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home : local news archive : features July 9, 2014

Trachsel climbs in music world
1995 CHS grad now serving as director of bands at Ohio University
By Jane Lawson
The Daily Times Herald

March 27, 2013



Nestled on a hill on the south side of Carroll there was a home filled with a mother, a father and three boys. In every corner of that house, there was music.

Music was very much a part of the Trachsel household. There was a big wooden console stereo with a record player and radio in the living room, a Wurlitzer upright piano, various musical instruments and plenty of recorded music to enjoy. In the earlier years the family listened to records and 8-track cassettes.

Oldest son, Andy Trachsel, of Athens, Ohio, recalls the record player was always playing something. Music ranging from children's storybook albums to Christmas music during the holiday season, to recordings of the Iowa All-State Band from the mid-1960s when Trachsel's late father, Roger, played in the band as a clarinetist. Trachsel even remembers Michael Jackson's "Thriller" blaring from that old record player. The album was a Christmas gift one year.

In later years music was played by the boys on cassette tapes and CDs. Trachsel can still recall when he purchased his first CD in Ames in January 1992 at the mall in Ames. The CD was Nirvana's "Nevermind," and Trachsel said he was "blown away" by the overall sound of the musical group.

Today, Trachsel's music collection is still eclectic and has grown by quite a bit. On a recent business trip, Trachsel, director of bands at University of Ohio in Athens, Ohio, packed 50 CDs into his carry-on luggage from a music convention he'd attended in Chicago.

Trachsel's CD and digital music collection is extremely diverse and grows daily. His computer's hard drive has over 100 gigabytes of music, which would provide him over two months' worth of music played back to back.

These days you can find Trachsel grooving to anything from psychedelic rock and indie rock to the New York Philharmonic playing Tchaikovsky on his headphones.

"I love all kinds of music, and that is a direct outgrowth of all we listened to and played at home and in the community when I was growing up," Trachsel said.

Not only was Trachsel, a 1995 Carroll High School graduate, surrounded by music at home, but also at school and at church. Both of his parents, Lana Downing, of Guthrie Center and the late, Roger Trachsel, also grew up playing music. His mother played piano and sang in her school choir. Lana has always been active in church choir and also played in the bell choir at First United Methodist Church in Carroll. Roger played both clarinet and saxophone in high school.

While some parents enjoy a quiet household, Trachsel's parents encouraged their three sons Andy, Tony and Adam, to make music. Trachsel's mother taught Trachsel how to play the piano for several years until he began taking lessons from his neighbor, Joan Gronstal.

Besides home the music program at First United Methodist Church in Carroll also had an powerful impact on Trachsel. Simply sitting in the congregation listening to the music in the service including the voices in the choir, the organ, the piano and bell choir were not only enjoyable to Trachsel, but educational.

Trachsel was exposed to reading four-part harmonies in the church hymnal at an early age by singing in the congregation. He also took part in the youth music program and later sang in the adult choir while in high school.

Not only did Trachsel love the listening to music at church, but also at home. Trachsel shared, "I loved sitting in the living room and listening to records on the stereo and hearing my mom play piano. My favorites were "Music Box Dancer," and "Chariots of Fire," but most memorably, the theme to "Star Wars."

Trachsel said he also learned a great deal about music at Fairview Elementary first with Ellen Severin and then Mary Johnson as his elementary music educators.

In fifth grade at Fairview, Trachsel began to play alto saxophone under the instruction of Ruth Carter. However, the saxophone was not his first choice. At first Trachsel succumbed to peer pressure and wanted to play the clarinet just like his friends, but when he told his parents of his decision, his father, Roger, an All-State clarinetist at Audubon High School, had a suggestion for his son. He explained that the saxophone might be a wiser choice because Trachsel could play jazz, as well as concert music.

"As a conductor, I love the clarinet, but I'm so glad that my folks wanted me to play saxophone instead. I wouldn't be doing what I am now without it," said Trachsel.

Trachsel's father's advice paid off, and he learned to play the saxophone throughout high school under the direction of siblings, Ruth Carter and Fred Burrack. Trachsel and Burrack, now head of music education and director of graduate studies at Kansas State University, still keep in touch on a regular basis.

"He's had a huge impact on my life and career," Trachsel said.

At Carroll High School Trachsel played in concert band, marching band, solo and ensemble contest, and several jazz bands and combos. He also played in the church band and was accompanied by Nancy Davis, who accompanied at both Trachsel's church and school.

The choral music program led by Doug Sweeney also played a large role in Trachsel's musical experience at Carroll High School. He participated in concert choir, swing choir, and solo and ensemble contests. Trachsel was also part of the Iowa All-State Choir as a tenor his senior year, as well as performed in the musicals "Bye, Bye Birdie" and "Into the Woods."

