Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
From serving the President of the United States through song to instilling a love of music in tomorrow’s leaders, Wittenberg alumni music majors have discovered fulfilling careers in an industry frequently described as a “feast-or-famine” business. Journey into some of their worlds and discover what inspires them, the challenges they face and what they love about their work as they strive to make a difference one note at a time.
When multi-talented musician Greg Slawson ’92 surveyed his yard outside his newly purchased Cleveland Heights home a few years ago, he rejoiced in the fact that it lacked a “Zone of Mystery,” a place where unknown plantings and weeds converge to create a chaotic landscape.
Thirty-nine other houses he toured had such zones, and although Slawson still called in the professionals to help turn his lackluster yard into a manageable outdoor retreat, that first glimpse of the unknown stayed with him and eventually inspired the self-described neat-nick to compose a piece about the feral foliage.
That piece now joins several other innovative tracks on the first CD recorded by Kassaba, a unique quartet that Slawson founded in 2002 with wife Candice Lee, bassist Eric Hosemann and saxophonist Mark Boich, and one of the many avenues alumni music majors have taken since leaving Wittenberg’s hallowed halls.
Drawing upon the members’ roots in classical, hip-hop and jazz music, Kassaba performs original works composed by Slawson, which encompass concepts from several genres. Each member also plays different instruments — including close to 30 unusual percussion instruments from around the world — during a single piece so that the group’s movement about the stage flows like a choreographed work.
“Kassaba has been the most rewarding experience for me,” Slawson says. “I’ve really been able to stretch myself musically.” “Kassaba takes the vessel of jazz and pours into it the wine of avant-garde rigor and rhetoric with a playfulness reflected in the instrumental juggling act on stage,” wrote one music critic about the group’s first CD titled Zones. The group, which has performed throughout the Buckeye state, also recently debuted on the Northeast Ohio television show Applause, and it has been heard on CBC radio in Canada as well as on Cleveland-area radio stations.
Such success might have been predicted for Slawson, whose family significantly influenced his musical pursuits. His mother, Anita Pontremoli, is a concert pianist and head of the Collaborative Department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, while her husband, Lawrence Angell, was the principal double bass of the Cleveland Orchestra for years. His aunt, Terri Pontremoli, is also a concert violinist, and both of Slawson’s grandfathers were musicians.
Now an award-winning musician himself, Slawson started playing piano at age five, and today plays 30 instruments.
In 2000, the Dayton Jazz Orchestra commissioned his “Archipelago,” a concerto for piano and jazz orchestra, which Slawson premiered with the ensemble. He also composed “Prelude e Danza” for his mother and Arnold Steinhardt, first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet, among other pieces. Working with Kassaba and running a private piano studio with his wife for 75 students a week, however, take precedence these days.
“Life is about enjoying what you’re doing,” Slawson says, “and I can’t picture myself doing anything else.”
Anne Nispel ’79 shares Slawson’s passion for her work. At the tender age of four, Nispel knew she wanted to be an opera singer despite the fact that more than 15 years would pass before she actually saw her first opera.
“Opera was inspiring and interesting to me at a young age, and I really feel that this kind of music needs to be maintained as an aspect of our culture,” explains Nispel, who sang constantly as a child and performed publicly at age 10. “It’s also liberating in that you get to be another character on stage.”
From playing Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro and Despina in Cosl fan Tutte to Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Adele in Die Fiedermaus, Oscar in Masked Ball, Lauretta in Gianni Schicci and Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore, among other roles, Nispel enjoys reinventing herself as she performs across the country. She has also appeared as a soloist with numerous orchestras, including the Lansing Symphony, Long Beach Symphony, Virginia Symphony, Alabama Symphony and the New England Symphonic Ensemble, and she has been featured with the Kentucky Opera, Dayton Opera and Michigan Opera Theater. In addition, she maintains a part-time private studio where she teaches singing on the side.
“When you’re a singer, you’re a work in progress because your voice changes,” Nispel says. “You’re also never able to call the shots in this business. You’re constantly having to work at it.” For Nispel, this involves networking, auditioning whenever a door opens and taking time to understand music in order to interpret it better on stage.
