GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Interviews with Dudley Birder often started like this:

“Off the record…”

And then he would tell me something he wasn’t supposed to.

Not that he was revealing state secrets.

And I don’t remember most of whatever tidbits he felt were importantly secret.

One that I do remember is my secret. He told a telling jest on himself.

What is not secret is Dudley Birder left a giant footprint on the performing arts landscape in Northeastern Wisconsin.

For one, had a large chorus named for him.

“Mostly you only get something named after you give a lot of money or you die, and I haven’t done either – and I don’t intend to give a lot of money or die,” Dudley Birder said when he was age 72.

That was 23 years ago.

At the time, he remembered his father, Cecil.

“He loved me, and he’d be very proud,” he said.

And so are many people who were touched by Dudley Birder and have heard he died Saturday afternoon, Nov. 26.

The giant has fallen.

(Obituary, noting an event June 2, 2023: https://www.ryanfh.com/obituaries/Dudley-Birder?obId=26471479#/obituaryInfo.)

Age 95.

And having conducted until a few years ago.

I’d pick a seat in the right spot at a performance – close to the front and with a side view of the podium – to watch joy radiate from Dudley Birder as he led 150 or so singers in lustrous song.

His beaming is what his singers saw.

The guy was transported – having fun.

Sheer pleasure.

How encouraging for his singers.

What a boss to have.

And that’s just a blink in time.

Dudley Birder’s scope defies repeating.

Three of his creations were like pebbles dropped in a pond, ever growing.

+ Music Theatre – a venture at a time, early on, when opportunities for local participation in musical theater were almost nonexistent. “His was the only game in town,” an observer once said.

+ Collegiate Chorale, which took on large-scale choral works with singers from his home base St. Norbert College and communities throughout the region. He did this so well, the organization renamed it the Dudley Birder Chorale with plenty of time ticking on his clock. A concert called “Holiday Pops” became an annual showcase.

+ Swinging Knights, with St. Norbert students taking on popular music styles in song-and-dance shows. Today, the campus has Knights on Broadway. Off campus, two of Dudley Birder’s former students are key in professional show troupes of their own.

The degrees of separation of local talent to Dudley Birder are mighty slim for many performers in our region and beyond.

He had a way of chuckling and making people feel good.

And a way with insistence – a “let’s get this right” aura.

He took his singers to Carnegie Hall to perform a number of times – a source of community pride. On one return to the Green Bay airport, Dudley Birder was surprised I showed up for an interview.

I quipped about being his biographer.

We laughed.

Thanks, Dudley.