Curiosities of a Rambling Mind

A Biography

All the Things You Never Cared to Know about Bret Whissel

Bret Whissel profile pic“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” —Hamlet, act I, scene V

This statement by Hamlet reflects one of the principles of my own belief system: there is a whole lot more that is unknown about the universe than is known. It is often the case that a hard-sought answer brings with it even more questions, further evidence that life is the journey, and not the destination.

Warning: These pages plant a flag in the ether of cyberspace, proclaiming to the world that I exist. As such, information on this page is completely self-indulgent drivel: if you continue reading, you risk exposing yourself to high levels of inane, self-gratifying gibberish.

About My Job

I am the System Administrator for the Department of Meteorology at Florida State University, which means I help keep computers and networks doing what they’re supposed to do. Before that, I was a computer programmer/system administrator/research assistant/coffee maker for a research group in the department which we called the Mesoscale Lab (for lack of a better name) since we investigated medium-scale weather phenomena such as thunder storms, tornadoes, and other such events. We also worked with weather radar.

About Me

I am Presbyterian, single, a Myers-Briggs E/INTJ, tend toward perfectionism, and try to do the right thing. I am interested in many aspects of music: composition, physics, acoustics, performance, listening to, psychology of, blah, blah, blah. Music is my first love, but my appreciation of it far outweighs my ability to create/perform it. I also enjoy cooking (mainly so that I can eat), reading, movies, theater, learning, conversation, introspection, star-gazing, and laughing. (Why does this stuff always sound like a personals ad?)

Since I work at a university, I was unable to pass up the opportunity for furthering my education and started graduate school. If I ever figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I may finish a Ph.D. in CompSci some day.

Brief History

I was born in New York, starting at Clarence Senior High (also my parents’ high school) before moving with my family to Florida. After graduating from Dunedin High, I traveled with a group called Up With People, which is an international educational organization. In UWP I was the piano-player in the band of a cast of 100 people from 15 countries, and we performed a 2-hour show of song and dance. That year of traveling and the friends I’ve made will remain highlights in my life.

Following the UWP experience, I started pursuing a bachelor’s in Music Education at Florida State University, but changed degree programs to Computer Science after two years. I also joined Delta Tau Delta fraternity during my freshman year and held several offices and chairmanships in the years I was an active. I kept very strange hours (most of my education occurred outside of a classroom), but there was always someone at the fraternity house willing to split a pizza with me almost any time of the day or night. While still in school, I worked for IBM in Boca Raton during the first PC rush of the early `80s through FSU’s Cooperative Education program.

My first full-time job after graduating was at FSU’s Center for Music Research, where I had cut my teeth as a programmer while an undergrad. I spent two years at CMR, and then returned to Up With People to work as a music director for a year. When I’d had enough of life on the road, I came back to FSU to work for Dr. Peter Ray in Meteorology, preferring a research environment to a corporate one. I accepted the position of Meteorology Department System Administrator in 2001.

Activities

I have been active at my church, Faith Presbyterian (PCUSA), where I have been a deacon, sing in the choir and several other ensembles, ring handbells, act as substitute organist (on occasion), accompany the Youth Choir, and participate in the work of several committees (committees are the bread and butter of being Presbyterian). I have also participated in mission and service trips to Washington D.C. and Atlanta. I am a great fan of the writings of C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, among other things. While I cannot compete with Lewis’s depth or insight, I offer this personal theological reflection for your consideration.

I used to be active with the American Guild of Organists, but I no longer play enough to make membership worth while. Still, It is a tremendous thrill to be able to make a few modest toots on such a grand instrument as a pipe organ. There are a number of pieces I would like to work up to performance level before I die. Probably at top of the list is the Toccata in F (or sometimes Prelude) (BWV 540) by J.S. Bach.

I sing with the 250-voice Tallahassee Community Chorus, under the direction of Dr. André Thomas, which usually performs a few major works (and several smaller selections) with full orchestra annually. The Chorus had its debut at Carnegie Hall (yes, that Carnegie Hall!) in March 2004, and we went to Beijing, China in July 2007. In addition, I sing with the FSU Chamber Choir, also under the direction of Dr. Thomas. On several occasions these choruses have had the privilege of working under the baton of Robert Shaw, for many years a conductor and artistic director of the Atlanta Symphony. Mr. Shaw was intensely passionate about his art, and we shall miss him. Requiescas in pacem, Magister. I also served as accompanist for the Tallahassee Civic Chorale for a year while my good friend Debi Chandler was conducting.

