Growing up in Green Bay—Joachim Vetter & Wolfgang Joachim Vetter—March 2020
"I want to be on that stage and I want to play in the Allouez Village Band!"
These are the words of a then thirteen-year-old Wolfgang (affectionately nicknamed “Wolfi") Vetter as he turned to his dad between songs during the 2014 Allouez Village Band's Christmas Concert. The Vetters had taken the last three available seats in the front row that evening where the band's assistant director, Paul Oleksy, waved to the Vetters from stage.
"Well, Wolfi, they are all adults," said Wolfgang's father, Joachim Vetter. “I don't know how you can pull that off. I have an idea, though. Let me talk to Paul."
"If you let Wolfi play and if I have to chauffeur him to rehearsals and concerts, I might as well play myself," offered the elder Vetter during his later discussion with Oleksy.
The prospect of adding Joachim Vetter, a college-trained, retired professional percussionist to the AVB was intriguing to Oleksy, but to also add a thirteen-year-old clarinetist from Franklin Middle School who had played a vacuum cleaner and a little bass drum with the Green Bay Civic Symphony?
Life would have to wait and see.
At just six years old, Wolfi made his performing debut in Green Bay when he entered the talent show during the Green Bay Parks summer program. There the audience saw a small, nervous boy walk out onto the stage. Fighting back nerves, the child began singing “Chicka-Chicka 1-2-3" like lyrical poetry. As the youngster beamed and continued to sing with his heart, the audience watched him transform, the music calmed his nerves.
“On that stage, on that day, the performer was born," Wolfi's father fondly recalled.
Fast forward now to the summer of 2014. Wolfi was now given a chance to attend his first rehearsal in the Allouez Village Band. At the conclusion of that rehearsal, music director, Mike Ajango was pleased.
"We'll let Wolfi play three rehearsals and then we'll decide if he's ready to play the big concert. That will be fair and educational."
What followed was clarinet practice at the Vetter household every single afternoon and evening for the next two weeks. Before Wolfi's first dress rehearsal concert, Ajango had another idea.
"Do you think Wolfi could sing the “Liechtensteiner Polka," in German, for our October concert?"
"And in Lederhosen? You betcha!" responded an enthusiastic Joachim.
After that performance and a rousing applause, Wolfi was now officially a member of the Allouez Village Band—the very first 13 year old in the all-adult musical group. For Wolfi this meant weekly rehearsals after school, as well as all eight concerts from September through May—a priceless experience personally and educationally.
For the next two years, Wolfi continued to play which eventually earned him a spot as a second-chair clarinet with the 2016 Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall in New York. There, he studied difficult clarinet concertos including masterpieces by Weber, Mozart and Stamitz. With Stamitz's 3rd Concerto/3rd Movement he entered the Green Bay Talent Jam later that same year, and although he did not win any accolades, his increasing technical ability was beginning to shine.
During warmer weather, Wolfi even began playing his concertos during the Wednesday's Farmer's Market in front of Larry's String Instrument Workshop in downtown Green Bay.
People began to take notice and Wolfi continued to play.
In 2018, trauma would visit the teenager. His great uncle, Horst Dittberner, former CEO of Classic Radio in Berlin, Germany and 1992 Grammy Winner for a Leonard Bernstein Berlin Philharmonic Production, passed away unexpectedly. He then lost his mentor, Mary Eisenreich, a dedicated musician who had taken him under her wing while a musician in the Allouez Village Band.
Later that summer, he was studying music at the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan playing in their Masterworks Orchestra when tragedy struck the hardest— his mother passed away only four days before he was supposed to perform Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony on spotlight.
Says Joachim of his son, “It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, to tell Wolfi of his mother. But he handled it well and was very impressive. He said he would like to continue to play."
Blue Lake gave Wolfi the option to leave but he was determined and stayed and while wearing his heart on his sleeve, dedicated his play to his mother. Recognizing all the work his young son was putting into his practice, as well as the wisdom and honesty that guided him, Joachim then gave Wolfi his full support as a career clarinetist. Their sights were now set on getting Wolfi to college in Berlin, Germany.
This move would require him to learn the German Clarinet System. The Allouez Village Band stepped in once again where a member offered for him to play an Albert Clarinet from 1860 and later, a restored 1927 German Clarinet. In November, Wolfi won the Judges Recognition at the Green Bay Talent Jam while performing the “Clarinet Polka."
Although he's played in many different venues, Wolfi considers his playing in New York City to be his finest achievement to date. In 2016, he was selected for the Middle School Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall.
However, upon settling in with his roommate, an event there left an impression on him that altered the way he would see himself and the world around him.
“I was placed in the 3rd Clarinets and was roommates with the concertmaster of the band at the time. I later heard that he was gossiping about me, which really angered me. He made a comment that my Mom was too poor to get to Carnegie Hall in the first place. So I made it my promise to give her the chance to get to Carnegie Hall and I sweetened that promise by declaring that I would also become the concertmaster of the band when I returned."
Wolfi continued to play and practice his discipline earning musical wins and losses and last month, his goal was realized. He returned to Carnegie Hall and although his mother was not physically with him, he carried his mother's remains in tow and played in her honor.
“After all was said and done, I did exactly what I said I would do: I made the concertmaster chair, and I made my roommate eat his words. I got my Mom to Carnegie Hall, as I said I would."
And in a memorial photograph shared by his father, Wolfie stands proudly alongside all his band mates holding a small box with his mother's remains—close to his heart.
When asked what secrets have led Wolfi to his successes, his response was of wisdom beyond his years.
"I'm having fun, I eat right, and I work out. I live differently than my dad in the 1980s. I don't drink, I don't smoke. I don't have a girlfriend. I don't even have a smart phone.
Although Wolfi has already dedicated many years to the discipline of music, he feels he has a lot to more to learn.
“Considering the amount of work I put in, I currently consider myself an intermediate clarinetist. In all honesty, I really look forward to playing in an orchestra where I will be behind everyone else, instead of constantly being ahead of my high school band friends."
What does the future look like for Wolfie? On a musical level he's expressed a desire to eventually play in a professional orchestra, but on a personal level he'd like to give back to Green Bay. Looking forward, he has expressed an interest in philanthropy.
“I'm looking to help repay the community that has raised me.
There is a quote that I try to live by and I ask myself, 'What good have these people done for me?' And I realize, it's not what they've done for me—it's what I can do for them."See Wolfgang J. Vetter perform —Concerto #3 by Stamitz and the Rondo from Concerto #1 by Von Weber— as a clarinet soloist with his band mates during the Allouez Village Band concert “Charm and Dignity," on March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Meyer Theatre.