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Coronamusic


This week,  Milwaukee Children's Choir Executive Director, Bill Busch, joins host Bryce Lord to discuss connecting children with music during the coronavirus lockdown. We'll also learn how this well-established arts organization could pivot and keep fulfilling its mission "to provide exceptional choral music education and performance experiences that foster creativity, personal expression and social growth."

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Transcript
Bryce Lord:

Hello, this is Bryce Lord. Welcome to another episode of Nonprofit Espresso. I've been off for a couple of weeks. The real world managed to get ahold of me and sidetrack me for awhile. But we are back with another episode. We were just listening to a recording of the Milwaukee children's choir A song called We Are the art I wanted to spend today talking a little bit about Arts organizations during the pandemic We've talked about this a little bit in the past but not really specific to children And I think there's some important factors that we can consider there I was looking at the summary of a recent study That collected equal groups of people from six different countries around the world including the U S And they were asked in an online survey how they engaged with music During the pandemic during the lockdown when we couldn't engage with one another in the ways that we were used to And over half of the respondents Said that they used music to cope with emotional or social stress And it's interesting to note that music itself wasn't the coping mechanism But music related behavior meaning the ways people Adapted music into their lives during the crisis So with this in mind music listening And music-making Provide different ways of coping with with everything going on And the social closures we've been dealing with They found that the people who experienced increased negative emotions due to the pandemic Engaged with music primarily As a way to regulate depression or fear And stress Especially via listening to music Interestingly enough the people who reported more positive emotions overall Were found to use music largely as a replacement for social interaction not just music listening but music making That gave them a sense of belonging to a community And that music making even more so Served as a means of self-reflection It's kind of an interesting thing to consider as as you talk about How we have managed to entertain ourselves and to find ways to cope with a lot of the social challenges that we've all been facing And to see how different people Use music Something that we're all to some degree connected to and what exactly it does for us So in this episode we're going to talk a little bit about that in terms of how this affects children I'm going to talk with bill Busch the managing director of the Milwaukee children's choir And discover a little bit more about the programs they offer

Bryce:

I'm here with Bill Busch who is the executive director of the Milwaukee children's choir here in Milwaukee. Welcome.

Bill Busch:

Thanks Bryce Thanks for having me

Bryce:

And so let's learn a little bit about you first before we start talking about the choir you have a very strong musical background and a musical family tell me a little bit about what led you to this path.

Bill Busch:

I was a music education major back in college at U W Madison And back in those days you didn't get into the classroom to actually do any kind of practicum teaching until the end of your junior year And by the time I got into the classroom I said I don't think this is for me I ended up working in entertainment I was with a production company doing musical reviews for cruise lines and resort hotels for a number of years that was really fun It was a great thing to do right out of college so I was directing shows and we sent them out all over the country anywhere from four to 16 person casts And then a little over 20 years ago I took a position as a full-time director of music at a large Lutheran church in the Milwaukee area So we moved from Madison to Milwaukee and I was there for almost 18 years and left that position in 2018 in between that time I was also doing a lot of freelance musical theater directing in different locations and was recruited as general manager of the Milwaukee children's choir in fall of 2019 and then there was some staffing changes made and I accepted the Executive Director position in February of 2020 just about

Bryce Lord:

in

Bill Busch:

before the pandemic hit

Bryce:

How lucky for you Trial by fire Baptism by fire

Bill Busch:

Yes exactly

Bryce:

And so I'm curious what in the case of Milwaukee Children's Choir What does general manager entail

Bill Busch:

Sure So it was mostly all the day-to-day administrative functions membership coordinator finances all the general administration overseeing all of that as well as overseeing the technical aspects of our concerts

Bryce:

So pretty much running the show it sounds like you then moved into the executive director position how has that been

Bill Busch:

it's been great it's certainly not been without its challenges with what's happened the last couple of years with with the pandemic but we have a very lean mean staff there's myself an artistic director and a development director those are only full-time positions right now we also have several part-time directors and accompanists a full-time staff of three

Bryce:

I'm you said you had a full-time artistic director and a couple part-time artistic directors How does that play out

Bill Busch:

Milwaukee children's choir is composed of four different ensembles we have groups in different age groups ranging from first grade all the way through high school our artistic director actually directs two of those groups conducts two of the groups and then we have part-time artistic associates who direct the introductory choir and the pereparatory choir

Bryce Lord:

And so I'm curious about the kind of work that the Milwaukee children's choir does

Bill Busch:

