In 2001, music teacher Dr. Gregor Winkel took a vacation to New York City that changed the course of his career. At the time, he was living in Germany, and had graduated from the University of Cologne with a double degree in physics and music. He then worked as a research physicist, but found it “dull” and “repetitive.”
When Winkel first came to New York, he was disappointed. “You come to New York with certain expectations,” he said. “I expected the buildings to be higher […] I expected more steel […] and well, concrete.”
After a week, however, Winkel developed a fondness for the city, and returned a year later to live there permanently. When he saw an advertisement for the New York City Teaching Fellows program on the subway, he decided to see if he could pursue his interests in a different fashion. His first teaching position was in the physics department at the High School for Health Professions and Human Services, located in the former Stuyvesant building on East 15th Street.
While attending a teacher’s workshop at Stuyvesant, Winkel heard a student orchestra, and was impressed by their talent. “I thought to myself, ‘I want to teach here,’” he said.
Winkel applied for a teaching job at Stuyvesant, and was accepted as a teacher for the physics department. Eventually, he became acquainted with Music and Fine Arts Department Assistant Principal Dr. Raymond Wheeler.
“He came to me one day and asked if he could work with some sort of brass ensemble,” Wheeler said. “I told him, if you want to volunteer, I’m sure the kids would be interested.”
Winkel, who took trumpet lessons at age seven, worked with the music department intermittently, and his presence there increased steadily over the years. When the teacher’s union began to require a limit on the number of students taught by each teacher, Wheeler, who was at the time the sole music teacher, found an additional music teacher in Winkel. Winkel “was doing such great work here, wanted the job, and was familiar with the staff,” Wheeler said.
Winkel believes both subjects require a different method of teaching. Despite this, freshman and beginner band alto saxophonist Josh Poretz said Winkel occasionally “incorporates his knowledge in physics in his style of teaching band” by using physics analogies to encourage his students to work harder.
“He has a really unorthodox and funky style,” said senior and guitarist Nicholas Jimenz said. “You can really see that he’s passionate about what he teaches.”
During his spare time, Winkel enjoys traveling and playing his trumpet. He has been to, among other places, the Swiss Alps, the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains and most of Europe.
He enjoys all forms of music, but prefers playing to listening. “I can’t multitask,” he said. “Listening to music distracts me from another task. Even when I was learning to play an instrument, I preferred practicing it without accompanying music.”
There was one notable exception. “While on a road trip in Yugoslavia with my [then] girlfriend, we listed to an album by The Doors. […] I told her, ‘Wow, this is great music. We should go see them live in concert,” said Winkel. “What I didn’t know at the time was that the band broke up years ago […] and the lead singer was dead. You could say that I was uninformed about [popular] music at the time,” he said.
Although Winkel has become infamous among students for riding a motorcycle to school, he has recently switched to a healthier and more eco-friendly means of transportation.
“I ride the bike now,” said Winkel. “Riding a motorcycle is a little dangerous, and I am no longer 20.”