Anthony Wayne Graduates Turn Passion For Music Into Careers

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — The Marching Generals’ recent performance along Chicago’s Miracle Mile showed the world just how passionate Anthony Wayne High School band members are about music.

High school bands and choirs have inspired many graduates to launch careers in music – profiled this week as part of a Mirror series following the careers of AW graduates. 

Abbigale Rose is a singer/songwriter who launched a music career in 2017.

A 2001 graduate, she was in choir beginning in sixth grade and still calls upon vocal teacher Amy Gelsone’s insistence on proper pitch and pronunciation when performing and recording. She grew up with music – her grandfather had a band in the Country Music Association and her parents led music at a country church– yet her aspirations to pursue it as a career didn’t come until after two children and the loss of a job in 2017.

She told herself, “If I don’t try music now, I’m never going to.”

Moose Zonjic, of the Michigan Hall of Fame and Moose & Da Sharks, heard a clip of her singing and told her she had potential. She took his advice on how to improve her performance and began working with a variety of guitar players before going solo.

An introvert by nature, Rose had to learn how to talk to the crowd, memorize songs and make friends in the music community.

Rose was nominated for Outstanding Rock/Pop Vocalist in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Detroit Music Awards, and for Outstand-ing Live Performance as well as being voted Best Singer and Best Blues/Jazz Artist in the 2019 Best of Toledo Awards – which she’s hoping to win again this year. She has also opened for Grammy Award-winning artist Lacy J Dalton and performs in various casinos.

In 2019, she made it through the audition process for The Voice but was put on a three-year callback contract because she didn’t have “the look” they wanted that year. She also has performed for a Netflix-sponsored event called Longmire Days in Wyoming, based on the popular series. 

Like so many performers, 2020 and the pandemic derailed her progress just as “the train was leaving the station,” she said. So, she offered community concerts on her front lawn.

Making a living as a musician isn’t easy, especially as a single mom, but she has help from her parents and some side jobs. The benefit of doing what you love and watching people connect over a song is priceless to her, she said.

“I have a closer connection to my fans. I learn their names and love their stories,” she said. “We’ve become friends.”

Wes Anderson writes, produces and releases music as a solo artist and with a rotating cast of guest artists. He also plays lead guitar in a Baltimore-based instrumental funk rock band called Soundwaves and performs solo as a hybrid DJ/instrumentalist.

A 2005 graduate, Ander-son took music theory at AWHS, but it was seeing the rock band 311 on MTV in 1996 that inspired him to pursue music as a career.

“I fell in love and knew I wanted to be like them,” he said. “I’ve been playing ever since.”

For the past decade, he’s played in various bands, touring the country. In the past three years, he’s collaborated with high-profile artists like 311’s bassist P-Nut, Lyrics Born, King Green from RDGLDGRN (pronounced Red Gold Green), DJ Lethal from Limp Bizkit and others. The songs can be heard at wesandersonmusic.com.

One of the challenges of the music business is the continual exploitation of artists at every level, from streaming platforms like Spotify to shady promoters, he said. Still, he advises those pursuing a career in music to “invest in yourself, be patient and find a way to enjoy the journey.”

Art Bradford is 74 but still manages to perform on piano, organ and trumpet, despite some setbacks that affected his playing hand.

A 1965 graduate, Bradford was in several AW bands, then went on to teach music in public schools. Since then, he’s played in rock, country, jazz, college and community bands and more recently at dinner clubs, retirement homes, as a church organist and in weddings.

He continues to play taps for military funerals, as many as 72 a year through an honor guard that serves Northwest Ohio.

“It’s sad when they have to use electronic devices when a real trumpet is appreciated so much by the families.”

In the 1960s, he played with Spectrum, which included Tom Phipps, Dean Hall and Dwight Bucher. Later, he was in the Tommy Brown Soul Band, Rock Candy Band and the Bob Bradley and Ralph Studer country band. 

“You will find a huge number of people from Whitehouse as the town overflowed with musical talent for years,” he said. “Burton Bender was from Whitehouse, and he wrote the Anthony Wayne fight song. Johnny Jones played a number of spots on trumpet and organ. When he played for Mud Hens games in Toledo, I would sub for him with his combo.”

Bradford played a duo with Danny Kronfield, singing and playing keyboard. The two played at the Beaver Club, not far from the former Frank Uncle’s Supper Club. After dinner, people would head to the Beaver Club to cut loose, he said. 

“I was even asked to play jazz piano by Clifford Murphy and Claude Black at Murphy’s Jazz Club in Toledo after Cliff heard me playing piano and teaching jazz to young music students at Valley Music in Maumee,” he said.

