SHERIDAN, WY (May 29, 2018) — The Witzel Family Foundation announced today that it is launching the Witzel Academy to offer free guitar, piano and voice lessons to Sheridan County students, grades 3 – 12, who demonstrate a strong desire to learn and a financial need. Lessons begin this fall and will be held in the Whitney Center for the Arts (WCA) concert hall, on campus at Sheridan College.

Witzel Family Foundation executive director Dave Nicolarsen tapped Dr. Erin Hanke, WCA director, to also serve as Witzel Academy director and piano instructor. Michelle Jackson will teach voice, and Justin Parker will teach guitar.

“The Whitney Center for the Arts is providing our students a world-class space in which to study their craft,” said Nicolarsen. “Under Dr. Hanke’s leadership, we hope to grow this program and expand student participation in the arts. This is our charter, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be launching our fall Academy.”

To qualify for lessons in fall of 2018, students must demonstrate a sincere interest in studying music and parents/guardians will be asked to provide a statement of need.

“We will begin by serving students who may not otherwise have access to high quality music lessons,” said Hanke.  “We hope to expand that into a sliding scale system to serve even more students with a passion for music, in an even wider variety of instruments.”

To apply or for more information, interested families may email or call 307.752.3277.


Erin Hanke holds a doctorate in historical music from SUNY Stony Brook where she was teaching assistant to Arthur Haas and recipient of a full Staller scholarship. Her doctoral paper considered the setting of Johann Sebastian Bach’s chorale “Ich habe genug” within Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto.  Her lecture recital was entitled “Bach’s Humor: The Capriccio in B-flat Major as Parody.”

Dr. Hanke was artist in residence at the CUNY Queens College Museum of Art for the exhibition Express|Local.  She has performed at Carnegie Hall in workshop with L’Arpeggiata and Waits Trio.  While at Mannes College she performed at Alice Tully Hall with the Mannes Orchestra and as a concerto soloist with the baroque ensemble.  Dr. Hanke has studied with Christophe Roussett at Piccola Accademia di Montisi, Italy, with Ketil Haugsand at the Academia de Musica Antiga de Lisboa, Portugal,  Ringve Gourse in Norway and in masterclasses with Davitt Moroney, and both Wieland and Barthold Kuijken.  She recently appeared at the Silicon Valley Music Festival as both performer and lecturer.

​She serves on the Sheridan City Council, Sheridan Public Arts Council, and Critical Air Service Team, and is the director of the Whitney Center for the Arts at Sheridan College.  Dr. Hanke holds a Masters of Music from Mannes College in New York City and completed studies in organ performance with Dr. John Chappell Stowe at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she holds degrees in Mathematics and Art History.

Soprano Michelle Jackson is a Wyoming native and graduate from the University of Northwestern School of Music in St. Paul, MN.  Jackson is a frequent recitalist and guest soloist at numerous Los Angeles venues and has appeared with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Schubert Club of St. Paul, MN, the Guild Opera Company of Los Angeles and the Ridgecrest Opera Guild. Ms. Jackson’s operatic appearances include Lucy in Menotti’s The Telephone, Äanchen in Von Weber’s Der Freischütz, Dora in John Addison’s Conversation Piece, Celia in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, Marzelline in Beethoven’s Fidelio, Musetta in La Boheme, Genevieve in Suor Angelica, First Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro.  Michelle has also appeared as a chorus member in Center Stage Opera’s production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore and as Giovanna in Verdi’s Rigoletto with the same company.  Her Musical Theatre credits include the role of Lily in The Secret Garden and Maria in The Sound of Music.

Justin Parker is a Sheridan native with more than 15 years of experience studying and performing on the guitar. While attending the University of Wyoming, he was heavily involved in the classical guitar program, and held first chair in the UW Guitar Ensemble. Justin returned to Sheridan after receiving a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition in 2010. He has been a Guitar instructor at Sheridan College since Fall 2015.

The Witzel Family Foundation is based in Sheridan Wyoming, founded in 2007 by Sarah “Sally” E. Witzel in honor of and to further the charitable purposes of Curly, John and Sarah Witzel. The primary purpose of the Foundation is the promotion of charitable, educational functions. Led by foundation president Mary Beth Evers, it provides educational scholarships and other means of financial support for students from Sheridan County who attend accredited universities, colleges, vocational schools, and well-established educational institutions offering post-high school education, including educational organizations identified by the founder Sarah E. Witzel, and by the Directors, with special consideration to and preference to (but not restricted to) assistance to students who have special needs, and students who pursue interests in music education. The foundation began awarding post-secondary music scholarships in 2010.

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