Northwestern’s visiting Assistant Professor of Music for the 2023 Spring semester, Dr. Michael Pekel, has a passion for music that has been with him from a young age. After receiving his first electric bass guitar during grade school, Pekel aspired to be, in his words, “as cool as the big kids who played in the high school jazz band.” After endless hours of practicing in between lessons and studying music theory (which is his specialty), Pekel soon found music to be a part of every aspect of his life. Pekel no longer only saw music as a pastime, but as his livelihood. All of this has led to Pekel’s current position in NWC’s Music Department.
A “stroke of luck”, this is how Pekel refers to the journey he took in order to arrive at his new job. While studying conducting at the University of Iowa in the Fall of 2021, Pekel had received word of a position opening here at NWC in the Spring of 2023. One of Dr. Pekel’s choral directors came into contact with NWC’s Thomas Holm, director of the Symphonic Choir on campus. With Dr. Holm going on Sabbatical for the current semester, Dr. Pekel saw it as a perfect opportunity to “get his feet wet” and put his studies to good use.
Throughout his short time at NWC thus far, Pekel has experienced things that have been both challenging and rewarding. Areas where he has been stretched and has had opportunities for growth include having to learn a system from scratch. Pekel describes the first few days of teaching as “being thrown into the ocean and being told to swim.” Another way he describes it is “going into a game without having a warmup.” Despite all the uncertainty that comes with undertaking a new job in a new environment without knowing many faces before his first day, Pekel says that he would not change anything about his first few days teaching at NWC. “All of the faculty and staff have been so supportive,” says Pekel, “They have put in countless hours talking with me or emailing me back and forth, answering any questions I may have along the way.” Although he loves all of his colleagues and students, Dr. Pekel has been especially appreciative for the support Dr. Holm has shown to him throughout his time at NWC. Pekel states that with the help of Dr. Holm, what could have been a frantic situation has turned out to be manageable and enjoyable.
One of Dr. Pekel’s favorite parts about his semester thus far has been getting to know his students. He describes them as being kind, warm, welcoming and respectful. As Pekel teaches two academic courses (one being for music majors and one being a general education course), the attitude and work ethic of the students he has the pleasure of interacting with daily has made his experience all the more enjoyable.
Throughout the remaining months of the semester, Pekel hopes to maintain and support the “great tradition and infrastructure of music making and learning that has been established by Dr. Holm and his colleagues.” In addition, Pekel hopes to share the values of music as a lifelong pursuit. He believes the acts of studying, making and being immersed in music can all be greatly beneficial when it comes to shining the light of Jesus in a broken world.