For anyone getting into the music business, he would advise learning all the instruments and getting some theory and ear training, which he did while earning a five-year music degree at Bowling Green State University.

Devin Michael East writes, sings and plays guitar and bass for the Waterville-based Oliver Hazard Band.

A 2009 graduate, East took a music history course but didn’t get involved in music until after he finished playing baseball for a year in junior college.

“It was a passion that I thought could get me further along in the future. I loved to play, and I wanted to do it badly. It was nice to meet the guys I play with now – it definitely makes things more enjoyable and successful,” he said of bandmates Mike Belazis and Griffin McCulloch, another AW graduate.

The band got its break in 2017 and has been touring living rooms and festivals ever since. Waterville hosts an annual Oliver Hazard Day with the namesake band and other indie-rock groups performing. All three are always writing songs to release as singles which obtain thousands of views on YouTube.

As a career, being a member of a band is great if you are following your passion and enjoy traveling, East said.

“I love eating new places and seeing the country. I’m lucky to do it with good friends.”

It’s a tough business, though. Traveling can be hard after a while and staying on top of the business can be a challenge, he said.

“My advice is to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, so you can have the patience to succeed,” he said.

Susan (Kirkpatrick) Kundert plays the oboe for fun and profit – a job she’s continued after retiring as a music minister in a Lutheran church.

A 1962 graduate, Kundert said she knew at age 5 during Vacation Bible School that music was going to be her life. In high school, she took both band and choir, the only music classes offered at the time.

As a musician, she works mostly nights and weekends.

“If you are meant to be a musician, there is just nothing else that can satisfy you quite as much,” she said.

Her advice to those who want to earn a living as a musician: “Know your own heart. Prepare yourself well. And keep plugging away at it.”

Benjamin Locke is a professor of music at Kenyon College, where he directs two choirs, teaches classes in music theory and conducting, and serves as the artistic director for a community orchestra.

A 1968 graduate, Locke remembers first singing full choral scores in eighth and ninth grade. Miss Pickett encouraged him, and during his sophomore year, Mr. Lee Friese was hired and started several ambitious programs, including the Anthony Wayne Choral Society and a string program, in which Locke played bass.

He recalls a spine-tingling moment during high school choir practice of an advanced choral piece, “Behold a Star from Jacob Shining” by Felix Mendelssohn.

“About four pages into it, there was the most beautiful dissonance (and resolution) between the soprano and the tenor parts that just felt like heaven opening up. Searching for and creating such experiences in music became a passion,” he said.

In 1972, Locke and his mother, Rose Mary Locke, founded Masterworks Chorale, which has premiered several compositions by local and world-renowned composers and sponsors annual high school internships and choral workshops.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Locke taught vocal and general music in Toledo before earning a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was hired by Kenyon College in 1984.

At Kenyon, he has a lot of autonomy and works with colleagues who are dedicated to helping students find their passions in music, whether for personal enrichment or for possible careers.

Professional development activities have taken him to South Africa, where he started a desktop publishing business to produce transcriptions of South African folksongs and other works for choirs. 

“Some days I have so much fun I can’t believe they pay me to do this,” he said. “Other days, I realize that I put in a lot more time than is expected of me to make sure that things come out the right way. It takes a lot of effort to build and sustain a good music career, but the old adage is true: If you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life.”

Matt Mauro runs a large, private studio offering lessons for piano and horn students, serves as the music and choir director for a church, and plays French horn as a freelance substitute for orchestras including the Dayton Philharmonic, Cincinnati Chamber Orch-estra, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and Toledo Symphony Orchestra.

Last year, he self-published an etude book (a method of study) for horn players to use as they prepare for orchestral auditions; it has been received quite well in the horn world, he said. Mauro has also acted as an adjunct faculty member at Northern Kentucky University and Morehead State University. 

A 2007 graduate, he began taking private lessons in piano at age 5 and French horn in middle school.

“I knew that I wanted to play in or be involved in an orchestra or orchestral music somehow,” he said. “I found every possible way to be involved in music.”

Mauro was in the Toledo Junior Orchestra and Toledo Youth Orchestra, participating in many honor bands throughout the state. His piano teacher, Luke Bartolomeo, also supported and inspired his music composition goals.

“I learned so much about music theory from him, which gave me what were, at the time, very basic tools to write music that worked,” he said.

A bachelor’s degree in music education from The Ohio State University gave him flexibility and job security, but he went on to earn his master’s degree, then a doctorate of music in horn performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

“The doctorate allows greater flexibility in securing a position as a full-time, tenure-tracked college horn professor,” said Mauro, who has lived in Cincinnati since 2012.

“I am constantly im-mersed in music. I am making my entire living as a musician, which I do not take for granted, as this is not necessarily something that all graduates with music degrees are able to do,” he said. 

