Steve Kriesel doesn’t just make masks. His innovations make in-person music possible during COVID-19. A GTCYS alum and current parent of a GTCYS student, Steve is the owner of the instrument case company Torpedo Bags. In response to COVID-19, he’s shifted his work drastically to develop special masks and instrument bell covers for GTCYS and music ensembles across the state. Energetic and passionate, Steve reflects on his time in GTCYS and the work he’s doing now to keep music in students’ lives.
“I was only in GTCYS my senior year, but I do vividly remember my first rehearsal, and honestly, it changed my life,” Steve says. As a trumpet player, Steve had never played with a string section before GTCYS. And it blew him away. “That sound! There is nothing like a string section , and it was something I had never heard up close before. I’m not sure I can convey what those first five minutes did to me in 1987.” Those five minutes were enough to inspire Steve to make music an integral part of his life, whether it’s been directing bands, teaching private lessons, or creating instrument cases.
Steve also forged strong relationships during his time in GTCYS. One that stands out to him is Byron Stripling, a renowned jazz vocalist and trumpet player. Steve first met him when Stripling was a guest soloist with GTCYS. During a rehearsal, Steve remembers that “I sat alone in the rehearsal hall, about twenty rows back, and Byron was singing and playing to me the entire rehearsal. I got to know him a bit on the lunch break, and after the rehearsal he gave me his business card. I sent him some fan mail, he sent me his demo tape, and we’ve been good friends ever since.”
Now, Steve is passing his love of music and GTCYS on to others. Many of his trumpet students played in GTCYS, and his daughter currently plays flute in Concertino West. This year especially, Steve recognizes the importance of making music with others. “I think this year, GTCYS is literally my daughter’s only social interaction. I believe it is going to be remembered as one of the top highlights in the lowlight year that is 2020. I am so grateful GTCYS has found a way to continue under such terrible circumstances.”
Steve is playing his part, too, in making GTCYS rehearsals possible this year. Students used Steve’s specially designed masks and bell covers to rehearse safely in-person this fall. But for Steve, masks and bell covers are more than fabric. “I’m not operating as a textile and leather goods company. This is my daughter, I’m a former band director, and I’m a GTCYS alum. So all these products are honestly quite personal to me.” He continues, “I see this as a way to have a positive impact on the art of making music, in a way that might allow kids to have a musical experience this year. Without a regular opportunity to listen and play and be inspired, we don’t get to appreciate and experience this profound art form.”
From the first five minutes of a GTCYS rehearsal in 1987 to making GTCYS rehearsals possible in 2020, Steve continues to positively impact the world around him. Looking back at a trying year, Steve isn’t measuring success by the 10,000 masks he’s sold, or the amount of revenue he’s generated. In his words, “if I helped anyone make music in 2020, then I did good.”