Seth Kibel is one of the mi-Atlantic’s premier woodwind specialists, working with some of the best bands in klezmer, jazz, swing, and more. His music history courses at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University are informative and entertaining. As a professional musician, Seth performs with The Alexandria Kleztet, Bay Jazz Project, Music Pilgrim Trio, The Natty Beaux, and more.
I recently talked with Seth to learn more about his background and interest in teaching lifelong learners.
How long have you taught in the Osher at Towson University program?
I think I’ve been teaching for Osher at Towson University for over a decade, although I did take a few years off when my kids were very young. My first class for was probably around a decade ago, maybe a little over. I’m doing classes on music history, and a lot of the events and people I’m talking about I never met or witnessed. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about them and I’ve done my homework, but I’m a generation later.
Some of the Osher students have indeed seen and heard and even been at some of the events and with people that I’m describing. It’s so exciting for me to get some of those first-hand accounts, so I feel like I take away quite a bit from my classes at Osher as well, just through my interactions with students.
What do you enjoy about teaching here?
One of the things I noticed right away was how engaged the students were and how the classes easily became very discussion oriented because people were very free to share their thoughts, their questions, and their own experiences. That was really exciting for me. One of my main musical genres is jazz, so as a musician I do a lot of improvisation. I’ve found that it translates into the classroom, and so in the Osher classroom I do a lot of what I call ‘educational improvisation’. I don’t know entirely where the class is going to go, and sometimes it goes in some real interesting and different directions depending on the interactions with those in attendance.
How does your experience teaching at Osher differ from other teaching experiences you have had?
I don’t have an education degree or even a master’s degree, just a bachelor’s degree. But in college I double majored in music and American studies because I always found history fascinating even from my earliest days in elementary school. I’ve long since combined those interests, and I’ve been an amateur historian of music history for many years. Through things like the Osher program, I’ve found a way to take that to the next level. The thing I love most in the world is playing music, but right at number two is talking about music, playing recordings, and sharing my love for music with audiences of any age. So, though I didn’t have any formal educational training, my interests and excitement when talking about music lent itself to the Osher background. Otherwise, I teach a fair amount of private music lessons and have taught in a few other different environments (workshops, master classes). Osher is a little different because I’m dealing with large classes, especially with some of my classes in the church. As with any musician I love a large audience—I think it goes back to that idea of ‘educational improvisation’ that I talked about. The more students in a class, the more unpredictable it can get. I don’t know exactly what questions are going to be asked or what comments they’re going to have, which is exciting!
What are your hobbies or special interests outside of the topics that you teach at Osher?
In many ways, music is both my career and my hobby. A lot of the things I do to relax in my spare time are music related, though they may not be directly related to what I do as a professional musician. For example, professionally my specialty is woodwind instruments (clarinet, saxophone, and the flute). That’s what I work on and get hired to do. But sometimes in my spare time to relax I’ll mess around on other instruments. I’ll play some guitar, piano, drums, stuff like that. I listen and learn about styles of music that I really have no business playing: I don’t play much traditional country music, but I love it and I love learning about it and bluegrass music and world music. Not to be too one-dimensional, but I feel that sometimes my hobbies are just other aspects of the musical world. Now beyond that, I love history in general and I’m a little bit of a politics junky and a cable news junky which…in this time period probably isn’t too healthy for me. But, I have two kids and a family and they keep me busy in my leisure time as well.
Do you have any words of wisdom given our current times?
At the risk of sounding cliché, one of the cruel ironies of this situation is that with so much separation and social distancing we’re reminded in some ways of how connected we are and how much we value those connections. Every phone call with a friend, every video call, even every Zoom lesson or lecture or anything I give remotely becomes more of a special experience. Certainly, my time with family here at home—home who I’m not socially distanced from—as well as extended family also seems even more special. So it seems ironic in some ways that being apart has brought us closer together. It’s a scary time and it’s perfectly natural to be scared right now. We’ve all had to deal with it and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times that I was depressed and upset about what was going on—my career is disappearing, at least temporarily. But then you always remind yourself of the good things that you do have: these connections with other people, our community at large, our families, the fact that my family is healthy right now, those are important things to keep in mind.
I’ve really been enjoying how musicians everywhere are doing livestream concerts, often for free (although it is nice if you tip them electronically). If you go on Facebook or any online platform, and at any given time there are all these wonderful musical events going on. Sometimes in the evening I’ll pop on my computer and it’s like a music festival! I’m soaking in all this great live music…some of which I’ve never heard before and some of which is made by friends of mine. There is no substitute for hearing live music in the flesh with a musician right in front of you, and I long for the day we can get back to that. But in the meantime, I’m having these wonderful adventures of musical discovery online.