I have been an actor, musician, and music director for some local theater productions with several different theater groups in and around town. In particular, I was “Joseph” in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; rehearsal accompanist for Damn Yankees, L’il Abner, Joseph, and The Music Man; music director for Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? and Baby; and orchestra for Baby, Romance, Romance, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Joseph, Damn Yankees, and L’il Abner. After a hiatus of several years, I put my music director hat back on for I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! in 2006. What a great cast and crew! In late 2006 I was also a music director/coach for the FSU USO Tribute Show which was produced in the FSU Circus tent.

I have worked with the “Guardians of the Light” children’s chorus which raises money to support Child Advocates II of Tallahassee, a group which oversees the Guardian Ad Litem program. I even wrote a song which the kids performed.

I have served on the Board of Governors of the Up With People International Alumni Association as the Information Services chairperson (in other words, the resident computer geek). The BoG is an extremely dedicated group of volunteers who strive to keep the connections among UWP alumni going strong. It has been a lot of fun (and a lot of work!), and an extraordinarily rewarding experience to meet other UWP alumni, some of whom have achieved amazing things for themselves and others.

After having been a conferee for many years, I had an opportunity to serve on the faculty of the Montreat Worship and Music Conference in 2005. I had this opportunity because Eric Wall, the Conference Director that year, is a good friend who was in desperate need of someone with text-processing/music-typesetting computer skills (I used TeX and lilypond, by the way). That, and Eric thought it would be fun if Cindy Wendel and I could work together with the Children’s Choir. (Cindy was the director, and I was the accompanist.) It was an awe-provoking experience, and I was delighted to have been invited to work on the conference again in June 2006 with conference co-directors Andra and Brant Copeland. The W&M conference is sponsored by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians.

  1. 3 Responses to “A Biography”

  2. By Claire on Apr 8, 2011

    Very impressive bio. Mike(my spouse of 40+ years) and I are far more rounded than simply practicing law (he as a commercial litigator in a major NYC lawfirm and I, a Columbia Law School graduate, a single practioner). Mike’s top avocational priorities are Jazz (he’s somewhat of a “mayvan”), physics (he’s obsessed with becoming a “mayan),golf (we golfed all over the world including Australia, New Zealand,Hong Kong,Beijing, Shanhai and our absolute favorite Caesarea, Israel where we have a vacation apartment). From your one blog, I see we agree on politics. We are great supporters of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and the most humanitarian country in the world despite totally distorted media coverage. Their doctors were the first into Haiti after their eartquate and the first into Japan, where despite the radiation dangers, they have set up a hospital staffed with 50 Israeli doctors and a similar number of nurses and support staff. Perhaps you can explain why the Presbytarian Church has chosen to divest itself of interests in Israel? It is really a shame.
    Claire
    P.S. I must get back to my income tax preparation(particularly the mortage principle reduction matter which I raised at your amortization page), so I may not be able to respond promptly. I’m not much at blogging, so best contact is the email listed in my profile.

  3. By Leo on Sep 3, 2014

    I was in the Army in 1968, and after a long day of boot camp, we had to march across Fort Benning to attend an Up With People show at the stadium. I got the message of positive mental attitude but did not understand what, why, or anything about the Up With People program. Could you tell me what is was all about, how it got started, how long it lasted, etc.

  4. By Bret Whissel on Nov 20, 2014

    Up With People has evolved since its earliest days. I know people who were in the UWP casts back then, probably even performed when you saw them at Fort Benning. When I traveled in 1980/81 and then again in 1988/89, we described ourselves as a non-profit educational organization, intent on “building bridges of communication and understanding between peoples of different cultures”. It grew out of a 1965 youth conference at Macinac Island sponsored by a group known as Moral Re-Armament, and went its own way after the first few years.

    By the time I traveled, there were five casts on the road simultaneously, each with 100+ college-aged students from over a dozen countries. Collectively, we toured North America and Europe, even a little of South America, and in later years, Japan and Australia. We even broke through into China in the 70s, and the USSR before the wall came down. We usually went by bus from town to town, bringing all the equipment necessary to perform our two-hour show of song and dance. It was mostly original material expressing hope for a better world achieved through a better understanding of each other. We stayed in people’s homes in each of the communities we visited, getting to know a bit about the people and the local issues wherever we went. At the same time, we were learning about the different cultures that our own cast represented.

    Each cast spent a year together, in a somewhat unique environment. It was an amazing experience to see some of the world through the eyes of people I traveled with and the people we stayed with. Along the way, I think we all discovered that while we do have cultural differences between us, we are also very much alike.

    I am still in regular contact with my castmates from both years I traveled. Each cast has a reunion event every five years. This July, Up With People will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.

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