Meet Our Faculty: Dr. Wetzel, Music

Dr. Pierson Wetzel, Head of the Music Department

Dr. Wetzel earned his undergraduate degree in music education at Miami University of Ohio, his M.M. from the New England Conservatory in Boston, and his doctorate at Ohio State University, where he served as the graduate teaching assistant to the trumpet studio, worked with the Symphonic Choir, and accompanied numerous vocal recitals. He joined the faculty in 2007 and lives on campus with his family.

Why do you love music?

I love the way I feel when I play or listen to music. I am not good at expressing my thoughts and feelings with words, written or spoken. With music, though, I am able to connect with my deepest feelings. There is no barrier of words when I am in music. When I’m listening to or playing great music, it touches a part of me that needs to be expressed.

What motivated you to become a teacher?

This is a sensitive area for me because initially I wanted to be a performer, not a teacher. I always found myself in teaching roles along the way, but thought of it as my back-up plan. Yet, here I am in my ninth year at Middlesex, and sixteenth year of educating. As I have matured, I have grown to love the way the role of Music Educator feels, and I realize that the reason I found myself in teaching roles all along is because I am good at it! I particularly enjoy teaching Middlesex students. Whether they self-identify as musicians or not, they are eager learners.

What do you hope your students will learn from you?

I hope that students learn the power of music in their lives. Something amazing happens when you perform music (alone or in front of an audience)-- it can transport you to a whole new world. It is difficult to describe the feeling.  It is almost an out of body experience. Likewise, listening—really listening—to music can do the same. It would make me happy to know that Middlesex students are able to use music, whether listening or playing, to bring happiness to their lives.

What brings you the most joy in working with MX students?

It is difficult not to experience joy around Middlesex students (even for a cynical person like me)—they are full of it! I love that they know no concept of something being too difficult. If I give them something to learn, they just assume it is within their ability, and they stretch themselves.  

How do you select what pieces the MX ensembles will perform?

There is a lot of wonderful music out there—and a lot of terrible music, too! I have an ability to discern quality when it comes to music. I chose music I love and is important within the larger musical community. I try to pick music that will be accessible to our audiences, and music that stretches the performers and listeners, as well. It is no mystery to people who know me, however, that I don’t usually listen to popular music. So, when it comes to choosing songs for Small Chorus, I rely on suggestions from members of the chorus.  

Who are your favorite composers?

I tend to listen to early music (Baroque era) and new music (1970-present). Easily, my two all-time favorite composers are Johann Sebastian Bach and Nico Muhly. Bach was a genius, whose music would have been lost to oblivion if not for its accidental discovery by Mendelsohn in 1828. Since then, the world has been influenced by Bach’s music. His music created the ‘rules’ of tonal harmony that every musician since him has studied. It is beautiful, mathematical, complex, and spiritual. I never grow tired of hearing his Orchestral Suites, keyboard music (his Goldberg Variations—amazing!), chorales and cantatas.

Nico Muhly is the most relevant composer alive today. At just 34, he has been commissioned by major ensembles and performers (Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opera Ballet, and Hillary Hahn to name a few). I am currently listening to his “Bright Mass with Canons”, which draws on his influence by early music composer, Thomas Tallis. Also, Muhly’s “Drones” album amazes me. It is a musical interpretation of the constant hum of noise in our lives. You should listen to it!

Dr. Pierson Wetzel, Head of the Music Department

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