Karl Kessler with Butte des Morts students

Teacher Feature ✦ Karl Kessler

Every year we meet hundreds of innovative music educators along our tour, and we’re excited to introduce you to one of those teachers. Karl Kessler works with students at both Butte des Morts Elementary and Jefferson Elementary in Menasha, WI. We interviewed him at Butte des Morts’ performance of Rusalka this season:
Which students learned the music for the show?

I introduced it to K-2, and then 3-5 grade I taught all the songs – hopefully to give the performance surround sound!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background:

My background is music education – I’m certified for K-12, vocal, instrumental and general. LOVE theater. I’ve been in 27 different musicals – the whole performance is phenomenal for me.

What’s your favorite show or role that you’ve played?

It’s a toss-up between Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat and Adam in Children of Eden.

When did you start performing?

In high school – I was Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie. The director needed a male vocalist and said, “Hey, you’re not a part of the drama club, but will you do this?” and I said “Sure!”

Do you feel like you had an “arts-full” childhood?

I loved singing, I took piano, and I stayed with choir and band throughout middle school and high school. Voice is my primary instrument and clarinet is secondary.

Tell us about your approach to teaching:

I feel like kids need to enjoy what they’re singing, so I give them the opportunity to pick from the quality music I find for them. They feel like they’re getting to choose, and so far it’s worked great – they have ownership for it now.

The teacher before me didn’t do anything with Broadway, and our spring concert is something the school hasn’t seen before. We’re doing 11 songs – An Evening of Music from Movies and Musicals. All of the songs have a message – “You’re never fully dressed without a smile”, stuff from Hamilton, Dear Edwina, Seussical, Newsies, a song from Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Lin Manuel Miranda called “Java Flow”– and the kids are just eating it up. My third graders are singing that in the Huttese language from the film. The kids seem to be enjoying this new interactive kind of show, and I’m so happy to share it with them!

Anything else you’d like to share?

I think OFTY is a wonderful company – to provide this exposure of opera for the kids…I mean this is…I can’t wait to do it again next year!