Alan Rieck Interview




Alan Rieck resides in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and he is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire and later a professor at the university for 15 years. He was also a music education coordinator for 3 years before his leaving the University. Alan Rieck discusses his early days at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and how he joined the school as a music educator. Additionally, he talks about his work with the Women’s Concert Chorale, their international experiences, and his role in producing the Viennese Ball.


Interviewers Victor Lokken and Jacob Solie


April 18, 2019


3:36 (VL): Okay, so starting out, we will conduct the interview. So, this is 3:15 on April 18th, 2019. Alright. Alright so, please tell us a little bit about yourself, your professional background, maybe starting from high school? Where you went to school, and how you ended up at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.

4:03 (AR): Okay. I went to high school in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. Graduated in 1982. I went to UW Madison for my undergraduate degree in music education. Upon finishing that I taught music in the West Allis, Wisconsin school district for 6 years. Went back to UW Madison for my masters and PHD coursework. Upon finishing my coursework, I became a faculty member at Northern Arizona University… music education. I was there for 5 years and after that 5 years, we needed to get back closer to our families… so we did some applying and I was offered a position at UW Eau Claire and became a faculty member there in 2001… and was there for 15 years. Going from… you know, going through the ranks of professor but also served as music ed. coordinator for a few years and then was department chair for music and theatre arts for my last 3 plus years there.

(5:21) VL: Hmm. Okay. So, then Dr. Reick, can you tell us about your early days at the
University of Wisconsin Eau Claire? So, describe to me what your first impressions of the school was and explain your first day or week or month or whatever sticks out to you from your early days as a professor.

(5:40) AR: Well, I had some familiarity with UW Eau Claire because having gone to school in Madison, there were times when we would be at conventions and stuff like that and I’d have a chance to hear UW Eau Claire ensembles. I knew they had a great reputation and enjoyed the opportunity… and actually even before that, when I was in high school, we came up to the UW Eau Claire Jazz Festival one year… it’s a long story but we ended up not performing and going home before we got to do anything but I knew of the jazz program at that time at least. As far as my first impressions of Eau Claire when I became a- well during my interview, let me just say that the beauty of the campus kind of strikes you at first. I also just really enjoyed the people on my search committee, I just felt like there was a really great connection- they seemed to
understand and appreciate where my heart was as far as music education goes, and I loved the interview process. The only thing that concerned me at the time was I wasn’t sure if there was enough music education in the job. I went home, told my wife that everything went really well, but I don’t know if there’s enough music education in the job- and they never changed job descriptions. Then I got a phone call from David Baker, who was the department chair at the time, and he offered me the position and said they’d changed the job description to include introduction to music education as part of my responsibilities. That solved everything and I happily accepted the position. Moved back to Wisconsin… and I think, you know, my very early days were really spent getting to know a faculty that had dedicated themselves to music and theatre arts for many years… the faculty was rather veteraned at the time and they were just fantastic as far as what they did and how they did it. So, I was really impressed with the overall
prestige of the school, of the faculty, and felt like... especially in the music ed. faculty that was really encouraged to be participate fully, and be a part of what was happening on the campus. You know, it was just a really good acclimation. Began conducting ironically one of the first things- I had taken over Women’s Concert Chorale (WOCO) and in my second…? It was our second week of school I think; I received a phone call that the person who had proceeded me in that position had had I think it was a heart attack and passed away. And they were asking if the choir could sing at the funeral… which created a great deal of… quick arrangements. And so, the very first performance I ever conducted was at a funeral in September my first year… And the way the choir responded to that was really positive.

(9:29) VL: Hmm. Okay. Can you tell me a little more about the Women’s Concert Chorale
then… directing it over your tenure?