Milwaukee children's choir was founded in 1994 by Emily crocker and Emily is a very well known and well loved musician she was at the time the head of choral publications at Hal Leonard here in Milwaukee she has since retired but is still involved with them So she started MCC in 1994 and it was an outgrowth of the need For a local children's choir to work with the Milwaukee symphony and the Milwaukee ballet and some of the other professional groups in town who were looking for a children's choir for concerts and collaborations throughout the year So what started for Emily in 94 quickly grew into a much larger operation I think in its heyday Milwaukee children's choir had 400 to 450 students in different choirs rehearsing in satellite locations all over

Bryce Lord:

that

Bill Busch:

the county

Bryce Lord:

That sounds like a logistical nightmare to me

Bill Busch:

Yeah me too Me too And there were much more than three full-time staff people back in those days So Emily grew the organization she was the founding director and to this day as our Director E meritas she continues to be very supportive of the organization and was back for our 25th a few years ago And And actually wrote a piece for the 25th anniversary And we're looking forward to involving her in a couple of years for our 30th anniversary so Emily was always part-time as the artistic director because she was full time with her position at Hal Leonard And then a number of years ago the board thought that the artistic director needed to be a full-time position and Emily actually stepped back and they hired a full-time artistic director and that position has Shifted and moved over the years and the organization has been through ups and downs and lots of changes in the last 10 or 12 years or

Bryce Lord:

Yeah I would imagine And you basically assumed the leadership role just as like literally you said weeks before everything shut down How did that go

Bryce:

it was a challenge as I mentioned there was a staffing change made in January of 2020 And at the time the position was executive artistic director we had somebody who was wearing both hats as the executive director and the artistic director

Bill Busch:

And when that person left in January we scrambled And we had a concert planned for the end of February and so we rallied the troops We pulled that concert off I believe it was February 22nd or 23rd And we were all just in the recovery mode after the concert and looking forward to what was next basically from that time the beginning of March we looked at what we could do feasibly just like everybody else what can we do to keep people engaged when they can't go out of the house So we all quickly learned as much tech as we possibly could we figured out what this whole zoom thing was we met with our kids online We never really figured out a good way to rehearse because zoom and some of these platforms are great for one-on-ones or for groups of people talking and meeting but to actually perform in sync together is pretty much next to impossible So we finished out that season which ended in the middle of may by doing weekly online meetings and activities lessons with our choirs And then during the summer we regrouped to figure out what we would do to have a virtual season assuming that we would not be able to be singing together in person for the following season

Bryce Lord:

And so I'm curious what talking about offering singing lessons we're talking individuals or

Bill Busch:

No this was group we did sorta like music theory and classroom teaching from March through the end of the season which was in May

Bryce Lord:

Just in a virtual setting

Bill Busch:

Exactly

Bryce Lord:

And so once you had a chance to settle into that have you been able say in 21 and now we're into 22 expand or are you and how are you moving forward with that

Bill Busch:

So For last season which was 2020 and 21 We did half time small group in person rehearsing and then virtual online classes every other week And we created three concerts three virtual concerts that was a great undertaking we recorded each singer individually so each director recorded their individual singers singing their part and we hired a producer To put everything together and to mix the audio and the video together And we created three virtual concerts for the 20,-21 season

Bryce Lord:

That sounds like so much work though

Bill Busch:

It really was a lot of work we discovered that it was probably twice as much work to put together a virtual concert as a to put together a live in-person concert

Bryce Lord:

And you said how many different groups and how many members in each group

Bill Busch:

at that time we still had four different ensembles but we were very small numbers for that season we only had about 40 total singers across all the ensembles I don't know how we would've done it if we would have been 90 to a hundred so that was our 19 excuse me 2020-21 season for this season 2122 that will end in may We have been fully in-person we've been rehearsing in person every week and we've done two concerts in person And our third is coming up in the middle of may So we're back we built back to about 92 singers across all the ensembles and I'm looking forward to continued growth of course this whole year has still been maneuvering and figuring out how to walk the line with COVID And we've been masked in all of our rehearsals and all of our concerts and anytime somebody tested positive we would take the week off it continues to be a challenge but it's sure been great to be back singing together in person

Bryce Lord:

I can imagine that makes all the difference because it's not just making music That is certainly in itself but especially for children I imagine there's a huge Social aspect to this pandemic aside just getting together with your friends and the people that you regularly see like that can be especially challenging if you pull that away from kids

Bill Busch:

our tagline sort of our motto at Milwaukee children's choir has always been building noteworthy character our mission really is to develop the whole child music is for us a tool and a way to help children grow socially mentally physically just to help develop the whole person rather than just the musicality of it because honestly when you think about high school sports for example how many high school athletes are going to go on and continue in college or professional Probably not many but our goal in music the same thing how many are going to continue professionally a few we hope some will continue but music is a lifelong journey and whether you do it professionally or just for the love of the art and for yourself you can continue to make music throughout your entire adult life So while we're looking forward to grow lifelong musicians but also to help young people gain more confidence grow their self-worth and develop social skills that will help them beyond singing in a choir

