Southeast graduate accepted to prestigious conducting program

Friday, May 30, 2003

He began as a piano player, then became a composer, then a teacher and now a wind ensemble conductor. Tyson Wunderlich likes to set goals that he can accomplish, but being accepted into the conducting program at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston was not something he thought was possible.

It happened nonetheless.

"There's always a positive outcome to all hard work," he said. However, NEC was not on the top of his list when he was applying to graduate schools, he said, because of the college's prestige. The school accepts only one or two students per year, and now that he is accepted, he said, "It will make me work harder."

Carol Wunderlich, his mother, said his attitude and successes did not surprise her.

"He's driven, and a lot of this is from his own self-motivation," she said. "He had goals, and he was determined to achieve them." She said his love for traveling and meeting new people also helped him.

The 22-year-old is a native of Altenburg, Mo., a town with a population of just over 300, but he lives on his own in Cape Girardeau.

Currently, Wunderlich gives piano lessons to about 20 children in Altenburg and Cape Girardeau. He also teaches at the Southeast Missouri Music Academy alongside the same people who taught him piano from seventh through 12th grade.

He summarizes all his hobbies and life into one statement: "Music is life. I'm pretty much living that."

His awareness of music even mingles with his love for cats. His 4-year-old, fuzzier-than-normal Siamese is named Forte, a musical term meaning loud. "I had to name him that because, when I first got him, he wouldn't shut up," he said.

Early beginnings

Wunderlich began piano lessons at 10, but his musical influence started sooner. His mother leisurely played the piano and his father the trumpet. He said some of his earliest memories include his mother playing "Winter Wonderland" on their standard, upright piano. The family also had a double-keyboard organ that he always played.

Wunderlich's mother said she never had to tell him to practice.

He attended Southeast Missouri State University and graduated this month with a bachelor's degree in music. Originally a music education major, he switched to performance because he preferred to learn through performing rather than books, he said. During high school and college, he acquired several awards at competitions but doesn't remember all of them.

Wunderlich studied piano under Dr. James Sifferman, associate professor of music, and he independently studied conducting under Dr. Robert Gifford, professor of music. "I'm very blessed that my closest professors have been my best," he said.

Gifford asked Wunderlich during his sophomore year if he was interested in independent study. "I saw his ability to express himself with his hands," Gifford said. "He seemed very at ease as a conductor. His musicianship came through when you saw him as a conductor."

Gifford helped Wunderlich during the process of applying to graduate schools, and despite the competitive field, he was sure he would be accepted somewhere. Gifford said he's happy and proud of Wunderlich for being accepted not just into the New England Conservatory, but Florida State University as well.

One thing really struck Wunderlich when he had to decide where to go. "The biggest thing about NEC is they were organized," he said. "They were big on communication and I've got to have communication."

Dr. Charles Peltz, director of wind ensemble activities at NEC, was involved in Wunderlich's enrollment process. After a video resume and an audition, he saw the future conductor as someone who wanted to learn in the world of music.

Wunderlich's piano background and his desire to attend NEC influenced Peltz's decision to take him on, he said.

During his visit to the NEC campus, Peltz said, Wunderlich visited a conducting class as an observer. However, the designated pianist did not show up. Without being asked, he raised his hand and offered to stand in as the pianist. To Peltz, it was an "extraordinary example" because it was not required and Wunderlich had never seen the material before.

"Rather than sitting and observing in safety," Peltz said, "he chose to get up and play on sight in front of people he had never met before. He played well."

Wunderlich said he dreams to have a 200-member orchestra under him, yet he is willing to let that dream expand as long as it involves music. He chose to be a conductor, because it combines all aspects of music, he said, including composition, style and teaching.

"You have to be able to teach rather than preach," he said, "because as a teacher, you have to earn your respect. You can't just sit there and say, 'I'm God.'"

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