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A.J. Merlino, Willis Rapp to Headline Tower Talks April 26

by Kutztown University

A.J. Merlino, Willis Rapp to Headline Tower Talks April 26

Kutztown University’s Department of Cinema, Television and Media Production will host its third Tower Talks, a speaker event on campus, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 26, Wells-Rapp Center for Mallet Percussion Research. Featured speakers include Dr. A.J. Merlino ’10, Grammy-nominated music educator, and Dr. Willis Rapp, arranger, composer, author and KU faculty emeriti. The event features KU alumni, faculty, staff and students and brings together the community to inspire all who attend.

Tower Talks welcomes anyone from the greater Kutztown community to join. Doors open at 7 p.m. The event serves as a great way to showcase the talent that is fostered from the KU experience. The event is sponsored by KU’s Department of Cinema, Media and Television Production.

Merlino is a five-time Grammy-nominated music educator with a passion for cultivating creativity and innovation in higher education. His background in the arts as a performer and large-scale project manager helps inform decisions as a business strategist, bringing a unique perspective to the educational landscape. Merlino’s experience collaborating with campus leadership and community partners has successfully increased students’ educational programming and learning opportunities while positively impacting student enrollment, matriculation, retention and outcomes through career-level engagement.

As a touring musician and clinician, Merlino has presented in Scotland, Croatia, Greece, Thailand, Canada, Australia and Argentina. He has worked as project manager, music director, composer and performer for many projects held at The Venetian, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand and Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. He has had the pleasure of sharing the stage with artists such as Jay-Z, Ronnie Vannucci of The Killers, Eric Marienthal, Cee Lo Green, Gary Lucas, Delta Rae, Thank You Scientist, Karmic Juggernaut and Darlene Love. Merlino can be heard on various recordings by Thank You Scientist, Karmic Juggernaut, Remember Jones and We Used to Cut the Grass.

Merlino earned a Bachelor of Arts in music from Kutztown University, a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition, Merlino was a 2017, 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023 quarterfinalist for the Grammy Foundation’s Music Educator Award for making a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and demonstrating a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools.

Rapp has served on the faculty of Millersville University, Southeastern Louisiana University, Iowa State University and Kutztown University, where he retired in 2013 with the distinction of Professor Emeritus. He was inducted into the KU Arts Hall of Fame in 2021.

As an arranger, composer and author, Rapp has more than 500 publications to his credit. Since 2000, Rapp has served as conductor of the Reading Pops Orchestra; he has guest conducted and appeared as a clinician in 28 states and three provinces in Canada.

In 2007, Rapp was the recipient of the Kutztown University Faculty Research Award and in fall 2009, he was honored with the Arthur and Isabel Wiesenberger Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, making him the first faculty member in the history of the university to be honored with both awards. In November 2018, Rapp was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in Education by the Percussive Arts Society.

Rapp holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Music in music education from West Chester University, a Diploma of Fine Arts in conducting from the University of Calgary and a Doctor of Musical Arts in instrumental conducting from the Catholic University of America.