Bryce Lord:

And so how do you go about that I'm curious how this plays out beyond the standard Choir director teaching music theory intonation all of that But when you go beyond the singing aspect as you say into developing the whole child how do you approach that and how do you use music as that tool

Bill Busch:

our directors do a wonderful job of engaging our choristers in rehearsals both musically but also we will take time out of rehearsal to do check-ins with how things are going in their life and talking about what's happening in their life and how families are getting along et cetera they do some exercises during a rehearsal where they'll write down I know one of our groups at the beginning of the year wrote a little paragraph about themselves and who they were where they were at in their development and what they hoped Milwaukee children's choir what singing in the group would do for them and how it might change them and grow them And so our director has that that paragraph and then at the end of the season she will hand it back and they'll be able to look at where they came from where they were where they've gone and what the process was to get there and how much they've grown throughout the season

Bryce Lord:

It'd be interesting to have them document that write about it and say this is where I was and this is what I did or didn't accomplish and how I might be able to improve that's wonderful to force them to take the time to think about that and make it a reality rather than just expecting it to happen

Bill Busch:

The other thing that we always try to do is with our concert themes we try to focus on a theme that can be developed non-musically as well as musically So for example we have a concert coming up in may and the title of the concert is a force for good and so the whole idea behind the concert is how can music be a force for good but besides music what can we do to help our community to do more to be a force for good in the community So part of that We've created artwork with each of our choirs in collaboration with Walker's point center for the arts And those art projects have just been created the last couple of weeks and they're going to be unveiled at city hall We're actually going to display our artwork for the month of may in the rotunda at city hall once it's unveiled there we will also be taking some of our artwork around to different places in the city to try to help beautify the city with murals and posters and our youngest group made paper dolls it's about+ Being a force for good and making a change and making a difference in the community just in addition to the music making It's been great We discovered at our first live concert which was in November of 21 the emotion in the room was just it was amazing not just between the singers and the directors but the audience it was an emotional moment of actually Being able to experience live music in a live setting again with other people

Bryce Lord:

So you're not only developing the whole child but the whole audience member as well helping them do to engage and get something out of it as well I'm thinking in terms of some of the other programming you've done over the years have there been other initiatives like that clearly You've been with the organization for about four years now I'm thinking in terms of those kind of collaborations do you collaborate a lot

Bill Busch:

Yeah we collaborated earlier this season with DanceWorks and so they choreographed a couple of numbers that went with our February concert which was called sing me a story it was great to work with them I mentioned that we are collaborating right now with Walker's Point Center for the Arts We did a very interesting collaboration during our last virtual concert we did a recording of the song what the world needs now and that actually was the theme of the concert was what the world needs now but the closing song we Collaborated with a number of different artists both locally and internationally to put together the final song And we had I'm going to forget some people I'm sure but we had several local artists Andrew Varella Cecilia Davis and the Hong Kong children's choir was part of that so our artistic director Rachel Mackie had a contact that knows somebody in the Hong Kong children's choir and reached out and told them what we were doing So they recorded several sections of it and our producer put it all together it was really fun We had the the gentleman who plays the genie in the national tour of Aladdin he was part of that recording and a former MCC alum who lives out in the LA area and is a studio singer she also took part it was a lot of fun to collaborate with all these different artists to put together a recording that looked pretty seamless when you watched it

Bryce Lord:

is that accessible

Bill Busch:

we have a YouTube channel and all of our recordings both live and our virtual concert recordings are on the YouTube channel

Bryce Lord:

so what's the rest of the year look like for you now that things are returning back to normal

Bill Busch:

Sure So we are we're hopeful I'm in discussion right now trying to figure out if we'll be back with the Milwaukee ballet for next season for their Nutcracker MCC has been the children's choir with the Nutcracker for many years And we're doing a couple of camps this summer We do some single one day music camps as recruitment for new members And we're also doing a program that we got some funds for from Kohl's cares to do a project called music unites And these are three three-day camps that happen during the summer and they're free And we do them in Jackson park or on forest home avenue And we try to provide beginning music appreciation for students age I believe we're third grade through eighth grade but for any students who maybe don't have access to music education or just haven't taken advantage of it it's a learning experience to be exposed to music of all different styles

Bryce Lord:

So people can go to your website and register

Bill Busch:

Yes you can read about it and register And the website is www.MilwaukeeChildrensChoir.org It's a long address

Bryce Lord:

there's no question that you're going to the right place then anyway

Bill Busch:

Exactly we're in the process of putting together our 29th season and we have our concert dates chosen and themes And we're looking at adding a couple of sections of our younger choirs we're looking at branching out into some other areas and having a satellite location for another group or two

