Editor’s note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
John “Jack” Schroeder
Forget about the hills; John “Jack” Schroeder is alive with the sound of music.
The Janesville native and Craig High grad has been an integral part of the Rock County-based Green Beret Marching Band since its inception in 1966. Aside from arranging and composing music for the group, Schroeder also has served as its director for the past 30 years.
This summer, the band earned a gold rating and Best in Class in the Sound Sport International Division of DCI in Indianapolis, Indiana; firsts at events in Fort Atkinson and Traverse City, Michigan, and seconds in competition in Racine at at a Mid-America Competing Band Directors Association finals event in Whitewater.
In addition to his work with the Green Berets, Schroeder also arranges and composes music for his church choir at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Janesville, and assists the Milton High School Marching Band with its fall program each year. He also has performed with the Choral Union in Janesville, and with the Southern Lakes Masterpiece Chorale in Elkhorn.
Academically, Schroeder holds a degree in avionics from Blackhawk Technical College. He also studied music theory and composition at the Anatowind Music Clinic in Beloit under founder Joe Simmons. Personally, Schroeder retired from AT&T in 2007 after 34 years with the company. He is married to Diana, and the couple have two sons: John T. and Ronald.
In his spare time, Schroeder enjoys fishing, working in his yard and offering private lessons to music students.
To learn more about Schroeder and the Green Beret Marching Band, visit Green BeretMarchingBand.org or search for “Green Beret Marching Band” on Facebook.
1. With so many music opportunities available to young people today, why should they consider joining the Green Beret Marching Band? Most other music opportunities are music clinics/band camps that last only one or maybe two weeks. Some of these camps are school specific. We are open to everyone 10-21 years of age and from all over Rock County.
2. You have been with the band since its inception 52 years ago. What first drew you to the Green Berets? I didn’t want to put down my drumsticks when summer came, so when a friend asked me to join the Green Beret Band, I jumped at the opportunity.
3. What type of music did your parents listen to when you were a child? Did it influence your future tastes? Mom listened to big band and vocals such as Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and The Andrews Sisters. She had stacks of 78s. Dad was into polka, dance music and old-time country and western such as Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers.
4. How many different instruments do you play? Are there any you wish you had taken the time to learn? It all depends on your definition of “play.” I can demonstrate several instruments to start new students, but to actually play, I can play any percussion instrument and saxophone.
5. When I’m not listening to marching band music, I enjoy listening to: Classical and jazz. I like the variety and complexities of sounds and rhythms of a large orchestra. Jazz has spontaneity and some wild chords.
6. The Green Berets is a sort of family affair for you, as your son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren are involved. How does it feel to know other generations of your family share your love of music and the Green Berets? It is wonderful having the whole family involved! We can spend a lot of time together being creative, expressive and still have our own space. Our son and daughter-in-law write all of our show charts. Our oldest grandson, who is 22, is so talented, and he has been composing music since the age of 11. Just seeing what he comes up with gives me great pleasure and pride. The two younger grandchildren are definitely taking after mom, dad and brother. When they are at our house, there are always instruments being played.
7. I’ve always been curious about the uniforms. What material are they made from? When it’s 95 degrees in summer and you have to march and perform, how do you stay cool? When it’s 95 degrees on the performance field, it’s just plain hot! Our uniforms are not heavy wool but a lightweight polyester. They breathe quite well, plus we have plenty of water with us at all times.
8. Discuss your method for teaching music theory to musicians with little experience. 1. Be patient; 2. Go slow; 3. When the music gives you an opportunity to teach, take it; 4. Do a little bit every day; 5. See No. 1.
9. What is your favorite food? Restaurant? My favorite food depends on what is in the refrigerator. I would love a good prime rib once in a while, but who can afford that? I like to try new foods when we go out. I once ordered oysters on the half shell and was shocked to find out they were raw (I still laugh about that one). We like going to Domenico’s in Beloit. I can never make up my mind what to order, so we get the buffet. I can try lots of great food, plus the people are super (wow, this looks like I’m a food critic). I just like food, and we go to a wide variety of restaurants, but most of the time we eat at home.
10. Name a skill you wish you had. I know someone who tunes pianos, and I wish I could. I know someone who welds, and I wish I could. I wish I could drive a race car. I wish I could speak German. There’s a lot of wish-I-coulds.
11. How did the Green Beret Marching Band get its name? The band was started by the Kienow-Hilt VFW in Janesville when ‘The Ballad of the Green Beret’ by Barry Sandler was popular, so it was a natural step to name the band The Green Beret.
12. Do you have a pet peeve? People with talent who refuse to use it. People who take two sips of a can of soda or water bottles then walk off and leave it.
13. Name the one item you own that you could not live without. My calendar. With the Green Beret Band, Milton High School Band, Anatowind Clinic, church choir, Choral Union, etc., I could never keep my schedule straight. Also, with me being the first to retire, it is up to me to keep track of doctor/dentist/chiropractor appointments.
14. Without looking in the dictionary, what would you guess it means to be “panglossian”? Panglossian would be something from the Pang dynasty in early China. (Panglossian actually means “characterized by or given to extreme optimism, especially in the face of unrelieved hardship or adversity.”)
15. How do you come up with the formations the Green Berets perform each season? Now, my son, John, writes the drill. The drill shapes are determined by the music. If the music is soft, you see smooth, slow developing shapes such as arcs and curves. If the music is loud and forceful, you use strong shapes, such as squares and diagonals.
16. If you could have tickets to see any musical act perform, who would it be, and why? If time is not a consideration, I would love to go back and listen to Bach perform his contatas.
17. What do young people learn through their experiences performing with a marching band? Most of all, they learn responsibility. They are responsible for getting to and from rehearsals, for having all of the things they need for rehearsals, such as instruments, music, field show chart book. When they are going to parades/field shows, they are responsible for having everything they need for the performance. They have several performances that require them to pack for overnighters. They are responsible for keeping their things together and for cleaning up after themselves. They learn to be part of a group. Marching band is not a “me” or an “I” activity; it is a “we” activity. Without working together, you would be a solo performer. There are times when we are short a specific instrument and the kids/or one of the instructors will grab a horn and fill in.
18. What interests do you have that are totally disassociated with marching bands? Fishing. It is so quiet and relaxing—the complete opposite of marching band.
19. A couple of years ago, there was concern about the Green Berets being able to continue because membership was down. Has that situation changed? What is the group doing to drum up continued interest? Recruiting is always a problem. In the last two years, membership has been up. More members come from current members, more than any other method. There is no better recruitment tool than the members themselves. Talking about their experiences in the band is the best draw. We have tried advertising in the newspaper, radio, Facebook, door hangers and personal visits. If I had the answer to this one, I would be a genius and also quite wealthy because I could sell it to other band directors. Several of the bands that used to march our circuit have folded because the members just weren’t there.
20. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? I would buy the band an air-conditioned coach bus with a driver. That way, we could travel in comfort and take one BIG problem off of the officers and instructors.