Music as an industry is not the most stable of careers, especially as music and arts programs are cut from schools and orchestra budgets are being cut, he noted.

“I try to stay very proactive to make sure that I have enough private students at any given time in case performance opportunities are scarce (like they were when COVID limited our lifestyles the most),” he said.

For anyone who wants to pursue a career in music, Mauro suggests listening, performing and practicing as much as possible.

“Immerse yourself in every possible opportunity you can in high school and as you pursue your college degrees in music,” he said. “Be proactive and find your own performance opportunities.”

Conner Owen is a production consultant and sound technician for Great Lakes Sound & Lighting in Toledo. A live-event production company, GLS provides sound and lighting services for events ranging from concerts and corporate meetings to high school graduations. 

This summer, Owen played a role in the Solheim Cup opening ceremony with Gwen Stefani and the private John Legend concert at Toledo Museum of Art.

“I often find myself behind the mixing board running sound for local bands, political candidates, CEOs of large organizations and even for the Toledo Symphony Orchestra,” he said.

A 2015 graduate, Owen was involved in every aspect of band, playing saxophone and bassoon.

“I’ve always had a passion for music and knew I wanted it to play a role in my life somehow,” he said, adding that it’s challenging to earn a steady income as a performing musician. It was during a live sound reinforcement class at Owens Community College that he realized he could earn an income working behind the scenes with artists.

The live-events industry can include a lot of long days – such as 14 to 16 hours on a Friday, followed by a similar schedule on a Saturday, working outside with temperatures over 100 or pop-up thunderstorms. It’s also not unusual to get last-minute requests for shows, throwing a curveball into weekend plans, he said.

“The reward is after going through challenge after challenge throughout the day, being able to stop and look around during the show and realize that your hard work played a role in making the event happen for thousands of people to enjoy,” he said.

To succeed in the industry requires showing up on time, being reliable and trustworthy.

“You’ve got to be self-directed and able to get ahead of problems before they happen. You can learn almost anything while working on the job, but you have to want to learn,” he said.

Leslie (Kwiatkowski) Rubio is a band director for a small private school in Adrian, Mich.

A 1991 graduate, Rubio was involved in the arts at AWHS, playing clarinet in the marching and symphonic bands, and keyboard and alto sax for the jazz band. She was also in concert choir, girls ensemble and show choir, participating in spring musicals throughout high school.

Joining band in the fifth grade, she was encouraged by music teacher Roger Sams to choose the clarinet and take private lessons after school weekly.

At the high school, choir director Amy Gelsone shared her love of vocal music, and band director Constance Jones was a fantastic role model; both were crucial in her decision to pursue music after graduation, she said.

Rubio is in her fourth year of teaching band for grades 6-12. The junior high and high school bands participate in the adjudicated Michigan State Band and Orchestra Festival each year. Last spring, her high school band received its first Superior rating since 1997. 

In addition, Rubio teaches private lessons on instruments and voice during the summer and is music director for the school’s theater department. 

“Getting to work with students, seeing them pick an instrument, watching their excitement as they learn their first notes and walking with them as they progress is amazing,” she said. “I love having a program that allows students to come and feel free to be who they are in a safe environment. I also love being able to share my love of music with students. Exploring different genres and introducing them to music they may have never heard and then watching them really enjoy it is so fun.”

The past two years with COVID-19 have been difficult for all music departments because of limits to how much or even if students can play instruments. That’s made it hard to recruit and retain band students.

For anyone considering a career as a band director, Rubio advises a lifelong learning approach. 

“Take lessons on all the instruments so you can play along with at least your first-year students,” she said. “Learn about music from other cultures and eras. Read about different learning styles so you can help all of your students. Connect with other band directors, learn from them, invite them to work with your band. First build community, then build your program.”

Andrew Ruetz is the band director for West Muskingum Local Schools in Zanesville, leads his church’s Carillon hand bell choir and choir for teenage singers, and plays trombone as a soloist and in a variety of bands and orchestras. 

A 1990 graduate, Ruetz was active in all of the bands offered at Anthony Wayne at the time, sang in the choir through eighth grade and took music theory and music history. 

“I fell in love with music early on in my days at Anthony Wayne thanks to some amazing teachers. Roger Sams showed me how awesome playing trombone in band could be. I learned from multiple directors in high school: Ron McVicker, Kevin Heidbreider, Robert O’Neil, Vince Krolak, Constance Jones and Chris Heidenreich. It truly takes a village as each one of these wonderful educators had a hand in shaping the person I am today.”

He was teaching private trombone lessons to a professor’s son when he realized he wanted to get into teaching. Ruetz was nervous as the young man played a trombone solo for an adjudicated event – and earned a Superior rating.

