Join Joe Buches, director of the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus as he talks about growing his organization from 30 singers in 2004 to over 150 in 2015 by making his audience and the choir’s mission the top priority.
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Joseph J. Buches was appointed the Artistic Director of the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus in September 2004.
Mr. Buches received a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from West Chester University, West Chester PA, where he studied voice with Dr. Raymond Friday. At Mansfield University, Mansfield, PA, Mr. Buches studied voice with Kim L. Renas, Jack Wilcocks and Jolene Jeffers, and organ with Dr. Kent Hill.
He has done extensive graduate work in conducting at Mansfield University under Dr. Peggy Dettwiler and at Westminster Choir College under Dr. James Jordan. Mr. Buches has also done extensive study in the field of Music Technology through the University of the Arts at Villanova University.
Mr. Buches has served as the Director of Choral Music at The Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, PA since 1998. Mr. Buches served as Chair of the Music Department and Director of Choral Music from 1998-2014. Mr. Buches also serves as music director at Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, Philadelphia. He has also served as adjunct vocal music faculty member at Penn State University, Delaware County Campus.
Mr. Buches has performed as a core singer with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, under the direction of Alan Harler, as well as featured soloist with local area choruses.
Mr. Buches holds professional memberships with the American Choral Directors’ Association, the National Association for Music Educators, and Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association.
Mr. Buches serves on the board of directors for GALA Choruses.
The moment you knew you’d dedicate your life to music
Joe was 5-years-old when his dad, an organist, began to teach him to play. His mother was also a wonderful singer so he knew from the beginning that music would be in his life. He became a church organist for the first time at 12-years-old at his home church in Bethlehem, PA.
Joe believes he began to think of music as a career choice when he began working with singers and saw the impact that he could bring to a rehearsal and how he could touch the lives of those with whom he was making music.
Worst musical moment
Joe is a perfectionist and early on he believes he wasn’t so good at expressing his expectations to his singers. This led to frustration and he let his temper get the best of him. Now he can still push but does so in a different, kinder way. He no longer contributes to the tension of a situation, which he recognizes is counterproductive. Joe realizes that in the early years he was sometimes too overambitious; he tried to do too much in the given time. Now when he gets overwhelmed he takes a deep breath and asks for help.
The proudest musical moment
PGMC’s 25th anniversary concert – Journey Out – was a way for the choir to connect with the audience in a personal way. Choir members did 3-minute dialogues about their lives which, Joe notes, were very touching and emotional. This remains one of his favorite concerts.
He feels similarly about “When I Knew” – last year’s joint concert with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. Similar stories were told and audience members were touched by those stories as well. It was meaningful beyond the music, Joe notes.
Joe has realized much success with the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus (PGMC). The chorus, he notes, provides singers an opportunity to sing in a safe environment where they can make connections. It allows them to express acceptance and hope. Similarly, an outreach program by the choir with area high schools changes the lives of the students with whom they connect.
To lead a GALA (LGBT-related) chorus, he notes, it takes a different perception of what the organization is about. Much of what they do relates to service to the community, service to the singers, and what they’re getting out of the musical repertoire, much of which touches the heart. Chorus members and listeners are empowered by the music, which brings up their own feelings and provides a personal connection.
Joe believes that he and other GALA conductors must be good at creating family. PGMC has a buddy system for new members so that non-music readers and others new to the world of choral music don’t feel lost. He strives to help with the process of learning the music AND connecting to it. Help also comes from his board, section leaders, and others eager to assist.
PGMC grew from about 35 to 150 members under Joe’s leadership. This membership increase was part of his goals. They did a major outreach to the community to get more singers, changed their repertoire to be more appealing to the masses, and found different venues for concerts. Joe also helped expand the organizational team including adding a marketing director and a soon-to-be executive director.
Joe’s advice to a new conductor of a community choir would be that you should know your organization, its mission, and its culture. Then compare that with your mission and find a balance. Set realistic goals and have a long-term game plan.
Most excited about right now
In June 2016, PGMC is doing a concert called “Modern Families”, featuring music about families of all kinds. Joe is most excited about a commission with composer Andrea Clearfield – a 20-minute song cycle with words coming directly from the chorus members, scored for piano and percussion. It will be challenging but exciting, he notes.
Dr. Tim Seelig’s The Perfect Blend, The Language of Music, and The Perfect Rehearsal.