Returning Artist Visits District Schools

Christine Politte, Web Editor

It was the first time Sandy Weltman had been inside U. City for 40 years. Some areas, like the library, were new and foreign, but others, such as the gym, were exactly the same. The stadium remained largely unchanged, the same stadium he had sat in 40 years ago, playing the banjo on his breaks.

“It brought back a flood of memories,” he said.

Weltman, who graduated in 1974, returned to the district last week as the Municipal Commission on Arts and Letters’ 20th Returning Artist. Like the returning artists before him, he spent a week touring the district’s schools to inspire and enrich students.

Today, Weltman is a well-known musician who plays a variety of instruments but is most noted for his harmonica skills. He plays a wide variety of genres, including jazz, blues, and ethnic music.

Additionally, he creates downloadable harmonica lessons and plays occasional gigs.

Weltman credits U. City with helping him enter the music world.

“I never studied music in University City, but I played music here,” he said. “I don’t know how much I appreciated it at the time — I do now — [but] we had a great environment to explore.”

When Weltman first picked up a banjo, it wasn’t for the sake of learning a new art form, though — he was trying to impress a girl. Soon, however, he fell in love with the instrument itself.

“As I got into it, I was really bad,” he said, but he had a lot of fun doing it. Eventually, he took a few lessons, gained skills and began to branch out to other instruments.

Some time after he graduated, Weltman was impressed by a harmonica on the radio, and he set out to find the player. He learned the man’s name was Howard Levy, and on a whim, he signed up for a music camp with him.

“I was basically just following my heart and my passion,” Weltman said.

That passion led him into a whole new world of music and brought him great success. That success is secondary to Weltman’s love of the instrument, however.

“This is one of the things that attracted me to the harmonica: that is was a tiny little instrument with worlds of music inside it,” he said.

Returning to U. City, Weltman tried to bring that enthusiasm to the students. He gave each elementary schooler he met a harmonica, and he brought in “quirky” instruments to show them, like cow bones and Egyptian tambourines.

“I was trying to get them fired up and excited about harmonicas,” he said, so they would explore on their own. Weltman hoped students would find a similar passion inside themselves.

“That’s exactly what I love to do: I love to explore my interests and passions, he said.”Really explore your passions because those are the things you’re going to excel at, and they’re going to make you happy, too.”