“I remember professors at Wittenberg encouraging me and telling me that in this field ‘you need to have a steel heart, and you have to have staying power,’ and it’s all true,” Nispel says. “There are so many singers out there, and I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had.”
Nispel’s fellow classmate Wayne Wold ’79 has taken advantage of opportunities in his career as well. An assistant professor of music and college organist at Hood College in Maryland, Wold also has the honor of serving as the director of chapel music at Camp David, the presidential retreat and military post near Thurmond, Md.
A member of the Camp David Evergreen Chapel staff since 1996, Wold has played for three presidents, including George W. Bush, his father, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, and their families, all of whom actively participate in the worship services.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Wold recently told Hood College alumnae magazine writer Joy Derr regarding the high-security position. “They were looking for a local church musician and wanted someone to develop the adult and children’s choir program,” he added.
As director, Wold helps to lead worship for the President, his family, Cabinet members, members of Congress, world leaders and other invited guests.
“There is no doubt that serving at such a high-profile place is interesting, with its heads-of-states visits and peace summits, but it has also been meaningful and fulfilling to be there during times of crisis,” Wold explained to Derr, recalling the atmosphere immediately after Sept. 11, 2001.
Away from Camp David, Wold also finds fulfillment as an active church musician, poet, composer, author and clinician. Each year, he leads several hymn festivals, and more than 100 of his compositions have been published by 14 different U.S. and Australian companies. In addition, he has performed nationwide, including at New York’s Lincoln Center, and in several churches throughout Europe, among other venues, all while teaching music theory and music appreciation courses at Hood as well as teaching organ, harpsichord, piano and composition lessons.
At the same time, Wold often invites members of the Camp David community to Hood College events.
“We know they appreciate the service for they often thank the chaplain, the musicians and other worship leaders,” Wold says. “I’m only sorry that I can’t invite my Hood friends to join me at Camp David.”
Similar to Wold, Janet Beck Kaltenbach ’78 also has the privilege of working in a high-profile setting. The general manager of The American Boychoir, the United States’ premiere boys’ choir and one of the finest boychoirs in the world, Kaltenbach considers herself fortunate to be surrounded by such talent.
“The American Boychoir is North America’s answer to the Vienna Choir Boys,” she says.
Its members boys in grades 5 through 8 come from North and South America to pursue a rigorous academic and musical curriculum at the The American Boychoir School, the only non-sectarian boys’ choir school in the country originally founded in Columbus, Ohio, and now located in Princeton, N.J. The choir has recorded more than 60 CDs, has appeared numerous times on national television and radio, and has performed with the Vienna Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, among other famous musical ensembles.
“The music making is simply world-class,” explains Kaltenbach, whose interest in music developed at a young age. Both her parents were church organists, and she regularly joined her brother and sister in singing. Although she now works behind the scenes, supervising outside artist management and internal staff, assisting with concert bookings for the choir, serving as executive producer on all recording projects, and administering all budgets and financial strategies related to The American Boychoir operations, Kaltenbach finds her work rewarding.
“I enjoy being in the middle of the creative process,” she says. The fact that she now works with children and not adults as she did in her previous position as vice president of planning and institutional advancement at the New Brunswick Cultural Center in New Jersey, also consistently challenges her way of thinking.
“Children have different demands than adults, and I always have to remember that when it comes to scheduling their time,” she says. “It requires a different mindset.”
Being able to switch gears in terms of thinking certainly helped Scott Kumer ’92. The director of music at Chicago Sinai Congregation since 1999, Kumer never dreamed he would be doing this line of work. Yet his employment at the Jewish synagogue with a membership of 750 families has turned out to be quite rewarding.
“It has allowed me to become a more multi-faceted musician,” he says. Not only does Kumer continue to compose, but he also conducts and handles numerous administrative tasks, including supervising the synagogue’s professional quartet and volunteer choir. This is in addition to transcribing orchestral scores, arranging for various instrumental and vocal ensembles, overseeing a music series and completing a joint recording project, The Symphonic Organ: Transcriptions of Orchestral Masterworks, released on the London-based Meridian label a few years ago.