Bryce Lord:

Wonderful Wonderful So you're looking at expanding some of the younger choirs is that right

Bill Busch:

Yep So we're with our introductory and our preparatory choir we're close to the max on the number of students that we can reach and work with in one rehearsal time it looks like we'll be adding to possibly both of those groups

Bryce Lord:

And so let me ask you you're coming up into its 30th anniversary for the Milwaukee children's choir Where do you see the choir going in Say the next 10 years

Bill Busch:

that's a great question I see us getting even more involved in the community I think one of the things that we've really tried to be aware of and conscious of the last several years is being as outward focused as we can be so that we're doing more things in and for the community rather than being insular and just being about making music Just for ourselves and for our kids and families but expanding our reach a little bit more out into the community and having an impact on the greater Milwaukee area obviously as we grow I would foresee us having more satellite locations having more rehearsal areas in different parts of the city

Bryce Lord:

Are Are there particular areas that you'd like to target

Bill Busch:

yeah for next year I think we're looking at being in the Elm Grove Brookfield area That's where I think our first growth of a new location is going to be I could see us growing to the north certainly up in Glendale Mequon area at Whitefish bay and also to the south I think there's a great possibility for for growing even as far down is as Racine possibly

Bryce Lord:

and so as you talk about engaging more visibly in the community how do you think about approaching that

Bill Busch:

I think having the ability to get into some places that don't necessarily have a music program right now or being able to provide and offer some kind of of music making for young people who don't have access to it in their schools right now also just finding ways to do more community service kind of projects getting the kids involved in something outside of music that supports the community Whether that's food banks or shelters or whatever but just getting them more involved

Bryce Lord:

More aware

Bill Busch:

active and aware right of the needs in the city

Bryce Lord:

Wonderful do you guys have or have you had in the past any sort of collaboration say with the public school system

Bill Busch:

In the past Yes So there was a program where we had directors in afterschool programs in Milwaukee public schools that goes back a number of years and that program has morphed and changed over the years but we are not involved with it At the current time We are looking at a partnership with with a handful of Milwaukee public schools Where they provide some matching funds that we could make scholarships available to students at different levels elementary through high school and get them to be involved in Milwaukee children's choir

Bryce Lord:

that's wonderful thank you bill for joining me this afternoon This is been wonderful and it's great to see an organization like this taking a really active approach in helping children Not only understand what it takes to be A musician but then also what it takes to be a broader citizen as well I really appreciate those kind of initiatives to really create awareness and a more fulfilling experience I think that's A great approach

Bill Busch:

thanks we're excited about it and we're excited to continue and to do even more of that

Bryce Lord:

thank you for joining me

Bill Busch:

Thank you Bryce My pleasure

Bryce Lord:

A term that emerged out of the pandemic is Coronamusic it refers to the musical responses that we've all had to the Coronavirus crisis through music Whether it's a newly composed piece Thinking about what's going on in the world a particular playlist that has a particular theme to cope through the coronavirus pandemic or perhaps taking a well-known song And changing the lyrics to fit the times Or perhaps just looking at an existing song through the new lens Of the world we've been living in for the last couple of years The study that I referenced earlier in the episode Found that the more interested people were in this idea of coronamusic the more that music listening and music-making Helped them cope both emotionally and socially this underlines the importance of A very real Current creative response To crisis these new Corona songs might've offered a much needed opportunity for a more collective response to what's going on and it made it more useful To strengthen our resilience Both on an individual level And on a broader community level so this whole idea helps I think to contribute to this ongoing debate that seems to never end about the importance of music and culture in our overall society We're going to close out the episode listening to a piece that bill referenced in our interview the collaborative piece that they worked on with a number of artists nationally internationally as well as within the Milwaukee area looking at what the world needs now you can find links to the videos of the recordings that the Milwaukee children's choir created over the last couple of years in the show notes I encourage you to check them out Just as I encourage you to check out the Milwaukee children's choir in general As always feel free to like and comment and Spread the word about this Podcast It helps people who might be interested in the things that we're talking about About

What the World:
Bill Busch Profile Photo

Bill Busch

Executive Director

Bill Busch - Executive Director
Bill joined the Milwaukee Children’s Choir team in September of 2019 as General Manager and moved into the Executive Director position in February of 2020. Before coming to MCC, Bill served for 18 years as Director of Music Ministries at Hales Corners Lutheran Church. Bill did his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has served as music director/conductor for numerous theatre companies in the Midwest, including Children’s Theatre of Madison (CTM), Madison Theatre Guild, MATC Theatre, First Stage, Sunset Playhouse, and the Marriott Lincolnshire. Bill’s favorite role is father to Emily & Adam and husband to the lovely and talented Rhonda Rae.