The face of visiting orchestra director Walter Muelling can be found in a beloved WBHS mural
By Lily Mottet, Current Staff
West Bend High Schools orchestra students never imagined the man painted in their classroom was based on a previous student. Or that the student would return to West Bend 13 years later.
Walter Muelling, an orchestra teacher at Kodiak High School in Alaska, brought a group of 10 students to partake in a trip to visit his alma mater. The Alaskan students joined with the WBHS orchestras to perform a conjoined concert Tuesday night in the Silver Lining Art Center auditorium. The 10 students stayed with host families and toured the city before moving on to Appleton, Wisconsin.
Muelling attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with WBHS orchestra teacher Seth Matuszak, so it was natural for Muelling to contact Matuszak to help him plan this trip. Planning began four years ago and Muelling was a bit nervous.
“This is my first time doing a trip,” Muelling said. “I grew up in Wisconsin, so I know a lot of teachers, I know a lot of college professors, I know a lot of people that were willing to help me out to make sure that my first time taking a trip I didn’t look like moron.”
Even as West Bend’s orchestra program has expanded since Muelling’s graduation, one thing has remained constant: the mural painted on the far wall of the orchestra room. It all began as a final prank pulled on former orchestra teacher Christopher Kraly.
“I played many pranks on Kraly and drove him crazy,” Muelling said. “The girl that was painting the mural owed me a favor and I cashed it in. I asked her to paint my face into the mural looking at where the conductor stands in the room. So even after I left, he still had to look at my face and just deal with that.”
The inspiration for the rest of the mural came from Muelling’s own high school orchestra trip to Scotland.
“We went on a boat tour of Loch Ness, and as soon as the tour guide said we can’t go in the water, I just jump right off the dock,” Muelling said. “Kraly got so angry and the tour guide was laughing because it was almost immediate. So I’m painted in the water right by Nessie.”
WBHS orchestra students have asked Matuszak if they could paint over the mural and design a new one. However, with the backstory behind the painting, opinions have changed.
“I’ve toyed with the idea of painting over it,” Matuszak said. “But I’ve also said it’s just so strange and out of place that I feel like I would ruin the mystique of the room if I got rid of it. I feel like it’s part of the structural integrity.”
“Even after I left, Kraly still had to look at my face and just deal with that.”
– Walter Muelling
Many of the visiting students took selfies with the mural to document their trip. Along with their pictures, the students took home plenty of cheese after visiting Widmer’s Creamery to see how cheese curds were made.
The biggest shock for visiting student Emma Clary was the size of West Bend. Kodiak Island, which is the second largest island in the country, has a population of about 6,000. There are about 40 students involved in Kodiak High School’s orchestra program compared to the 163 in West Bend’s program.
This trip was a big change for the Kodiak students, as most rarely leave the island.
“Everything is a lot closer together in Kodiak,” Clary said. “We don’t eat Texas Roadhouse. We don’t have a dollar store. We don’t have a Menards, we have a Spenards. Which is completely unrelated except for similarity in name and type of store.”
The students stayed in West Bend for three days before continuing their trip to Appleton where they played with the orchestra program there before heading home.
“It feels like a movie,” Clary said. “One of those cheesy movies where kids go on a trip and there’s going to be this victorious concert where we all do well and it’s all worth it in the end.”
(Top image: Walter Muelling, left, and Seth Matuszak pose after Tuesday’s concert featuring WBHS orchestra students and visiting students from Kodiak High School in Alaska. Photo by Lily Mottet, Current Staff.)