Matt Manweiler wants to make sure Quad-Cities students learn a diverse variety of musical styles.
Manweiler has a new job that will help him do just that. The artistically adventurous orchestra director for the Rock Island-Milan School District has accepted a new position as education programs coordinator with Jesus Florido and his company Latinfiddler Music.
He will work on creating arrangements for his orchestral and educational residences, helping build his pedagogy, and in coaching classically-trained teachers that are discovering the joy that comes from music around the world. As Manweiler did recently for the virtual violin conference Fiddle Hell, he will be co-presenting and conducting with Florido around the world, as much as his teaching schedule in Rock Island allows. One of his goals is to spread the alternative styles visiting artist program that Manweiler started over a decade ago in Rock Island by transplanting those opportunities to orchestra students everywhere.
His administrators at Rock Island, where Manweiler has worked since 2005, have been very supportive of him taking on this role to share the opportunities that Rock Island students have had.
“It’s very humbling and very exciting at the same time, and there's so much that I can learn from Jesus, as I'm also teaching alongside of him as well. It's a really rare opportunity to get to be with someone that is this caliber of a performer. I'm super excited about how I’m going to be able to develop as a musician and a teacher out of this as well. It’s a really neat opportunity and I'm so, so grateful.”
A 40-year-old native of Valparaiso, Indiana, Manweiler studied with the same violin teacher as Florido, who's 54 years old and from Venezuela, at Butler University in Indianapolis.
Florido combines his classical training with knowledge of Afro-Latin, jazz, rock, and fiddle music, according to his bio, “to create a compelling artistry, balanced on a fine axis of musical virtuosity and heart.”
“A live performer who has shared the stage with many great musicians and a lot of his idols, he loves teaching and he is a highly sought after-teacher,” Florido’s bio says, noting he conducts workshops and clinics worldwide.
In February 2020, Manweiler hosted Florido over three days, where he worked with about 500 6th -12th grade students from Rock Island and Davenport, culminating in a joint public concert in February of last year, at Rock Island High School.
Manweiler got into playing in high school, including in a rock band, and started venturing into American fiddle styles when he started at Butler.
“For me, that was groundbreaking, and really probably saved my love for music, because I don't know that I would have continued on if it was only classical. I love classical music dearly, but also connecting with these different traditions.”
He majored in music education and his first teaching job was in Rock Island. His first venturing into fiddle styles, including bluegrass and Americana, came when his college violin teacher recommended a summer festival with acclaimed fiddler Mark O’Connor. He studied with him at conferences in Nashville, Tenn., and San Diego, Calif.
Manweiler first met electric violinist Mark Wood, from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, at one of those conferences, who became his first Rock Island visiting artist in 2010 and again in 2012. He said he was drawn to different kinds of music beyond classical because of the “rhythm and the groove.”
“It was a way to connect with an element of music that classical music isn't known for and there is a spontaneity to it. There wasn't the sense of we're going to play music that was written two hundred years ago and do our best on it. It was, we're going to take music today and it's going to be brand new today, and bringing in that improvisatory nature of it."
“That was very new to me when I was in college and it was it was wonderful to feel like the music was alive and yours to tell a story with.”
He wanted to expand the musical landscape of his students as well, which is why he began bringing in visiting artists about every other year to work with students and play together with them in a public concert.
After Mark Wood, Manweiler has hosted Turtle Island String Quartet, violinist Christian Howes, and local artists like Ellis Kell and groups that Manweiler has performed with, like the Barley House Band, Milltown, and Bucktown Revue. He met Florido 20 years at a Mark O’Connor fiddle conference and stayed in touch.
“He’s a great performer, but he has a tremendous love for teaching and really sharing these wonderful styles with students that are in orchestras around the world.”
“He is hybrid, where he grew up both playing classical and non-classical music, and so he has a unique approach. I think he does a really good job of relating to classical musicians and then saying hey, let's try something else – let’s try to add some grooves to this music, and finding new ways have classical musicians take risks that are safe for us and start on that journey.”