Trachsel enjoyed all aspects of the music program at Carroll High, but really loved performing with the jazz band. He recalls many hours of practice preparing for performances and competitions when he would practice his saxophone alone in his bedroom and his father would come up to give him advice.

By the time he was a senior, he was playing lead alto saxophone and got to play featured solos with the band. The band qualified for the Iowa Jazz Championships Trachsel's junior and senior years.

"As a saxophonist, it was where my instrument really got to shine as a featured instrument," Trachsel said.

Trachsel said he had a lot of fun playing in several combos in and out of school playing at school functions, nursing homes, women's luncheons, the Court Street Pub, the Carroll Country Club, etc.

Originally Trachel's career choice was to be a lawyer; however, he changed his mind very late in high school.

"The influence of my music teachers Fred Burrack and Doug Sweeney, as well as the success and enjoyment that I was experiencing in music, made it seem inevitable that I should study music in college," explained Trachsel.

Trachsel looked at a few colleges and settled on Drake University in Des Moines and majored in instrumental music education. His goal was to teach high school band in rural Iowa, something Trachsel calls "a fine and great career."

Unexpectedly during Trachsel's junior year at Drake his career goal began to shift when he became infatuated with the music of the concert band. He began studying conducting and collecting scores and recordings.

Trachsel's first teaching job was tougher than he expected. He was living on his own in Ankeny and teaching band was more frustrating than he anticipated. Then his father, Roger, passed away after a long battle with cancer. With this change in Trachsel's life came a shift in his career goal.

As he was driving to Iowa City one winter weekend to visit friends, he realized he was very excited to get there. Then it dawned on him.

"I was excited to go to a place where everyone was as passionate about their focus as I was about mine - a college town where experts in one field regularly interacted with leaders in another. It was then I realized I wanted and needed to go to graduate school to learn more about my field and become a collegiate conductor," recounted Trachsel.

One week later Trachsel was on the phone with the band conductors at the University of North Texas where his mentor at Drake University, Bob Meunier, director of bands, had studied. Trachsel inquired about joining the graduate wind conducting program and attended a conducting workshop at the University of North Texas the following summer.

Trachsel, a 1999 Drake University graduate, was director of bands at North Polk Junior-Senior High for one year and then a band teacher at Dallas Center-Grimes High School for three years before Trachsel and his wife, Kirsten, whom he met while attending Drake, moved to Texas. Kirsten, also a music major, was assistant director of bands at Southeast Polk High School for two years after graduation.

In 2003 Trachsel began his graduate studies at the University of North Texas and Kirsten taught at Boyd Independent School District, just north of Fort Worth. After four years in Texas, Trachsel earned a master of music in conducting and a doctor of musical arts in conducting. He was hired as a postdoctoral teaching fellow and assistant director of bands at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia. Kirsten was 36 weeks pregnant when the couple made their move east to Athens, Ga. Their baby was due on the first day of classes at the university, but thankfully, their son, Andersen was born one week past his due date.

Now 5 years old, Andersen is a preschooler following in his parents' footsteps loving the world of music. There is no doubt young Andersen loves music. Trachsel said music is always part of his play. When he was very young, he would pretend pot lids were cymbals, and he would march around the house singing the national anthem.

Kirsten stays home with Andersen while keeping busy with many different roles. She works part-time as the Christian education coordinator at their church, watches some of their friends' children during the day and also owns a fabric art business, Calico Skies Crafts, on etsy.com and sells her work at local art shows.

Trachsel has been director of bands at Ohio University in Athens, since 2008. He also teaches undergraduate and graduate conducting classes and a class on the history and repertoire of the wind band. Additionally he conducts the wind symphony, the school's select concert band, as well as the university's concert band, which is primarily for non-music majors.

Trachsel's duties don't stop at conducting as he is assistant director of recruiting and scheduling for the school of music.

In the summertime Trachsel coordinates and conducts a summer concert band series on campus. This concert series is made up of community and university members.

Currently there are 240 students in the university marching band, Marching 110. The name used to refer to the number of band members, but the band has been expanding for the past decade. In order to keep with the "110 theme," Trachsel and his colleague, Richard Suk, tell their students they expect them to give 110 percent in everything they do for historical and symbolic purposes.

Trachsel credits colleague Suk, as the brains behind the band. Suk is in charge of Marching 110 and coordinates and teaches the majority of the day-to-day operations with help from teaching assistants.

Trachsel also credits the university's strong student leadership to a band that runs smoothly.

In May the Marching 110 and the wind symphony is traveling to Europe to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the band at Ohio University, an idea conceived by Trachsel and Suk. The groups will perform in Ireland and Italy over a period of eight days.

