otho winger experience 2018
The last Otho Winger Experience (pictured above) was in 2018.
Photo provided by MU

Otho Winger Rocks Again: Faculty/Staff Supergroup to Reunite for May 1 VIA

Miriam Erbaugh 

The public has long been fascinated with the secret lives of celebrities, but what secret lives might Manchester University’s professors lead? The May 1, 75-minute VIA, entitled “The Otho Winger Experience: The Final Show,” promises to give some insight into the musical side of beloved Manchester faculty and staff. Greg Clark, Mark Bryant, Dave Hicks, Dan Chudzynski, Katharine Ings, Judd Case, Jonathan Watson, Deb Hustin and Toby Tobias (an outside “friend” of the group) make up “Manchester’s rock band in residence,” and have all spent months in preparation for their reunion on the Cordier stage.

The Otho Winger Experience is named for Winger, former college president and scholar of Native American culture. It’s affectionately known as OWE, and its members all share a love of music, though their day jobs are in other fields. “We’re a rock band, but we’re in the classic mold of an ensemble band,” said Judd Case, guitarist, vocalist and Dean of Arts and Sciences. “We’re like Fleetwood Mac. We play a variety of instruments and styles, and several of us sing so we pass around the vocals.”

Their combined taste is “eclectic,” but the band has a primarily rock’n’roll focus. “We do music from the 60s through the 2000s,” said Dave Hicks, guitarist, mandolinist, backing vocalist and retired Biology professor. “Some stuff is fairly loud and rock, some is hard rock and we even have some country rock and a ballad or two.”

The Otho Winger Experience was founded in 2005 for a VIA performance. 

“It was the brainchild of a former communications professor named Lee Krähenbühl,” said Dan Chudzynski, keyboardist, vocalist and Director of Marketing. “He really had an itch to get on stage and play with a group of people. He knew of other people who had musical talents, so he pulled together this group. It kind of evolved over the years.”

Seventeen years later, members still echo the sentiments of their founder. “Music might not be our profession, but it’s certainly our passion and we all found each other somehow,” said Jonathan Watson, guitarist and Associate Professor of English.

Greg Clark, guitarist, bassist, flutist and Professor of Physics agrees. “Everybody’s got different strengths and they really are just amazing musicians, so it’s always exciting just to play,” he said.

The May 1 show will mark their return as a group after a five-year hiatus from performing. “We had been in rehearsals during the January right before the pandemic struck,” said Katharine Ings, vocalist and Professor of English and Director of the Gender Studies Program. “We had to stop and completely shut down for four years. We are definitely trying to catch up; we’re making up for lost time.”

For one member, their participation in the group is actually due to the pandemic. “During Covid, I picked up guitar,” said Deb Hustin, the group’s newest member and recent retiree from Information Techology Services. “It’s an acoustic guitar and so far, I can play with the guys. And I’ll be singing a brand-new song that they’ve never done before.”

OWE’s preparation for “The Final Show” has spanned the entire semester. “We’ve been practicing once a week, for several hours, and picking songs,” said Mark Bryant, bassist and Associate Professor of Chemistry. “Everybody gets to pick a song. [The setlist] is sort of half and half, old and new. We’re doing big favorites of ours from the past, and then some new ones, but for students it’s all new.”

The group’s members are committed to being show-ready. They hold Wednesday night rehearsal at an undisclosed location and have been working through their set-list. “We have a secret lair where we rehearse,” Case said. “We’ve put up our banner and everything. And as for practice, well, anyone who comes by my office during the noon hour is likely to hear me working through a part on my acoustic.”

As the time until the show lessens, the band’s excitement grows. “We enjoy practicing together,” Chudzynski said. “But when you’re in front of people you get a sort of synergy with the audience that generates some adrenaline inside of all of us. That’s the thing that I look forward to with performing.”

Watson described the post-show energy as being so fulfilling he has wondered if it could go somewhere. “I always want to say, ‘can we just take this out on the road?’” he said. “We’re ready, and there’s that other phantom side that would just be so cool. Yeah, let’s take it on the road.”

All of the Otho Winger Experience hope for a good turnout. “In the end, this is for you, the students; you’re why we’re doing it, and we really hope you enjoy it,” Clark said.

Hustin enthusiastically announced: “This is not a VIA people are going to want to skip!”