Kumer, who earned his master’s degree from the University of Michigan, even has experience refurbishing, repairing and maintaining pipe organs as well as tuning pianos. He has also had the chance to assist the University of Chicago chapel organist in planning for the rebuilding of the historic 1928 E.M. Skinner Organ in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
“If you’re going to pursue a profession in music, you need to be as well rounded as possible,” he says. “You also have to be open to unexpected opportunities and shift your focus as needed.”
Kumer also explained that he learns something new every day in his career, and he never wants to stop learning, a perspective Wittenberg and its music faculty helped to instill.
“Wittenberg was a critical base for me,” Kumer says. “Now I’m able to do what I love, make a living at it and continually share the gift of music with others.”
Janet Sturman ’78 loves what she does, too. An ethnomusicologist, professor and pianist, Sturman also serves as associate director of the School of Music and Dance at the University of Arizona and says that she enjoys working with motivated and inquisitive students the most.
“I love helping them develop skills, confidence and intellectual perception,” she says.
As an ethnomusicologist, Sturman, whose grandmother/ piano teacher encouraged her to pursue music, regularly introduces her students to the contemplative side of musical experience while boosting their skills in listening and their understanding of history and cultural differences. Her own research centers on the role of music in the maintenance, creation and projection of ethnic and social identity, and she has also studied the role of technology and the entertainment industry in shaping musical expression and cultural responses to music.
“My career continues to be an adventure with its own cycles,” Sturman says. “I have moved from teaching private piano to teaching in an interdisciplinary liberal arts program to teaching at a research university.”
Her fascination with multicultural perspectives first piqued at Wittenberg, though. “In fact, it was after viewing a film in Professor William Walter’s Japanese music class produced at Hunter College in New York City that prompted me to apply to the program in ethnomusicology at Hunter,” Sturman says. A number of Wittenberg’s music faculty also encouraged her to go to New York City.
“Going to New York City was a real turning point in my life. I feel I matured there,” she says.
Now a scholar herself, Sturman, author of Zarzuela: Spanish Operetta, American Stage in addition to numerous articles and reviews, says she continues to find fulfillment in her career.
“There are lots of challenges, but it has always been the case that my greatest rewards have come from watching the success of my students.”
Robert Hobby ’85 certainly identifies with Sturman’s “greatest rewards.” The director of music at the 3,500-member Trinity English Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., for the last 14 years, Hobby feels called to serve both the young and old through the ministry of music.
“I feel a passion to my calling, and all ages bring different gifts and rewards to me,” he says.
The son of a now retired Lutheran pastor, Hobby began playing the organ in the fourth grade. A year later, he was playing worship services, and by the time he entered Wittenberg, Hobby had already performed 11 solo recitals, composed music and gained valuable conducting experience as a director of music during high school.
Today, more than 100 of Hobby’s compositions are in print, and he is currently working on a secular piece for a semi- professional choir in Indiana, and several scared choral and instrumental pieces for congregations. In addition to his Trinity duties, he is also an active performer and clinician throughout the country.
Committed to a “traditional” approach to church music, Hobby says, “I try to find creative ways to make the music artistic in its integrity, faithful it its role of supporting theology and approachable for the people in whose context it was meant to serve.” He also tries to create an environment where individuals, particularly young people, feel they can express themselves freely and where everyone feels part of a familiar community.
“When people feel supported and when they feel a sense of community, the notes are no longer just notes on a page,” Hobby says. “People now sing from their shared experience in their journey through life.”
Committed to using music as means to support people’s faith for a lifetime, Hobby views his own career from a personal calling standpoint rather than a collection of professional stepping stones. It’s a perspective he learned as he matured and one in which Wittenberg played a significant part. “I felt much support and encouragement by everyone in the music department,” he says, “and I greatly value and respect the entire music faculty that prepared me for my journey.”
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112