Tony Silvestri: The Irish coffee of Washburn educators


Photo courtesy of John Burns

Charles Anthony Silvestri, professional Irish musician and history lecturer, plays his beloved concertina. Silvestri has taught at Washburn for nearly 20 years while also playing Irish music with various bands in multiple venues.

Charles Anthony Silvestri, known to many as Tony, is comparable to an Irish coffee. Irish coffee is an alcoholic beverage made up of the smooth Irish whiskey and decorous black coffee. This drink perfectly captures Silvestri’s vibe.

Most students know Silvestri as the lecturer of the history department, teaching multiple “survey of history” classes at the 100 level and numerous 300 level history classes. This is the coffee. Coffee and history are both staid, stern and some people would say boring. To be able to enjoy either takes a specific taste and something like sugar or imagination in order to like it.

Silvestri has plenty of imagination. He is a wonderful storyteller who can make an entire class period fly by without his audience ever losing focus. Silvestri is a fan of the game Dungeons & Dragons, and he brightens up his upper division classes by incorporating the roleplaying element into the curriculum.

Students take up roles and live through prominent times in history, such as ancient Rome, the age of pirates and traditional Japan. He teaches these classes on a rotating schedule where every semester the focus is on a different time period.

Silvestri is pretty much a rockstar, that’s the smooth Irish whiskey. He is a traditional Irish musician who plays shows in Lawrence with his band every week and even ventures out to Kansas City sometimes to jam out. He mixed his love of music with his love of history in the class “World History of Music” which he co-teaches here at Washburn. This is a history class, a survey of world cultures with music as the concentration. Students listen to music and then study it’s contemporary and its historical context.

In addition to being a educator and Irish musician, Silvestri is also an acclaimed poet and choral lyricist.

“I’ve written for almost 100 composers in the past 20 years, and I’ve published a ‘kajillion’ pieces of music,” said Silvestri. He has written lyrics for the Washburn Choir as well as many professional and renowned composers.

One of Silverstri’s most notable works is “The Sacred Veil,” a 12-piece ballad with music composed by Eric Whitacre that he wrote based on the relationship between him and his late wife, Julie Silvestri. The narration spans from their meeting, expanding to their marriage, the birth of their two children, her diagnosis of ovarian cancer and then ultimately her death.

“It’s powerful for me to touch that wounded spot in my heart again and again,” said Silvestri.

As a musician, Silverstri understands that experiencing such a heart wrenching musical arrangement may be the only way some people can work through their own tragedies. Silvestri admitted that he is reaching the point in his almost 40-year teaching career, where he’s contemplating retiring.

“Teaching is a joyful thing, I love students and I love being in classes,” said Silvestri.

Silvestri began working at Washburn in 2006, because he both wanted to continue teaching and because it was part of the healing process. It has been almost 20 years at the university for Silvestri, and after aiding so many students and imparting so much wisdom, he feels satisfied in this goal. He expects spring 2025 to be his final semester at Washburn.

“I plan to continue to visit classrooms and to give master classes forever,” said Silvestri.

Silvestri will be teaching all 100 level classes and his Civilization of Ancient Rome class this coming fall. Alan Bearman, professor of history and interim executive director of enrollment management thinks they’re worth taking.

“Professor Silvestri is an amazing instructor,” said Bearman. “And I recommend that everyone graduating from Washburn should do so only after sharing a transformative educational experience with him.”

He also has many works of art available for viewing that are summarized on his website. Additionally, he and his band play every Sunday afternoon at the Taproom in Lawrence from 3-6 p.m.


Edited by Rakesh Swarnakar, Simran Shrestha and Glorianna Noland