UW-Eau Claire alumni success stories

Top Brass: Alumni couple receive Fulbright grants

Todd and Amy with bicycles

Todd and Amy Schendel (right) took a break from their studies in Munich and Augsburg, Germany, to explore Copenhagen, Denmark, with fellow Fulbright scholar Keith Zielenski and his wife, Terri Zielenski. (Contributed photo)

By Jesse Okiror '04
UW-Eau Claire
News Bureau Intern

Todd and Amy (Minor) Schendel are rising to the elite class among American brass musicians.

The 1998 UW-Eau Claire music performance graduates are recipients of Fulbright grants to study the German style of orchestral and opera playing (Todd on trombone and Amy on trumpet) at two German universities for the 2003-04 academic year.

“Receiving a Fulbright grant in the music area is a special achievement in that the field of applicants in music is very large and highly competitive,” said Jerry Young, a UW-Eau Claire professor of music and theatre arts who taught Todd as an undergraduate. “Only the very best are chosen to receive funding.”

Todd and Amy are two of only five U.S. musicians, and the only brass musicians, selected to the German program. In addition, they have learned that married couples rarely are awarded Fulbright grants at the same time. A Fulbright program official could remember only three or four married couples being awarded grants in the last 25 years, Amy said.

This is not the Schendels’ first success as music scholars or as professional musicians. Both earned master’s degrees from Indiana University and have played with the Minnesota Orchestra. Amy also played with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and was offered positions with the President’s Own Marine Band and the U.S. Air Force Band Ceremonial Brass, both in Washington, D.C. Todd has played with National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, Colo., and was a finalist for positions with the U.S. Army Band in Washington, D.C., and the Seattle Symphony.

Despite their success as young musicians, Amy had doubts about being accepted to the highly selective Fulbright program when she and Todd submitted their applications in the fall of 2002.

“The whole application process was such an arduous task that it seemed, at the time, a distant dream to be accepted,” she said.

The application itself was 20 pages long, and they also submitted essays, references, letters of recommendation and 45-minute sample recordings, which they produced at their own cost.

“I would liken (the Fulbright application process) to a 10-year tax audit,” Todd said. “We both have a lot of time and effort into this grant. It was a great discussion topic after we had sent it off.”

The Schendels were notified of their awards in the spring of 2003. For the scholarship period they live in Munich, where Todd studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater. Amy studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Augsburg, a 35-minute commute by train.

The two spend their days immersed in the study of the German style of brass playing.

“Todd and I are both studying with two of the most respected teachers in Germany,” Amy said. “Private lessons, going to concerts, working in chamber groups, orchestral playing, solo literature — that’s what we are doing.”

Thus far, the Schendels are not sure how their experience in Germany will advance their careers, but they are certain of the impression that living in Germany is having on their lives.

“I have found that the Fulbright experience is having just as big, if not more, of an impact on me personally than professionally,” Amy said. “Living day to day in Germany and interacting with the people has been very profound for me.”

Many people are curious about the couple’s political views and what they think about President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

“No matter what discipline any Fulbrighter is in, we are truly ambassadors of our country,” Amy said.

Todd appreciates the perspectives on current events provided by the German people he has met — particularly their views on the war in Iraq.

“Whatever your profession and stance is on these events, they are not just on television, they are real,” he said. “The bombs and bullets are hitting human beings just like you and me. I think Americans forget this and the German people remind us of this. The German people have been through many wars and do not take it for granted.”

While the Schendels are soaking up German life, they are adding impressive experience to their resumes as musicians.

“The Fulbright scholarship is one of the most outstanding scholarly awards you can receive,” said Rodney Hudson, UW-Eau Claire professor emeritus of music and theatre arts and Todd’s former trombone instructor. “This certainly will help them a great deal in launching their professional careers and will enhance their professional teaching and performing skills.”

The Schendels credit their undergraduate education at UW-Eau Claire with preparing them for their success.

“UW-Eau Claire is one of the best music schools in the country. It has a world-class faculty, especially the brass department,” Todd said. “We have traveled quite a bit since leaving UW-Eau Claire, and we can really appreciate our education there.”

Other faculty members who taught Amy and Todd at UW-Eau Claire speak highly of them.

“Todd and Amy Schendel are the best example of hardworking students,” said Nobuyoshi Yasuda, assistant professor of music and theatre arts. “While they were still students in the department of music and theatre arts, they already had a clear goal in mind — to become excellent orchestral musicians — and kept working to achieve that goal.”

Another former teacher recalled Todd and Amy’s determination as undergraduates.

“Amy practiced an average of five to seven hours daily,” said her former trumpet instructor, Robert Baca, associate professor of music and theatre arts.

While still a UW-Eau Claire student, Amy became a member of the Chicago Civic Orchestra, “the training orchestra for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — the greatest orchestra for a brass player in the world,” Baca said. “She would regularly keep up with classes and travel to play with the symphony on weekends.”

Baca also praised Todd’s “sheer will, determination and good old-fashioned hard work,” which made him “one of the most talented students to graduate from our school.”

The Schendels, who had lived in Minneapolis for two years before leaving for Germany last September, still are undecided about where they will take their talents after their Fulbright experience. They are auditioning for positions with orchestras in Germany and throughout Europe, but they still are considering taking positions with the orchestras and military bands in Washington, D.C.

Wherever they go next, Baca believes the couple is destined for continued success: “The Fulbright scholarship is Todd and Amy’s stepping stone to a great future.”

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Last Updated: December 30, 2008
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