(9:40) AR: Yeah, Women’s Concert Chorale when I got there it had been around for quite some time. First semester, during the fall semester which is usually around 70 or so… 64 to 70 participants, and then second semester it dropped, dropped back to… 40 some. And when I got to the position, I was trying to figure out kind of the “where does Women’s Concert Chorale fit in?” And it became pretty clear to me pretty quickly that WOCO, Women’s Concert Chorale, had a real strong relationship with Statesmen. And that there was a lot of comradery back and forth, but the other thing that I noticed is the women didn’t consider themselves at the same level as Statesmen as far as performance and those type of things. And that was something that I immediately wanted to rectify. Not because Statesmen weren’t good, but because I wanted WOCO to understand that they were very good as well, that they had unique talents. So, on our very first choir tour, we went on tour every fall, our very first choir tour, we had gone about 2 or 3 days, and after our concert was actually at Madison West high school, and we were talking about the concert and they were giving me some feedback. And at the end of that feedback, I
said, “Congratulations ladies, this is the first time we’ve talked like this and you haven’t
compared yourselves to Statesmen. Sounds like you’re beginning to identify yourselves in your own way.” Which was really exciting. So that group started to build some of their own traditions… they currently close their concerts with a song that was made famous with Sweet Honey in the Rock, it’s called “We Are”. And that started that very first year. Because I wanted to find a way to connect... (sorry got distracted by something that’s popped up on my screen), I wanted to find a way for them to really have something that was uniquely theirs. And that piece just really connected with them very quickly, and they started to see it as a very unifying tradition. So, we ended every concert that I conducted at UW Eau Claire in WOCO with that particular piece. During my time with Women’ Concert Chorale, we went on our- the first international tour that that group had ever gone on, in 2005 we went to China, in 2009 we went to South Africa… both phenomenal, life changing experiences for the choir and for me actually.

(12:48) VL: Can you elaborate a little more on the experience that you went to China and South Africa?

(12:54) AR: Yeah, I mean China, when we were preparing to go on an international tour, I would give the choir a couple options, and they chose to go to China, partially because they knew that they probably wouldn't go there by themselves, and they wanted something that is distinctly different and culturally unique. And we went there, and it was just incredible… well number one we were welcomed unbelievably, and to see history and stuff like that, we were walking through the Forbidden City and I said to some of the students, and my wife who had come with us as well, that it was kind of a shame that in America the majority of what we knew of Chinese culture came from a Disney movie, being Mulan. But we were just overwhelmed by the experience. We did some exchange concerts with Chinese choirs, which was fantastic just to have the opportunity to exchange, to sing for them and have them sing for us and just learn some
of the cultural situations there. That trip actually was the beginning of my wife- well our family adopting a Chinese son who came to live with us in 2009… almost 10 years- I mean 10 years ago in just a couple weeks. The choir when they got back, they did a concert, our spring concert that year, because we went over spring break, our spring concert that year was focused on our experience there. The second half of the concert we really shared with the audience some of things that we had done… some of the just really moving experiences that we had had. We had friends of ours who lived in- who were Chinese who were living in Eau Claire at the time, come in and share some things with the audience in Chinese, so they could get a feel for what that was like, and it was fantastic. So, 4 years later, we took our second international trip, and that was to South Africa. And again, the choir decided to go there because it was a totally unique type of
experience. They really wanted a cultural experience. I wasn’t one that wanted to go to all the concert halls- the famous concert halls. I was the one that wanted to have cultural experiences and the choir really kind of reflected me in that way because we talked about music as being very housed in cultural context and trying to understand the music required some of that stuff. So, we did some of the same things in South Africa we did in China, exchanged concerts with South African choirs… you know, did a lot of touring in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Went on a safari actually in Bakubung Bush Lodge… which was great. And again, it was just one of those very unique experiences, one of the most moving experiences I ever had musically was having WOCO sing at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. And at the end of the concert, their choirs were up on the stage and they invited WOCO up, and we did a South African freedom song which we had done in the concert earlier, but we learned how to do it their way, and then they taught us on the spot another song in the concert, and I stood in the back, tears running
down my cheeks just because it was exactly what I wanted the girls to experience. To really have a cultural exchange and have a feeling for what the culture was, and of course South Africa just has a unique history… and some of the things we did regarding the history were just… really moving. Going to Robben Island and seeing where Nelson Mandela was held during his imprisonment. Stopping at the capital on our way doing some of our travels, and standing where Mandela became president. Going to the Apartheid museum, and getting an idea of what that atmosphere was really like, again it was just amazing and to understand the context that the music took in those situations was life changing.

(17:20) VL: That’s incredible.

(17:21) AR: And ironically, we came back from most of those concerts, and the music that we performed at V-Ball that year, that spring, were both based upon those experiences. So, the girls… the women, I should say, really were passionate about that and they sang the Chinese national anthem in 2005 and the South African national anthem in 2009 as part of our presentation and it was really fun to share that with a broad audience.

