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Having grown up in a family of musicians, Jonathan Busarow’s path to music education might appear to be a foregone conclusion. But that wasn’t necessarily the case. “I always thought of music seriously, but I wasn’t necessarily thinking of it as a profession. My aspirations were the usual – doctor, lawyer – but when I was in high school and thinking about college, I had to decide what I wanted to study. My mom was a music teacher and didn’t want me to be a music teacher, but I couldn’t think of anything more rewarding than to make music for a living. So when I was in high school, I decided I wanted to study music and pursue it as a career.”
Busarow’s mother had reason for concern, given that music and teaching are both pursuits that rarely lead to financial windfalls. But Busarow has found his own riches in the years since he earned his undergraduate degree at Valparaiso University and his graduate degree at Ohio State. After returning to Valparaiso for a year of teaching at his alma mater, he moved to Fort Wayne to assume the position of artistic director for the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, a job he has filled for the past three years. He found both the job and the city a good fit.
“The job was the perfect culmination,” he says. “It was relatively close to home in Dayton, and my wife and I were looking for a place to set down roots. And we’ve done just that. We’ve bought our first home and started a family here. When I came here to interview, I got to work with the choir for two days, and I knew this would be a good opportunity. I was already familiar with Fort Wayne Children’s Choir since I was friends with Fred Meads who was the former artistic director for the choir. So I knew what kind of program it was, and I saw the people who were here – the staff and the community – and I knew it was a good situation.”
Having gained much of his experience with choirs at Valparaiso and Ohio State, the biggest change for Busarow would be working with much younger singers. But he says that hasn’t been a difficult transition.
“I was asked about that during the interview process. They said, ‘You’re used to working with college students. Is it going to be hard to work with younger kids?’ But good teaching is good teaching is good teaching. Every kid here wants to be here, and their parents want them to be here. They have a vested interest in doing great things musically, which means their desire is as high as any college student’s. Plus my personality is very young in spirit, so I think that resonates with them. They’ve bought into the program, and to see students understanding concepts gives me a lot of energy. I’ve gotten more extroverted as I’ve gotten older, and I gain energy from other people. To see these kids learning and getting new concepts is the highlight of my day.”
Although he was familiar with FWCC through his friendship with Meads, three years had elapsed between Meads’ 2009 departure and Busarow’s 2012 arrival. In that interim, a few things had slipped through the cracks, providing Busarow with an opportunity to make some adjustments.
When I came here the organization was going through a few years of transition. Fred Meads had used the Kodaly method, which was how I met him. We were both trained in that method together. But in the interim that had fallen off the radar a bit, so I wanted to restore the Kodaly method and continue to build the program.”
The program has built in remarkable ways over the years, as Busarow has discovered recently as he’s worked to raise funds to buy new risers for the choir. Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, in existence for 43 years, owned just five 25-year-old risers.
“I wondered why there were only five risers, and I discovered that when they were purchased 25 years ago, there were only 60 kids in the choir. Now we have more than 230, which shows you what has happened over the years. And I wanted to return us to a high musical standard.”
His ability to chart the organization’s future has grown in the last eight months since his job title has expanded to executive artistic director. Following the departure last summer of Denice Beights, who had served as executive director, Busarow has taken on the administrative aspects of running the choir as well. He concedes it’s a job he wasn’t necessarily trained for, but it’s one he is enjoying.
“It was hard for me at first, and there’s a steep learning curve. It’s not what I went to school to learn to do, but thanks to a very supportive board of directors, I’m making the transition. It’s not a hard transition; I prefer to think of it as an adventure. There are a lot of things to learn – applying for grants, reporting on grants – and finding a balance in my schedule is uniquely challenging. But when I go downstairs from my office at IPFW to choir rehearsal, I see why I’m doing all of that. I do all of those administrative jobs and then get to see it all come to fruition artistically.”
Having settled into his new dual role, Busarow is looking ahead to expanding the reach of Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. Busarow hopes to reach out to children who may not even know the choir exists or who have a difficult time reaching them financially or geographically. Busarow hopes to expand the choir and make it more diverse, allowing more kids to reap the rewards of music education.
There are also big plans on the horizon for summer trips with the choir, including a 2016 trip to Hungary to visit the home of Zoltan Kodaly, the father of the Kodaly method Busarow teaches. There will also be trips to Salzburg and Vienna, where The Sound of Music was set and filmed. Learning the method and seeing how and why it originated will connect children to why they approach music as they do because Busarow says their ability to read music rather than perform by rote provides them with a lifelong skill. But beyond special trips and events, the daily work of the choir is what fulfills Busarow’s hopes when he chose music as his career – and allows the choir’s children to dream their own dreams.
“The organization is always looking to grow. We already serve 237 kids, and that may seem like a lot, but there are more kids in the community who would benefit from the music education we have to offer.”