Josh Baldwin

Life Through a Musical Lens

Josh Baldwin
Life Through a Musical Lens
By Belinda Anderson

Jules Kessler was creating music even as a toddler, playing with pots and pans. “I would drum in the kitchen,” he says. “I’ve always been drawn to play music. It’s the lens that I see the world through.”

    Jules epitomizes the ingredients that make an artist – natural curiosity, the willingness to learn and the drive to work hard for his goals, even during times of doubt.

    Years of honing those kitchen percussion skills secured the recent high school graduate a place in an all-state band and a trip to Nashville, where he performed at the Grand Ole Opry with the All-National Honor Concert Band. His many other achievements include earning the highest audition score as a baritone when he was accepted into a state honor choir. 

    Kessler’s high school teachers gave him extraordinary recommendations when he started applying to colleges.  “Jules is truly the most exceptional student I have seen in my career in the Greenbrier East High School Music Department,” wrote James R. Allder, Director of Bands.

    Another glowing reference, this one from Barbara W. Lutz, director of vocal music at the school: “Jules is an artist in the full sense of the word. He is a guitarist, percussionist, instrumentalist, pianist, dancer, singer and actor. I cannot think of another person so collaborative, so non-cynical, so intuitive, so fearless.” Not surprisingly, Kessler was accepted at three well-regarded colleges.

    As a kid, Kessler was more sports minded until he found himself attracted to the collaborative nature of the arts. “I didn’t like how competitive sports are,” he says.  “Art is a very healing force. I cherish that.” 

    Kessler’s high school schedule had no room for television or video games. Mondays and Wednesdays, he had marching band practice and on Saturdays band competition. During football season, the band performed at games on Fridays. He also had dance on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sundays he did homework.

     “I’ve been exhausted through high school,” Kessler admits. But he always looked forward to the activities, because that’s where he saw his friends. He thoroughly enjoyed his involvement with the marching band, even serving and winning awards as a drum major.

    His personal musical tastes flow into many branches, including blues, jazz, classical, old-time/country/folk, rock and hip-hop. His own compositions are fresh blends of all his influences. One particularly flowing guitar piece would be the perfect accompaniment to any creative task. Another piece, featuring saxophone, sparkles with brightness and comedic trumpet flourishes. 

        Choreography is another expression of his creativity. “Just Out of Sight,” a piece he performed for Trillium, was inspired by a school paper he did on the subject of racialized mass incarceration. He also drew inspiration from reading Wuthering Heights as a school assignment to create a dance. In typical Kessler fashion, he created a unique blend, with Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” as the music.

    He’s also acted in productions for Greenbrier Valley Theatre, including the role of Prince Eric in Disney’s musical version of The Little Mermaid. And these are just samples of his activities and accomplishments.

    While many have mentored Kessler, his interest in the arts and his awareness of social issues began within his family. His mother, Lauren Wadsworth, is an accomplished singer and dancer. His father, Jeff Kessler, owner of Jeff’s Breads, has worked with Witness for Peace in the past and created “Our Neighbors, Other Americans,” a photography exhibit that toured schools in the state. 

    But the encouragement Jules received doesn’t mean his path has been free of challenges. He remembers “moments that my internal critical nature has taken over and made me feel like I’m not good enough and should stop working to be better. In those moments it has been painful and difficult to continue to make art, but I’ve known that it will make me happy in the long run, and it always does.”

        Jules, who ranked in the top two percent of his class, is taking a gap year to help him define his academic goals and how he can make a difference in the world. The 18-year-old plans to work and travel, visiting his older brothers, also achievers. A brother in Baltimore just earned an undergraduate degree in peace and conflict studies. The eldest brother, in New York, has an accounting background with a master’s in taxation.

    Jules attained his achievements not with a to-do list of shoulds, but with an   approach that could speak to all of us: “I implore each of you,” he said to his classmates in his graduation remarks, “to examine what you have to be grateful for. As we escape into a culture that continually tells us that we should have more, and be more – a culture that tells us that who we are and what we have is not enough, I ask you to remember and place your focus on what you can appreciate and love in your life.

    “When we shift our focus from what we perceive that we should be, to instead simply being grateful for what we are, the gifts we bring to the world can bloom and we can share these gifts with the world.”

    To listen to the music of Jules Kessler, visit