(17:54) VL: Hmm. Now, going to the V-Ball, did you start conducting the Women’s Chorale immediately after you came to…

(18:07) AR: Yeah, that was part of my position when I accepted the position. So, 2001 I became the conductor of WOCO, and that was how I got involved in V-Ball, because WOCO was part of the opening ceremony. And I remember the first year not really knowing what I was getting into, just kind of trying to get an idea, getting up there performing and then just being overwhelmed by the incredible- the work that had been done to transform old Davies Center actually.

(18:45) VL: Hmm. What were your most notable experiences with the V-Ball?

(18: 51) AR: With V-Ball? Well, I think the opening ceremonies were always… always meant a lot to me because it was great to be able to celebrate the music of WOCO and Statesmen. But also, to have the international faculty, and the student award winners, it was just really a festive, festive focal time, and I felt like it really was a great kickoff to the experience. I just remember, the first time going into that, going into the ball- well, it wasn’t the ballroom at the time… what was it… man, I can’t remember the name of the room, it’ll come to me. Anyway, just going in there and seeing the decorations, the Viennese decorations. And then afterwards, going through, experiencing all the food, the food options… of course the polka and the ballroom dancing stuff. And at that time all the acapella groups were downstairs in the eating portion of Davis Center, and it was just chaotic because there was so many people down there. Yeah, it was just a really
exciting time and it really in many ways marked the beginning of spring.

(20:20) VL: Now with the Viennese Ball, generally what was the…what was the turnout overall. Who… was it mostly students or were there a lot of outside people who wanted to experience it also?

(20:32) AR: Ah, it was, it was a mix that was probably the time where I saw more alumni than any other time in the entire year. So, V-Ball would come along and I’d see students that had graduated recently or as I got longer in my tenure even people that had been there earlier, which was a lot of fun. So there were a lot of community members that came and there were a lot of students, I mean its tad pricey for students, but you know, all the ensemble members, WOCO, statesmen, orchestra, Jazz One, all, and the people that were performing got in for free and they had lots of people that they wanted to come with so they’d bring dates or they bring friends stuff like that. So, I don’t think it was an event that a ton of just students decided, “Oh I want to go to this,” and bought tickets and go. But if they were invited, if they were connected to something, someone who was experiencing something within the Ball, whether it was receiving a scholarship or performing stuff like that, those students came in and there were a group of students that would come on a regular basis. There, a group of faculty that came on a regular
basis. It was just a festive time.

(21:54) VL: And then, how had the Viennese Ball changed overtime…over your tenure at

(22:02) AR: Well I was there from the old Davies center to the new Davies Center and that change was remarkable. I mean, it was just very palpable change. In the old Davies Center, the tickets were limited but if they sold out the tickets, and Friday night wasn’t necessarily sold out, Saturday night was always sold out and going up and down those small stairwells in the old Davies Center was taking your life in your hands. It was just crowded; you couldn’t get up and down the hall very easily. So, it was just a process but I think over the time, I think a lot of it became more refined. We went through a couple different directors, people that were in charge of the Ball. And then people on the committee really were dedicated to a variety of things. I think that there was some refinement to the experiences. When we got into the new Davies Center, we had the Ballroom and the wide hallways and then we had that downstairs [unclear] on the first
floor of the Davies Center. It really changed the way things functioned, and the first year was a little bumpy. Because we tried some things that obviously didn’t work as well as we wanted to so going to the next year, I was on the Viennese Ball committee by the time, by that time, we worked diligently to reposition things and move things into spaces that were better suited for them. And give up, give the audience members, the patrons of the Ball a better overall musical experience because things were in the right spaces, plus the dancing was better for spaces as well. There were some changes both in physical space and in performance and in the ways, ways things were presented for the Ball. One of the things I liked working with people in the Ball is, yeah there was a lot of tradition with the Ball that they were always dedicated to trying to make it a better experience. And I love working with people like that.

(24:39) VL: So, then you said you were a Viennese Ball committee member correct?

(24:44) AR: When I was department chair, I was, yes.

(24:46) VL: Ok, were there any issues or conflicts at all that arose between other
committee members or anything like that at all?

