Tonya Camp Wessman

1960 -

Tonya Wessman, a pianist and elementary school teacher, has given piano lessons during most of her career. Additionally, she has taught at the elementary level for nearly thirty years, including several years as a music specialist, teaching classroom music and, more recently, as a full-time grade school teacher.

Tonya was born in Anchorage, Alaska, one of three daughters of Vann and Sandra Hood Camp. Her mother was a pianist and piano teacher by profession and gave Tonya her first piano lessons at age five. She also took violin lessons beginning at age eleven.

Tonya subsequently also studied piano with Dorothy Roberts and Margaret Ott before entering college in 1977, after graduating from Walla Walla Valley Academy. She then studied with Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse at Atlantic Union College, her mother again at Andrews University, and Theodore Lettvin at the University of Michigan during her senior year at AU. While at AU, Tonya also studied harp with Suzanne Davids.

She would win numerous competitions while still a teenager and soloed with the Walla Walla Symphony Chamber and Yakima Symphony orchestras. While at AUC, she was a frequent soloist with the New England Youth Ensemble and later at AU soloed with the university orchestra. She was a Massachusetts state winner in the collegiate division of the Music Teachers National Association while at AUC.

She later wrote about her college years and the decisions she made during that time:

I joined the New England Youth Ensemble as a violinist and piano soloist when I started college. My time with that group greatly strengthened my love of music. The group experience and opportunities to travel and perform as a mission gave a lot of meaning to the many hours of practice that were required.

That experience helped me to decide that I wanted to be a music major. Later, when I changed schools and went to Andrews University, I taught piano to many children and at the same time became exposed to the Suzuki Method. Even though I was a piano performance major, I decided that I wanted to work with young children rather than perform, so I got Suzuki teacher training and chose to teach when I graduated from college in 1981.

A year after completing a B.Mus. with honors at Andrews University, she married Marlon Wessman, a medical technologist and the son of voice teacher and choir director Carl Wessman. She gave piano lessons privately and also taught classroom music from 1983 until 1990 at Little Creek Academy, a self-supporting school in Tennessee. During this time, the Wessmans had a son, Micah, and a daughter, Kira.

From 1990-1993, she taught piano and classroom music and directed a string ensemble at Walker Memorial Junior Academy in Florida. When the Wessmans moved to the Walla Walla area in 1990, Tonya taught private piano lessons and completed requirements for elementary teaching certification at Walla Walla College, now University.

In 1995, the family moved to Washougal, Washington, where she taught first and second grade and classroom music in grades one through eight for the next seven years. When the Wessmans returned to Walla Walla in 2002, she was hired to teach grades one and two at Rogers Adventist Elementary, a position she still holds. When possible, she also accompanies for Suzuki string recitals.

While teaching at RAE, she was awarded the Don Keele Excellence in Education Award in 2007. She used the money that comes with the award to attend the 2008 Iditarod's Winter Conference for Educators in Anchorage, Alaska. She learned how to connect the Iditarod race to the cultural and educational standards in Alaska and got materials she could use for the mini-unit curriculum on the Iditarod she uses in her classroom. Because of her Alaskan roots, this experience was "a dream come true."

Both of the Wessman children are musically talented and studied music through their academy years. Micah, an accomplished cellist, and Kira (Fazzari). a gifted violinist, not only played in the Walla Walla Valley Academy orchestra but also were members of the nationally known Portland Youth Philharmonic in Portland, Oregon. Kira and Micah began playing in the Walla Walla Symphony while still in academy. She continued violin lessons in college, and played in the La Sierra University and Washington State University orchestras.


Sources: Tonya Wessman, September 2011 and January 2012; North Pacific Union Gleaner, "The Don Keele Awards," July 2008; Personal Knowledge.