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October 2014 Teacher Spotlight

Benny Wollin
Piano Teacher, Heid Music Appleton

Benjamin_Wollin-4-Edit-2Benny Wollin (Voh-LEEN) was born and raised in Germany. He graduated from Lawrence in 2014 with a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance. In March of 2014, he performed Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in Manitowoc. In the Summer, he played for Attic Theatre's production of Bye Bye Birdie. Besides his classical training, Benny has studied Jazz and composition, and continues to teach himself audio production. Desiring to pass on this broad musical experience, he offers lessons in classical and contemporary piano, composition, and audio production/electronic music. As a teacher, he seeks to impart his students with a sense of wonder at the world of music, encouraging them to explore and invent. At the same time, he maintains the fundamentals of theory, technique, and musicianship – not as facts or skills to be acquired but as tools for investigating and creating music. More information can be found at his website,

Why did you choose piano?  I feel like it just happened. I can't remember a time when I didn't think of  the piano as my instrument. My dad is an organist and pianist, so all us kids started on piano. I just never stopped. There are several things I really love about it: It's a percussion instrument, and I love rhythm. It works in any style, from renaissance to rock. And it has a terrifyingly huge amount of repertoire. I love discovering obscure composers. It works equally well alone and in groups, which is also great.

What is your favorite part about being a teacher?  People. I love people, and I love to share my excitement about music with them. As they learn new things, I find that I share in the excitement as if I was learning it for the first time, too. They each bring such a unique approach, it's very refreshing. Of course, this also keeps me on my toes – what worked for one student might not work for the next. And I think music is really important to our culture – playing music, not just listening. When you're practicing a piece, there is no way you can rush the process. If you're playing a piece that's three minutes long, you can't make it shorter. Those three minutes are three minutes, period. I think that gives a sense of peace that we don't get in other parts of our life.

What is the best advice you can give to a beginning student?  Love the process. It won't always be easy, and it probably won't always be fun. But you can learn to love the work. Practicing is often the favorite part of my day – nothing to interrupt me, nothing to think about except the challenge immediately in front of me. When you love the process of finding challenges and working on them, never demanding progress from yourself but appreciating it when it comes, then you will never stop growing.

If you had the time to master another instrument, what would you choose?  If I had to pick only one, it would be the trumpet. I love the instrument for it's symbolic associations with royalty and with heaven. I love the way that soft brass can sound rich and warm, and loud brass can sound truly epic. It's great in Bach and it's great in funk music. I'd also choose it because it's a solo instrument and can do things the piano technically can't (like crescendoing on a single note). I think it would force me to grow as a musician.

Who is your biggest musical influence and why?  I like to draw inspiration from any and all music, but two musicians stand out to me as examples in how they approach the art itself. Johann Sebastian Bach is often admired for his technical skill, but what I want to emulate is how he dedicated all his music to the glory of God, and also how he didn't let music take him away from his family. He worked at home a lot and was a great father. The other influence would be Herbie Hancock. He's always been a jazz pianist, but other than that he's completely unpredictable. I love how he always seeks out new styles, from hard bop to fusion to pop ballads. He never stands still.

What do you like to do in your spare time?  I like to learn new things, travel, and spend time with my wife. And listen to music. And write music. Recently I wanted to put some of my musical skills together with my experience in graphics and animation. I made a sort of lesson/video that talks about pitch and frequency. I planned a whole series, building from basics to advanced concepts, but this one took about a hundred hours, so I don't know how many more I'll make!