“Seeing the joy on his face as he received the news of his accomplishment helped me realize that I wanted to help more students love music that way. It was what all of my teachers had done for me and my classmates at Anthony Wayne,” he said.

As band director, Ruetz gets students started on their chosen instruments and works with them through graduation. He prepares students for solos and ensembles for community performances and contests, and he works with the choir director on performances, including high school musicals.

Among the students’ favorite activities: participating in the Anthony Wayne High School Showcase of Bands.

“It’s just as big a thrill today as a director as it was then as a student to perform on that field in the stadium,” he said.

Sharing a love of music with students is the biggest benefit of the job – especially the excitement they experience at learning to play an instrument, he said. The job can require long hours away from family, and burnout is a concern for many band directors, but staying organized and learning to balance work and personal time helps keep him fresh.

“Teaching music is an extremely rewarding career, but it is not always easy,” he said, advising those considering the career to keep focus on the reason behind teaching: a love of music and sharing that with students.

“It is also important to stay active as a performer and join a group to make music together. It’s extremely rejuvenating being on the other side of the baton,” he said. 

Mike Story is an exclusive composer/arranger for Alfred Music, the world’s largest educational music publisher. He composes and arranges music for elementary, middle school and high school concert bands, marching bands, jazz bands and orchestras. He also serves as the editor for marching band publications for Alfred.

A 1974 graduate, Story was in bands and choir, but he almost quit band before his freshman year because he wanted to play football.

“I ended up joining the band anyways. The first time I heard that marching band play as a participant, I was hooked – it sounded so cool,” he said.

He became curious about how all the instruments worked together to make a band arrangement sound good, so he started studying the conductor scores of the pieces to learn about chords, melodies and percussion.

“I have been incredibly blessed to be able to actually make a living off of something that I love doing,” he said. 

Working from home, he has had the opportunity to arrange music by some of the best composers in the world, including film composers John Williams, Howard Shore and Alan Silvestri. 

He advises anyone getting into the music business, whether it’s composing, performing or teaching, to major in music education in order to teach as a fallback plan. Story also encourages students to find the one thing they’re good at and then work to become the very best.

“From a composer and arranger standpoint, listen to and study scores from as many different writers as you can – you will learn a lot! Although I learned much in college classes, most of what I learned was from studying other composers’ and arrangers’ works,” he said.

Tim Story composes and produces music, playing piano and keyboards, in his Maumee studio. He’s produced three dozen records and has worked with and performed with talented musicians and record labels around the world.

A 1975 graduate, Story is a self-taught musician who was first introduced to electronic music from Europe while working in a Toledo record store during high school.

“I set up a makeshift studio in my parents’ basement in Whitehouse and experimented for several years,” he said. “In 1981, some of my works were accepted by record labels in France and Norway and I suddenly realized that this thing I loved might actually be more than a hobby. In 1983, I started doing music full time and never looked back.”

Story feels fortunate to be able to do something he loves – making art for a living – and the freedom that comes with being independent. Earlier in his career, he felt the uncertainty of financial instability, especially raising two daughters who graduated from AW.

“Royalties are definitely not a weekly paycheck,” he said. “It takes discipline to be your own boss, but I wouldn’t change anything.”

For musicians who want to pursue what they love for a career, Story has some advice. 

“Stay true to your vision, and realize that it’s going to take hard work, and probably a little more time than you think,” he said. “Always challenge yourself to improve and be realistic about your talents. Don’t be discouraged if you need a ‘day job’ for a while; making music is a joy and its own reward even if it doesn’t turn into a full-time career.”

Muddy (Binkley) Shut-ters has been singing and playing guitar around the Toledo area since before she graduated in 2014.

“I’ve been a performer while I’ve completed high school, my bachelor’s degree, my master’s degree and now as I’ve entered motherhood. Being able to perform is something I am thankful for and hope I can continue doing while I grow into adulthood,” she said.

In addition to writing and performing her own music, which is a blend of southern rock, pop, folk and the blues, Muddy has released two albums. She plays solo acoustic shows, duo acoustic shows with Chris Shutters and electric shows with Ryan Mangold as The Shakin’ Shivers.

“Once I noticed that different establishments were reaching out to me to play music, and that I was being taken seriously at a young age, I found that playing music could be a feasible endeavor for me,” she said. 

The job provides flexibility, independence, growth and networking, but has its challenges – including double booking and limited job opportunities, she said. 

“My advice would be to go with your gut and stick to your own guns when it comes to paving your way,” she said. “It is always good to network and make connections, but at the end of the day, putting in more individual effort will pay off better in the end. Also, be sure to know enough material that could engage a crowd.”

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