Whether it’s the familiar sounds of the Numa wafting out over the quad, a carefully curated folk playlist during meals, or the sweet sounds of tenor sax performing “Jazz Waters” on stage as students settle down for assembly, music shapes the EXPLO at Wheaton atmosphere to inspire fun and encourage curiosity. It sets the tone for different spaces on campus, it encourages spontaneous dance parties in the dining hall, it exposes kids to new instruments, and it fosters a spirit of community.
We take music so seriously, in fact, that each year we dedicate a staff member to facilitate the tone, tenor, and musical performances that shape a summer at EXPLO: the Kapellmeister. We sat down with recent Kapellmeister Willem Mudde to discuss his coveted role and how music makes EXPLO stand — and dance — apart.
So, what actually is a Kapellmeister? How would you define this role?
I think the idea of this role is that it’s really fluid and doesn’t have one specific task. The Kapellmeister is the person to go to when a staff member wants to use their musical talents or ideas to enhance the program, or if a student has something musical that they want to perform or work on. Whenever someone has something music-related that they want to develop, I’m the person that supports and helps organize their ideas.
I imagine you must have an extensive music background to take on this role. How did you get started?
I grew up as a classically-trained child, beginning with piano lessons when I was younger, and then I eventually switched over to the cello and would take lessons right after school. I began playing in my school’s orchestra and my hometown’s Youth Symphony Program, and then eventually started attending music festivals and camps for chamber music. When I was younger, I was really into chamber music, string quartets, stuff like that. That’s when I first really got hooked on the cello — that’s when those first magical music moments started to happen.
I decided I wanted to go to school for music and played in my school orchestra in college, but while I was there, I had a change in values or interest, I suppose. I started to become more interested in creating alongside performing. I ended up switching to a composition degree and became more interested in a variety of genres, seeing my music as something that could be done as an experiment or research. So while I am still classically trained and enjoy music that comes from that world too, I’m really excited about the opportunities that come with experimental and more contemporary composition as well.
Dining Hall Doo Wop and Opera
From the sweet sounds of an a cappella barbershop quartet to the soaring notes of the Nessun Dorma, spontaneous performances are a hallmark of the EXPLO at Wheaton experience. Sometimes they take place on the chapel stage — à la the Spaghetti Brothers’ highly anticipated operatic performance that roused wild applause for many summers — or in the dining hall during lunch. Wherever you are on the Wheaton campus, you can be sure that there will be music.
What do you look forward to about being the EXPLO Kapellmeister?
A lot of what I look forward to is seeing what the students have to offer. I really enjoy being at the center of helping our students have a more fully realized expression of the musical ideas they start out with. I’m also motivated to make music something that doesn’t feel separate from the program, but rather feels like another part of the magic of EXPLO. I remember when I was young, having those first moments of really getting into a song or playing a tune for the first time, and it can really feel like this magical world is opening up to you.
I remember when I was young, having those first moments of really getting into a song or playing a tune for the first time, and it can really feel like this magical world is opening up to you.
It sounds like you have a lot of interest in opening doors for kids at EXPLO to experiment, be exposed to, and explore different kinds of music. What kind of advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing music?
I think the biggest piece of advice I would offer is to go after what you are truly interested in, especially at a young age. Taking control of your learning and your own musical interests at a young age means that you can start to grow in that area early on, and that just opens up all kinds of opportunities.