June 17th, 2013
Brett Stover grew up singing in choirs and has served on the boards of an array of music and arts groups in Cincinnati. Now he brings his business savvy and love of the performing arts to Chorus America's Board of Directors. "The more people who are singing, the better off we will all be," he says.
You got an early start in choral singing. What impact did that have on you?
I grew up in Chillicothe, Ohio, where I started singing in the church choir at age four. One of the great mentors of my life, Joy Renner, was my high school choral director, and I sang in her large choir as well as the show choir. I was with her three years and probably spent more time with her than with anybody in those formative years.
Obviously, she gave us great musical direction, but she really taught us about life and leadership. She taught us that if you have a vision, with hard work, you can create a path to get there. Her vision was for us to sing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and so we had all of these turkey dinners to raise enough money to go to DC. And we sang at the Capitol.
After high school, I went to Miami of Ohio as a business major with an arts administration minor. I sang with the Men’s Glee Club there, which truly taught me about the "brotherhood of music." John C. "Doc" Wabrick was all about being the best person you could possibly be—and was as swift as Mrs. Renner when he thought you could be doing better. I am forever grateful to Mrs. Renner and Doc. After college, I moved to Cincinnati where I sang for 17 years with the May Festival, our symphony chorus.
Tell us about your business career and your involvement in arts administration.
I worked at Procter and Gamble in marketing for 18 years. I left there in 2003 and have been doing consulting for 10 years with Fortune 500 companies around the world.
My contribution to the arts world is via boards. I have been on the boards of the May Festival, the Cincinnati Opera, Vocal Arts Ensemble, the Contemporary Arts Center, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, the Taft Museum of Art, and now Chorus America.
What skills and expertise have you brought to the boards you have served on?
I was 23 when I went on the May Festival board, probably the youngest board member ever. I was taught early on that you give, you get, or you get off. So, financial support aside, I try to give time and talent as much as I can. My ability is in long-range strategic planning as well as connecting groups of people together to enable conversations.
I don’t know what I’m going to do on a board until I understand where the opportunities are. I am a consultant, so you never fix the problem until you know what the problem or opportunity is. One thing I do know: Chorus America has a lot of assets that could be better utilized by choruses. I used Chorus America’s music director search materials to help with the search for a new music director for the Vocal Arts Ensemble. That was extremely beneficial to me. I wonder how many people know that is available?
What was most helpful?
Vocal Arts Ensemble is our professional chamber choir in Cincinnati. Our music director at the time, the great Donald Nally, was moving on to another job. I was appointed director of the search which was nice, but I had never done a music director search. So I called Ann Meier Baker and said, “I need help.” She laughed and said, “You just need to go online.”
So when I was stuck in some hotel on business, I sat down and went through Chorus America's online seminar, Navigating a Music Director Transition. It was very well laid out, section to section. It was clear, quickly, which sections were relevant to me. And there were these great little video clips of people talking about their experience doing a choral director search.
When I sat down with my committee, I felt I was incredibly well briefed and was able to direct the group to exactly what I believed were the issues we needed to address. One issue was that so many ensembles are built on the vision of a single person. So do you continue the ensemble as the original founder envisioned it or does it move into something else? I was able to lead that philosophical discussion succinctly and clearly using the materials and worksheets I found on the website. It made me look really smart and also saved us weeks of time.
And the result is that Craig Hella Johnson was named the next music director of Vocal Arts Ensemble.
Yes, that was quite a coup.
What are you excited about as you look at the choral scene in Cincinnati?
It is a city with a rich and long choral history. The May Festival is 140 years old and Music Hall, our preeminent venue, was built for the May Festival. I am very excited about the College Conservatory of Music and the choral directing program we have there, directed by Dr. Earl Rivers. I am extremely excited about the collaborations that the new Dean of the Conservatory, Peter Landgren, and Earl are doing with other organizations, including the May Festival, the symphony, and the opera. These are unprecedented. I’m excited that these organizations are becoming intertwined and interdependent, as they should be.
Where do you see the growing edges for choral organizations today?
I think almost all groups need two programming initiatives. The first is high quality choral music making, which is vital. But every organization needs a parallel programming path for outreach to include lots of people in making music.
Choral music can and should be changing lives. Choral music has the ability to touch all people, all races, all economic levels, all backgrounds, all cultures. The more people who are singing, the better off we will all be. All the data from Chorus America supports that.
A group like the May Festival has so many choral leaders in it. Why couldn’t we be doing significant outreach to schools that need more music programming or reaching at-risk kids and families, for example? I have had conversations with the United Way and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cincinnati, asking, “What would it take and what would the impact be of starting choirs in those clubs?” You have the existing infrastructure, you have children with needs—all you need is programming. And if you have a choir director and an inexpensive electric piano, you can have a choir. And then you could extend that chorale experience to the family and friends of childrens' choir members.
According to Chorus America's Chorus Impact Study, if one person in a household is singing, chances are others in the household are singing, too. This is a way to create more family involvement that will lead to a better and richer life.
Whenever I am with choral people, I like to tell them, music is sanctuary you create, but the ability to touch lives and influence lives is the bigger part of it.