(24:53) AR: There were always discussions about some of the ideas that were being used. One of the big ones was where to put the acapella groups and we chose to put them in that theatre that right next to the ballroom. The movie…I can’t remember the name of it. Up on the fourth, up on the top floor of Davies Center. We chose to put them in there thinking that it would be an organized place and they’d have a stage and there was a lot of pushback about, upon that we also started to audition the acapella groups so they had to pass an audition in order to be included in the Ball. That really made a difference because it was a little more managed as far as who was performing. Most people got in but they had to take it a little more seriously as far as preparations and stuff.

(25:48) VL: Were the auditions, were they open auditions or were they mostly just people who were in the music department?

(25:54) AR: They were open, we had acapella groups come that weren’t involved in the
department, I mean fifth element often times had several members that weren’t part of music and theatre arts. Most of them, because they enjoyed music, were part of the music department in some way in an ensemble or something like that.

(26:26) VL: Ok, so then in regards to the Viennese Ball, over your time there, was everything absolutely perfect the way it was or was there anything that you could’ve seen that may have bettered it in some way? So, what would you have done differently?

(26:38) AR: I don’t think I could ever say it was perfect. I think that we were always looking for ways to make it better or to bring something, some originality or to you know just, just find ways to give people an even better experience. But overall, I think at the end of every ball, I was involved with, especially on the Viennese Ball committee, I think we got back together to debrief the experiences and generally we were pretty pleased, overall. I think the biggest, the biggest conflict that happened, and this was one of my last years there, is whether to have Blue, the mascot, Blue come to the Ball or not. And there was some very mixed feelings about that. Some people thought it would be really celebratory but other people just felt like it would change the feel of the classiness of the event. I mean that’s probably the best word, but change the feel of…you know, people are dressing up in tuxes and ball gowns and stuff like that. It just didn’t feel like Blue was the right thing to have there, I don’t know if they’re having Blue come now or
not but the ensembles didn’t want Blue to come because it was just a different type of thing. They just felt it was different. So that was the students that really wanted to, so I don’t know where they’ve resolved on that, I know that the first couple of years we did not have Blue come.

(28:17) VL: Do you believe the Viennese Ball is a very special event?

(28:23) AR: Oh yeah. I had to be there every year at every performance when I was there. And, yeah that a lot of stuff, it was a great event I didn’t mind doing that so one night I’d bring my daughter and the other nigh my wife would come. It just became, yeah it was a very special event. My daughter went to college somewhere in the Chicago area and she came home for V-Ball a couple times because it was so special to her.

(29:01) VL: What do you think the value of the Viennese Ball is to UWEC and the students or even to Eau Claire overall?

(29:10) AR: Well, first of all it gives an opportunity for much of the music department and theatre department to be really spotlighted in ways that don’t that don’t happen otherwise. One of the huge advantages was playing for audiences that oftentimes didn’t hear the ensembles except for there. That was always a good thing. As far as music in Davies Center goes, it’s a scholarship, it’s a scholarship fundraiser that’s really what it is. Those scholarships played significant roles in how the department of music and theatre arts were able to recruit students and were able to bring them to campus with scholarships that we just really needed to get them there. It had a huge impact on individual students but also, huge impact on the department because it just raised the caliber of what was happening within the department. I think as far as the community goes I think that there are some people in the community that know what it is and really take advantage of it and really appreciate it. I’m not sure the community at large of Eau
Claire really has a grasp of how special it is. Some people do but sometimes I wish we could, I always wish that we could get to, get to a new type of audience that would probably really enjoy the event but they didn’t know about it because they weren’t on campus. Tickets sold out pretty quickly so it was hard for new people to get into the mix. Moving to the new building helped because we couldn’t have larger patron, audience there.

(31:02) VL: In my understanding is the Viennese Ball keeps growing bigger and bigger every single year, was there any…

(31:09) AR: Yeah, I don’t know what’s happened in the last three years but we pulled back after the first year in new Davies Center we pulled back the number of tickets that were sold partially because the first year we just had, Saturday night was too crowded and some of the spaces that we had didn’t accommodate the number of people that wanted to be in those particular spaces. When people come to Viennese Ball, they have favorite spots, they have favorite things that they like to hear. Some people want to hear the faculty voice quartet and finding the right venue for that was important. Some people come and they want to hear acapella groups. Some people want to go to the piano, piano bar and so we had to find the right spaces that would accommodate the
numbers of people that generally wanted to do that. And that took some doing so the second year we cut back on the tickets and we started to find some more sweet spots in that regard. I know the year that I left Eau Claire, I know there was some discussions about how things were going to change and move forward and what we could do differently with the Ball but hat was what was fun about it because we were always trying to make it better.

