Inside Moravian
e-Newsletter of the Moravian College Campus Community 10/8/13

ABOVE: Neil Wetzel (alto saxophone, second from right), associate professor of music, performs on the festival stage in Frydlant Castle at the faculty concert at the Karel Velebny Summer Jazz Workshop this past August. 


Music Faculty Teach, Perform in Europe

By Alyssa D’Ippolito ’15

Many musicians dream about traveling to Europe to tour and perform, but for Neil Wetzel, associate professor of music, and Music Department Artist Lecturers Gary Rissmiller and Skip Wilkins this wish has become a reality – not once, but on eight occasions.

For the past eight years, Wetzel, Rissmiller and Wilkins have been invited to participate as instructors and performers at the Karel Velebny Summer Jazz Workshop in the Czech Republic. During their most-recent visit, they played at U Maleho Glena and Agharta, well-known jazz clubs in Prague, and at the workshop they taught instrument specific classes and performed at a faculty concert in Frydlant Castle, which dates back to the 12th century.

“The workshop is such a wonderful opportunity,” said Wetzel, who also serves as director of jazz studies at Moravian. “It’s a learning opportunity for the students and for us.”

This year, the jazz workshop celebrated its 30th anniversary with more than 200 high school, university and adult students and teachers from across Europe.

Wetzel, Rissmiller and Wilkins were the only U.S. musicians invited to participate in this year’s workshop. In addition, Wetzel was asked to be the director of the big band orchestra for next year’s 2014 Karel Velebny Summer Workshop. “We are kind of like celebrities in that sense,” Wetzel said. “We are unique to the program in that our approach to teaching is often very different from the Czech teachers.”

Wetzel believes that involving the students in an active, student-centered class is more beneficial than standing in front of them lecturing. This means that students are encouraged to raise their hands and share their own experiences while constructing their own learning through participation in varied classroom activities.

It takes the students a little while to become comfortable with the more hands-on approach to teaching, he said, but ultimately the overall response from his students is a very positive one. “The students are more capable of learning from each other and are more engaged when we create a more constructivist classroom,” explained Wetzel.

“You have to improvise and use creative
problem solving in order to come at a song from
a different perspective. The result is a completely new approach and sound that is unique to
each student.”

– Neil Wetzel

Wetzel said that jazz music education is important because it teaches essential skills that can be used and applied to everyday life.

“You have to improvise and use creative problem solving in order to come at a song from a different perspective,” said Wetzel. “The result is a completely new approach and sound that is unique to each student.”

With art programs across the country taking budget hits, it is more important than ever to get students involved in other opportunities where they can practice their creative and problem solving skills, the musicians conclude.

According to Rissmiller, jazz is an art form that Europeans truly appreciate and embrace. He finds the workshop also to be very beneficial to the students. “Students will travel for hours and hours just to play in the workshop,” he said. “We try to teach them and, when they understand a concept, they go nuts. It is unbelievably rewarding.”

Wetzel, who plays saxophone, Rissmiller, drums, and Wilkins, piano, have also released a CD on the Cesky Rozhlas label in Europe called “Frydlant Nights.” The half-Czech (Rosta Fras, saxophone and Josef Feco, bass) and half-American band has toured central Europe and the U.S.

The CD features all original jazz compositions by members of the band. The CD was released in Europe, with a limited release in the United States. Wetzel plans to release his second CD (“Cowboys in Capes”) as leader next year.

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