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Remembering the legacy of 'The Music Man' in Northeast Wisconsin

The De Pere community reacts to the passing of Dudley Birder
Posted at 10:47 PM, Nov 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-29 10:32:46-05

DE PERE — A large part of De Pere's growing music and arts scene can be attributed to one man, known as the music man, and his family.

Dudley Birder began as a music professor at St. Norbert College in 1958. In 1974 he founded the Dudley Birder Chorale at the college that brought singers together from all across Northeast Wisconsin.

"It's this large community choir a lot of St. Norbert alumni and St. Norbert students, but 150 singers," said Kent Paulsen.

Kent Paulsen is the current director of the chorale and replaced Birder after 44 years in charge of the group. He says that Birder's impact goes far beyond his numerous accolades.

"I think actually the lasting legacy, I was thinking about that today as just all the people that he got to know that just shared his love of what he was doing with them," said Paulsen.

Paulsen said he moved to De Pere in the 90's and got to know Birder after he auditioned.

"I auditioned for him in 1995 but it required dance and then he called me the next year and said, well, son, you can't dance, but I'd love for you to come and sing and act and be a part of that," said Paulsen.

Paulsen said that Birder became a mentor to him as he worked alongside the music man for decades after. What stood out to Paulsen was just how passionate Birder was for his job and how it rubbed off on those around him.

"I think Dudley loved the people that he worked with as much as he loved the music," said Paulsen.

As for the lessons learned working alongside such an accomplished mentor, he said that there's one thing he'll always take with him.

"It's something about if you find what you love, just lean into it and just love it all you can and be surrounded by people that love doing those things with you," said Paulsen.

Down the road at the Birder Studio, Dudley's daughter Alicia is the executive director of the Dudley Birder Studio of Performing Arts. She says that growing up with a father like Dudley brought her into the excitement of theater and music.

"Our entire family went to rehearsals with him from when we were babies on, and my mother mother would take us because of course we couldn't afford a babysitter," said Birder.

She said that she always knew she had big shoes to fill being a Birder involved in the performing arts, but her father always helped her through the toughest of times.

"He told me once, I would never put you in a position to fail," said Birder.

She says what sticks out the most is just how big of an impact he's had on the region and in De Pere.

"He's really put a beautiful imprint on this community and touched many in a wonderful way," said Birder.