Marching 110 is well-known across the world. In the fall of 2011 the band performed the popular song "Party Rock Anthem" as part of a halftime show. A parent with two sons in the Marching 110 was in the stands and took video of the performance and posted it on YouTube that weekend.

What happened next was a total surprise. Within a week the video had over 1 million hits. The song was a chart-topper at the time and soon phone calls and emails were coming in from all over the world. The video was featured on television and the Internet many times.

Trachsel says the "Party Rock Anthem" performance is exactly what the band has been doing for 45 years, performing popular music in an exciting style that includes dancing.

Last fall the same thing happened when the band performed "Gangnam Style" by the Korean pop star Psy. This time it was arranged ahead of time to have the video taken with multiple cameras and cross-editing by a professional video production company. The video was pieced together in a camper outside the stadium immediately after the game and then posted on YouTube.

The video took off immediately gaining 1 million hits a day for five days. In those five days the video was featured on the "Today" show, Anderson Cooper's daytime show, ESPN, and many other media outlets. Trachsel even received a phone call from Tokyo from a television show that wanted approval for playing the video on their show.

Most of Marching 110's performances are as high-energy as "Party Rock Anthem" and "Gangnam Style." Trachsel said, "For the most part, what you see is what this band has been doing since 1967. Typically, for halftime shows they play popular music, marching one or two numbers, then the third tune is usually a dance-chart topper. Pregame is more traditional, but still with the band's unique brand of excitement - high-step marching style with a "swagger" from left to right, and dancing."

According to Trachsel, his young son, Andersen has great ears, picks up melodies easily and has always been able to sing things back at the same pitch. Trachsel recalls once for an entire week, Andersen kept singing a certain song over and over again and said it was a song he'd heard at a recent football game. Since the band typically plays pop tunes, Andersen belts out the melodies to the songs, minus the words.

The following week, Trachsel was standing on the field when the same song was played over the stadium's P.A. system. He looked for his son in the stands and found Andersen beaming from ear to ear knowing his dad finally heard the song he'd been hearing in his head for a week. The song turned out to be "Power" by R&B star Kanye West.

Andersen has memorized much of the music the Marching 110 plays including "Raise Your Glass" by Pink, "Cat Scratch Fever" by Ted Nugent and the words and melody to the Ohio University fight song.

Trachsel and his wife, Kirsten, have not pushed Andersen to take piano lessons, but that may be on the horizon very soon for their musical boy.

Trachsel's two younger brothers, Adam and Tony, also took piano lessons from their mother, and Adam continued lessons with Nancy Davis. Both played musical instruments when they were young, and both brothers are still involved in the arts.

Tony and Adam live in Portland, Ore. Tony works for Living Room Theaters in Portland where he is a theater programmer and develops alternative economical digital projection for mass distribution to theaters nationwide.

Adam has an active musical career.

Andy is very proud of his brother and said he is a "phenomenal bass player" who plays in several groups in Portland as a member of the bands and works as a freelance musician.

Adam has been a member of and played for several bands in the Northeast. He plays piano, guitar, and sitar and is the bassist and co-singer on The Lumineers' debut album, which has now gone platinum, selling 1 million copies. The Lumineers are a Denver-based folk-rock band that earned two Grammy nominations this year. Trachsel explains Adam is not credited as the bassist on the album because he played on the album as a freelance musician. However, he did appear with The Lumineers on Craig Ferguson's "Late Show" on CBS and performed their hit, "Hey Ho" on stage with them. Adam plays classically in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and teaches music lessons on piano, guitar and bass.

Trachsel's mother, Lana, and stepfather, Dean Downing, live in Guthrie Center. Trachsel's grandmother, Carol Learmont, of Carroll attends Trachsel's childhood church and keeps up with her family online, enjoying the success of her grandsons.

Not only is Trachsel looking forward to the celebratory trip to Europe with the wind symphony, he's also excited to announce the wind symphony just released a commercial CD with Mark Records. Their premiere album is available many places including iTunes and Amazon.

The wind symphony is the group with whom Andy works the most. The album, "Mothership," features music by living composers Mason Bates, Michael Markowski, Robert Moran, and Joel Puckett; as well as George Gershwin and Percy Grainger.

"Mothership" represents a milestone is Trachsel's personal and professional career. As conductor Trachsel hopes the album speaks to its listeners the same way his first CD spoke to him in 1991.

Trachsel shared, "I think it's this feeling that we still try to reach through any form of artistry - music, visual art, dance, theater, etc. By being a listener we're trying to have those 'goose bump' moments, or aesthetic experiences, that are unforgettable."





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