finally figured it out when it was almost time for him to go back home.”
“I didn’t know how low his blood sugar could get before he would have another seizure or how to take care of him so I told the resident doctor. I handed Nathan to her and said ‘Here you go, he’s yours’ while I was crying and said ‘I can’t take care of him, I don’t know how to take care of him.”
The doctor sent them to a children’s hospital and got Nathan on a medication routine. “He’s been a little bit of challenge ever since with medical management,” Shelly continued, “but every time he gets sick and he has a temperature, he ends up in the ER.”
Even with Nathan’s health scares, music still became a large part of his life. “Nathan, you could tell right away was a great singer,” said Jess Kitrell, Nathan’s dad, “Even at a young age he’d sand in the car with perfect pitch.”
“I always say because he was near death when he was born,” Shelly said, “that the angels kissed him and said ‘I’m giving you the gift of music.”
Shelly explained more about what the pituitary gland does: “The pituitary gland is the master gland: it controls your thyroid, your growth hormone, your male-femaleness, testosterone level. The main thing is cortisol level for your brain to function.”
When Nathan would start testosterone was based on bone age. “They [the doctor] take an x-ray of their hand to see how far their bones are developed,” Shelly explained, “and when they get to be a certain age, when a normal child would go through puberty, and that’s when they start the testosterone.”
So, Nathan began testosterone the end of his sophomore year. The drastic change affected the voice he had grown to know as his. A voice that other people identified him with.
“Y’know, toward the end of my high school year, you have all of these people who saw me with this high voice and expect me to still have this high voice, and yet you can’t deliver on that because your voice has started to change. And so that was a really rough part of my development.” Nathan said.
“I feared anytime I had to try to sing that high. I was just scared that it was not going to come out.” He continued, “Same thing with my junior year solo. It was like ‘I should not be singing this high’ and most of the time I couldn’t. I still wanted to hold onto that fact because that was what made me notable in the past year.”
“I guess that was the biggest thing that led to that fear of change was the fact that it came at a time when my voice and everything should be continuing to develop. It was me trying and struggling to hold onto this voice that just wasn’t mine anymore,” Nathan finished.
After letting go of a part of his identity, Nathan is proud of how he’s grown. “Overcoming the fact that just because what everybody expects you to be isn’t what you are doesn’t mean you can’t find value in what you do have. I can still, more or less, look at my sophomore year and think ‘Yeah that was a really good year for me’ but I’m constantly growing and I’m constantly trying to make my voice into the best thing it can be. And even though it’s not the same as it was, I still appreciate what it is as an instrument.”
“I think the biggest thing is now, wanting to be a music teacher, I want to prevent the loneliness that I felt in that scenario from happening in my students.” Nathan continued, “If anybody has that problem with the delayed puberty or even just in general if their voice is just changing and they feel so out of control, just reminding them that the change is good and eventually you will come out stronger.”
Getting into teaching wasn’t just one moment for Nathan. “I’ve always cared about other people and other people’s growing and developing. That baseline of caring a lot about the person next to you is the foundation of everything.”
“But then you just have small little things sprinkled in,” Nathan continued, “my eighth-grade year you had Dr. Luebke who was like ‘Hey why don’t you conduct this one piece for concert choir’ and then you have ninth-grade when Mrs. Smith was like ‘Hey why don’t you come help me with this musical now that you’re graduated from middle school.’”
“What started solidifying everything was when I started helping out with Siouxland Youth Chorus my junior year.”
Dr. Shirley Luebke, director of the Siouxland Youth Chorus, provided more details on Nathan’s time there.
“He came to me, cause he sang in Siouxland Youth Chorus,” Shirley said, “even when he was a freshmen he would come in and help. He’s the kind of kid that wants to gain as much experience and opportunities. I mean, he just grabs.”
“So, he would come in and he would help run warmups [and] he would run sectionals. I actually gave him pieces to conduct on the concert and we would work like a teacher would with a conducting student and refine some of those skills.”
“He did an incredible job. He has great insight. He’s very serious about what he does.”
Nathan is still helping Siouxland Youth Chorus, even with his new, busy schedule. “He’s taking a huge role with the concert choir,” she continued, “We had our concert on Saturday and he directed almost half the concert.”
“The singers really enjoy having him there. They respect him, even though we talk about him being a student conductor. They are very open to him being there.” Shirly finished.
Nathan continues progress as a person, a musician, and a teacher. Music has always been a part of his life. He looks forward to what he can do in the future, seeing teaching as not only a way to help others develop, but a source of personal joy.
“Ultimately, when it came to my senior year, I was like ‘Well I’ve enjoyed this in the past’ so like there’s really nothing else that brings me as much joy.”