Faculty Focus: March 2024

"Fenwick's tradition of comradery and value of community is like no other," said Mr. Zelm, who directs the school's jazz and pep bands.
1. What is your educational background?

Bachelor of Music in Music Education (DePaul 2007)
M.S.Ed. Instructional Technology (NIU 2022) 

2. What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

Before Fenwick, I primarily taught music at ChiArts and FXW in Chicago. I directed Jazz Combos and taught Brass Technique at ChiArts (Chicago High School for the Arts) between 2015-2019. I also built up and directed the FXW (Frances Xavier Warde) Middle School Band from 2012-2019. I always had a studio of trombone and low brass students as well from various public high schools, including ETHS, EGHS, Niles and Maine West. 

3. What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
“The Creative Act: A Way of Being” by Rick Ruben. Mr. Ruben says that one of the purposes of life is to "create" and I couldn't agree more. Creativite opportunities are all around us. You just need to know where to look and be open to new ideas all the time.
4. What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

I'm still very much a freelance trombonist. I actively perform and record with LowDown Brass Band as well as other various Chicago groups. One weekend I may be lucky enough to perform at Ravinia and the next I may be playing with a local wedding band. It's all fun! Besides performing music, I enjoy spending time with my family. My wife and I are raising two beautiful girls and life is filled with joy and all-day activities. I do try to squeeze in bike rides when I can!

5. To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
I've been a dedicated band student since 5th grade. Band was my life growing up. I knew from early on that music was all I wanted to do. I had a natural talent for the trombone but  the instrument also showed me early on the importance of hard work. Talent will only get you so far. My closest friends were also in Band. I'm still very close to these friends today. Music is art but it is also community. Playing music brought me great joy as a young person and it still does to this day. Music is also full of surprises and adventure. There's nothing quite like it. 

6. Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

I direct the Fenwick Pep Band and Jazz Band. Both bands have a robust after school schedule with performances at football games, basketball games, jazz festivals and Fenwick community events like the Blackfriars Gala. The Jazz Band is returning for its third annual performance at Berwyn's famous music venue Fitzgeralds on March 6! I'm also developing a Jam Session Club this year, which is exactly how it sounds. Students gather to explore music through improvisation. In other words, we jam out!

7. What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

Fenwick students look out for each other. I've taught at a variety of schools over the years, but Fenwick's tradition of comradery and value of community is like no other. Students here support each other in all endeavors. I see it everyday. It's a wonderful thing.

8. What challenges do students face today?

I hope students don't get too distracted by living a reactionary lifestyle that is primarily focused on social media and digital experiences. Take a break from the socials and focus on creating something new. Whether that be a picture, a song, or a good meal, we all need to open up our creative receptors and see what we can make for the world. 

9. When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?

Music led me to teaching. Music and teaching go hand in hand. To be a learner of the music, you must also be a teacher. The best musical artists pass on what they know to the next generation of artists. So teaching was a natural choice.

10. What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

I'm a good listener. A good musician must also be a good listener. I believe good listening skills are essential when teaching. Students and classrooms are always changing. A good teacher can grow and evolve by listening to the needs of the students. I try to remember this everyday. I also have a high tolerance for sound, which is good for band directors.

11. What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?

The greatest success happens every year when the band performs at the final concert.  This final performance provides the opportunity to reflect on the musical growth the bands and students experience in one year.  Every Fenwick Band experiences a unique musical journey that is full of successes and challenges. It's quite special and I hope my students hold on to these musical experiences for a long time.
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