"If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music."
~ Gustav Mahler
I grew up in a family of musicians and particularly enjoyed listening to my father play ragtime and jazz arrangements on the piano. By the age of six, I enthusiastically started taking piano lessons. In grade school, I also studied recorder and trumpet and learned four-part shape-note singing. At the age of 11, I was fortunate to be accepted as a student of the world-renowned Russian pianist and teacher, Eugenia Tsarov.
When I was 13, my twin brother and I and two other close musical friends were taken under the wing of two local music teachers who had a professional contra dance band. Under their direction we learned to play traditional New England, Celtic, and French Canadian dance music. The following year, as a high school freshmen, we became interested in performing jazz and started our own group called Out Of The Blue, performing extensively during our high school and college years. We transcribed arrangements of classic jazz tunes from recordings, created arrangements of our own, and penned some originals. Out of the Blue was much in demand at coffee houses, parties, and receptions in our area.
While in high school, I was invited by upperclassmen to play keyboard in the rock band The Vague, which performed original music and also covered works by Santana, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers, Phish, and Radiohead, among others. The Vague produced an album of original music entitled “The Day Walt Flipped His Lid”.
At age 17, I was accepted on scholarship to the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam. There I continued classical piano study under the direction of Eugenia Tsarov. Tsarov’s spiritually-based approach to music is concerned much with color and inner expression, served by an organically conceived technique. I also took a jazz studies minor with director of jazz studies, Bret Zvacek, and studied jazz piano with Montreal-based pianists John Roney and Josh Rager.
While in college, I performed with the Crane School of Music’s select jazz ensemble and other talented local jazz groups throughout northern New York. In my junior year, I participated in a workshop by jazz Hammond Organ master Tony Monaco. For the next few years I performed with musical groups on the Korg CX3 tone-wheel organ synthesizer. In my junior and senior years, I took a concentration in piano pedagogy and taught both classical and jazz to a variety of piano students in the local community. In the summer before my senior year, I found great inspiration in a piano pedagogy workshop at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA with "Teacher's Teacher" Faina Bryanskaya, Ph.D. I received my Bachelor of Music in Music Performance in 2005, graduating with academic and performance honors.
For three semesters after graduation I worked as a freelance accompanist at the Crane School of Music, playing the piano for students’ lessons, master classes, performance exams, and recitals. I also accompanied students at the Music Teachers National Association State Competition in Ithaca, New York, and performed in recitals in New Jersey with young saxophone virtuoso Jonathan Winteringham. During this time I received additional coaching in chamber music and collaborative piano with flutist and conductor Kenneth Andrews, and also gained experience performing on harpsichord with students.
2010 saw me performing Broadway and patriotic music with the Orchestra of Northern New York and performing duos with jazz singer Blanche Smith. After moving to Montpelier, Vermont in September of 2010, I was inspired to write more of my own music. Since 2011, I have made regular yearly appearances performing my original music at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival with my jazz quartet the Whitesell Brothers Quartet with my saxophonist twin brother, Jake Whitesell Quartet. While in Montpelier, Vermont, I also performed with the Burlington-based jazz sextet Pine Street Jazz and with the Adirondack Jazz Orchestra.
In January 2012, I returned to my home town of Potsdam, New York, in order to undertake a master’s degree in piano. I completed my master's degree in piano performance with a concentration in piano pedagogy at the Crane School of Music in August 2014. As a master’s student, I was awarded an assistantship accompanying students in their lessons, degree recitals, and performance exams.
From 2012-2016 I maintained a private piano studio and worked as a freelance musician in the Potsdam, New York area, accompanying students on piano at the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam and functioning as rehearsal pianist for and performing with a variety of music ensembles in northern New York state.
From 2013-2016, I was pianist at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Potsdam and from 2012-2016 was substitute organist at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Potsdam, New York, and substitute keyboardist for the St. Lawrence Univeristy Gospel Service in Canton, New York. From 2014-2016 I was accompanist for the University Choir at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, performing programs ranging from neo-Renaissance (Kirke Mechem) to Benjamin Britten, and from jazz standards to songs of peace and love from the 1960s and 1970s. In 2015-2016 I was rehearsal and stage pianist for A Rabbit’s Foote Company, an original theater piece by Jessica James paying tribute to the first all-black travelling minstel show.
In August 2016, I made my home in Burlington, Vermont. I maintain a private piano studio and perform inspirational music at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington. I also have enjoyed providing beautiful music for many special events in Vermont including weddings, house concerts, private parties, and services of remembrance and celebrations of life.
I particularly enjoy performing music for and with Vermont children and seniors.
Since 2016 I have performed regularly for the Rug Concerts for ages 5 and under at the Elley-Long Music Center at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, providing an up-close-and-personal musical concert experience for young children to experience classical music and learn about the musical instruments played by the performers.
I have also worked as accompanist for the middle school choirs at the Shelburne Community School in Shelburne, Vermont, accompanying their concerts and performances beginning in 2017.
In 2019 I began weekly visits to the Ethan Allen Residence in the New North End of Burlington, Vermont, performing piano music and conducting sing-alongs for seniors, which I have enjoyed immensely.