His key to success? ‘Think the music’

by T. W. Burger, The Patriot News

Mark-Wesling-Chris-Knight
Photo by Chris Knight, The Patriot News

Meet Mark Wesling. As a young man, he studied engineering and business. Today, he teaches and plays classical guitar, produces music and paints. And, he says, he can’t imagine doing anything else.

Mark Wesling sits on a chair in his apartment and makes magic with a wooden box. The box is of bearclaw spruce and Brazilian rosewood. A box, yes, but not square. It is shaped elegantly into sort of an hourglass. A set of six nylon strings are stretched at perfect tensions down across the spruce top and along a fretted board jutting from one end of the box. Wesling’s fingers move easily, teasing the strings, his left hand dancing almost as an independent being along the neck of the guitar. From the box of polished wood and perfect tensions arises “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s 200 surviving cantatas. The piece is nearly 300 years old.

This is what Mark Wesling is all about: the music that goes into and out of the very exactingly built wooden box, playing it and teaching others to play. He also paints. He produces CDs. But all those things are satellites in orbit around the music of that box of arched and gleamed wood. He plays professionally and shepherds about 100 students, six days a week, through the rigors of coaxing the magic out of their own wooden boxes. This is not just an art form. It’s a business.

Through a business association, he joined LeTip of the West Shore, a networking outfit of about 70 business owners. There he received help learning the kinds of accounting and legal support he needed. He believes that doing business locally is a way to prevent massive swings in the economy.

“Small businesses are the only ones who can cure the economy,” he says. “Hire your neighbor and your neighbor will hire you, everyone’s busy, everyone’s eating and everyone’s happy.”

Wesling has his own 401(k) plan and health insurance and juggles a busy schedule of professional gigs at wedding, corporate events and other happenings. He manages his own CD sales, and still finds time to create and sell paintings. He said he has sold 6,000 to 7,000 CDs.

Wesling, 41, has played for nearly three decades. He says part of the craft is getting to the point where the music goes from the page through the fingers and strings without him having to think specifically about each step in the process.

“You fall into this thing where you minimize your movement and play more efficiently,” he says. “It almost becomes as though I think the music. It becomes almost intuitive.”

“I try to teach my students that playing a chord is no more difficult than turning a door knob,” Wesling says. “That is a fairly complex movement involving a lot of muscles, bones and joints, but you don’t have to think about it when you do it.”

Wesling says he became interested in the guitar when he was 13, and in eighth grade in his native St. Louis. “My first guitar teacher played electric guitar in a band, but he exposed me to classical,” he says. “The earliest music was sort of primitive, but then Bach came along and sort of solidified everything, sort of set the rules. Now the twelve-tone scale is sort of the standard for western music.”

Wesling started out playing for a hobby. He went to engineering school, then business school. When he was 24, he moved to Cleveland and started painting. He came to Harrisburg four years later and played for friends. They encouraged him to go out and play at receptions and at open houses.

“When I was 30, after two years of working for Tyco, I suddenly decided to do this full-time. I started out with four students. I now have 98,” Wesling says.

Matthew Weschler, 18, was one of Wesling’s students for eight years. He is now a student at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, and recently won the high school division of the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society competition. Weschler says Wesling is encouraging to the youths under his tutelage.

“He was very definitely influential in getting me started on a path I’ll probably follow for the rest of my life,” Weschler says. “Right now, I’m enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. I plan to major in bioengineering, but there is no doubt for me that I will never stop playing the guitar.”

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