(32:25) VL: Coming closer to a close here, one of my last questions I have for you is going back to the Women’s Concert Chorale and how that benefitted and impacted the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire campus?

(32:41) AR: WOCO is one of the best know ensembles not just on campus but its really well know, a variety of places around the state because they performed at state conferences they performed international tours, we did a tour every fall, most years, one year we did in the spring, I think WOCO and because of the way they did their performance, the greatest strength of Women’s Concert Chorale in my mind [unclear] and I think since Frank is another conductor as well, is they connected to the music in very meaningful ways and were able to present pieces that really had an emotional connection to them. I think they had an impact on groups. I mean, they’re concerts became more and more popular throughout the year, year I was there. The alumni became more and more connected and active, they still have their WOCO pages…I can
give you, hang on…let me just check something here, I want to see if its still up. There was a Youtube thing of the experience I talked in South Africa…yeah, its still there. You go to Youtube and look up WOCO, W. O. C. O. and WITS, W. I. T. S. which is Witwatersrand, if you put those two things, there’s about a seven minute long video of the end of that concert with the interactions that happened there and that to me, I think, that ensemble had a transforming effect for the people that were in it and I also think it touched a lot of people outside of it and I’m sure it continues to do that because I know Frank is great at what he does, Frank Watkins.

(34:51) VL: The next question I want to get your take real quick because I just think this is kind of interesting was the Volume One magazine which is actually the local magazine here in Eau Claire characterized Eau Claire as being the “music capitol of the north” so quickly what are your thoughts on this remark?

(35:09) AR: I think that if you look at the events that happen in Eau Claire surrounding the Pablo Center, I was on the committee that worked on that for years, it was a joint effort by community, universities, state all kinds of stuff, that along with Justin Vernon and Bon Iver and their popularity and the new music festivals they’re doing and the other, you know, Country Jam, and Rock Fest and those types of things. I think there’s a lot of opportunities there and it not just a Volume One word, those things have been pointed out, there are newspapers in the east coast that have come out and said stuff like that, you know you want to visit a hidden gem this is the place you need to visit. And go for one of the music festivals or make sure you check out this. Jazz One, the jazz festival, Jazz One is nationally acclaimed, internationally acclaimed jazz ensemble, they’ve won Downbeat magazine awards on a regular basis and it’s a huge treasure to
the university and to the town. So, I think that because of the university, because of some of the things that happen outside of the university, I think there’s ton of music happening there and I think as a publicity program I think that’s a great way to label Eau Claire. And the nice thing is its all kinds of too, its not just one type.

(37:04) VL: This will just about conclude it. Dr. Rieck, is there anything that you wish that we could have asked you about today or any of you final remarks at all?

(37:18) AR: I think if you’re doing a history of the Viennese Ball, I think you really have to
delve into some of the main characters, main people that helped lead that transformation. Karen Stuber was there for years and years and years and she oversaw so many things of course, Ada Bors who started the whole thing. And Bev, I can’t remember her last name right now, if you look at those people and the care with which they approached the Ball and the teams that they had around them and the way they worked with music and theatre arts, it is one of the more unique collaborative events that happen on that campus every year. And in that city every year. And I wish more people knew about it and were able to celebrate it. I think the people who do know about it absolutely love it.

(38:28) VL: Alright, well…Thank you very much and with your help in this interview we will be able to present that to more and more people especially the people who appreciate that here on campus and in the Eau Claire community. So, this is going to conclude it. So, Dr. Rieck I am going to send you a email after this at some point with the narrator donation form and that’s basically going to be very similar to the other form that I sent you beforehand. That just says that we have your permission to submit this to the university archives. Thank you very much, and Iappreciate it.

(39:09) AR: Well thank you very much for your time, I hope it was helpful.

(39:12) VL: It was, thank you very much.

(39:14) AR: Definitely, send me the forms so I can sign it. If it’s helpful to the university I want to do that.

(39:23) VL: Ok, fantastic. Thank you very much Dr. Rieck. I appreciate it.

(39:24) AR: Take care. Have a good one.

(39:25) VL: You too

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