Music alum Wietgrefe receives two high honors

August 8, 2013
Liesl Wietgrefe conducting

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. —Liesl Wietgrefe, a University of Wisconsin-Platteville music alumna, was named to “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” in the School Band and Orchestra magazine and was also honored at the Yale School of Music’s 2013 Symposium on Music in Schools in New Haven, Conn.

Wietgrefe earned her Bachelor of Science in general and instrumental music from UW-Platteville in 2004. Originally from Hazel Green, Wis., she now lives in North Pole, Alaska, and is the steel drum, band and choir director and music teacher at West Valley High School in Fairbanks, Alaska. Prior, she served as the orchestra, band and choir director at Randy Smith Middle School in Fairbanks for four years.

In the 15th annual “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” report, the School Band and Orchestra magazine recognized exemplary teachers who run vibrant programs in schools of all sizes for elementary through high school students from throughout the United States.

“I was very surprised to receive the ‘50 Directors Who Make a Difference’ in the School Band and Orchestra magazine,” Wietgrefe said. “I really hope I make a difference in kids’ lives, but am not always sure I do enough. This recognition helped me feel like I might be on the right track.”

The Symposium on Music in Schools is held once every two years at the Yale School of Music as part of the Music in Schools Initiative. The symposium honors 50 teachers from across the country for their outstanding achievements teaching music in public schools.

“There were several prominent figures in the music education world who presented during the three-day event, including Garth Harries, the New Haven public schools assistant superintendent; Scott Shuler, former National Association for Music Education president and music education advocate; and Anne Midget, Washington Post music critic,” Wietgrefe said.

“Being honored at the Yale School of Music’s 2013 Symposium on Music in Schools gives me a chance to speak to others about music as an important part of our education system,” Wietgrefe stated. “The award is prestigious enough that even those who are not in the education business know its value and are more attentive to my thoughts on the matter.”

Wietgrefe said there are a number of factors critical to making a difference in music education. “It is essential to connect with students; teach all aspects of music-theory, history and musicianship; and ensure there is communication between all stakeholders – the students, composers, parents, audience members and arrangers,” she said. “It is also important to hold a high standard for myself and my students.”

“The most rewarding part about my current teaching position is watching kids who would otherwise never speak to each other work together with such extreme dedication toward the same goal and then achieve that goal,” Wietgrefe said. “The most challenging part about my job is trying to balance my work with spending time with my family at home.”

Wietgrefe said that her music education at UW-Platteville played an important role in her success. “At UW-Platteville, I was able to participate in all aspects of making music. I was involved in bands and choirs at the top level and also took piano. I wasn’t pushed to focus on one discipline, which enabled me to excel in all the areas I wanted to. Dr. Barry Ellis and Dr. Robert Demaree were instrumental to my success.”

Music has always been a large part of Wietgrefe’s life. Her mother was a pianist and music teacher and they had a baby grand piano at home. “I really loved to hear her play and wanted to learn so badly,” Wietgrefe said. “I think I started teaching myself how to play the piano when I was about 10 years old. Then, when I was in sixth grade, I started the saxophone and played in the school band.”

“Music just came naturally to me and because I was good at it, I really loved doing it,” she said. “It wasn’t until college, however, that I could really put into words what music was doing for my soul. Studying and listening to great music by great composers made me realize the transforming power music can have on someone.”

Contact: Barry Ellis, Department of Performing and Visual Arts/Music, (608) 342-1017,

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191,


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