Entrepreneurship and Career Development

Entrepreneur of the Month

Brennan and Ly Wilder

Entrepreneur of the Month: December

Ly and Brennan Wilder: On Engaging Your Community

This month, Project Jumpstart interviews Ly and Brennan Wilder, co-founders of Bloomington Expressive Arts Training (BEAT), a show choir program for local elementary, middle school and high school students.

As a rapidly expanding entity in the community, BEAT prides itself on being a performance organization that empowers participants to establish their own creative spirit, develop a sense of possibility, and learn how to engage in deeply collaborative action.

With careers in vocal jazz and dance respectively, Ly and Brennan have been able to bring an impressive amount of professional experience to the Bloomington community. As a faculty member of the Jacobs School of Music, Ly was also appointed interim director of the Singing Hoosiers and, in collaboration with IU ensembles, BEAT and regional school choirs, recently directed one of Bloomington's most cherished holiday events at the IU Auditorium, The Chimes of Christmas.

Project Jumpstart: Over the past four years, BEAT has evolved into a very significant Bloomington organization that impacts many young students. How did you get the inspiration for BEAT and how has your original concept changed as you've developed it?

Ly Wilder: We met at a national show choir camp so it is a mutual interest and passion that we share. When Brennan moved here and became a part of the community, we were offered the chance to help with our daughter's school choir and realized there was an interest in the way we integrated singing and dancing.

Brennan Wilder: I don't think our concept has changed much. It's grown, but the values we want to teach the kids remains the same: professionalism, being kind and patient, being grateful, giving your all, working really hard.

LW: Show Choir provides an educational arts environment for the concepts that Brennan describes and our mission has always been to provide a loving, nurturing community that creates the highest personal and musical expectations for the kids while creating a joyful place to learn and grow.

Chimes of Christmas

Members of the Singing Hoosiers with members of BEAT at the annual Chimes of Christmas performance.

PJ: You're a great example of a married couple that lives and breathes their work. How do you do this in a healthy and productive way?

BW: We genuinely love working together and bouncing ideas off of each other. It's also nice to know that there is somebody who has your back at all times.

LW: I'm not sure anyone would describe our life as balanced but it is fulfilling in every way. I love dreaming up ways to grow these kids with Brennan, who is full of brilliant ways to connect people. Our shared vision and mission and love for the people and the material, and especially our love and respect for each other is what makes it all work. And then an occasional trip to a warm weather destination!

Chimes of Christmas 2

Ly leads members of the Singing Hoosiers and BEAT at the Chimes of Christmas concert.

PJ: One of the strengths of BEAT is the deep collaborative relationships it has with other organizations. How does this aspect of your work intersect with your mission?

BW: Collaboration is a huge part of the curriculum at Luther, which is where I went to college. So I think collaboration is a natural instinct of mine. I love working with other people and learning from the process of other artists and directors. I think it's important for the kids to experience many different teachers and also to meet other young people that love to do what they do. I especially love watching the kids take in the experiences with the Singing Hoosiers because it shows them what they are truly capable of if they work hard and go for it!

LW: As we were creating our very first ensemble, Syncopation, Steve Zegree came to our first fall show and shared his support by inviting them to be a part of Chimes of Christmas. From the beginning, our collaboration with the Singing Hoosiers has been a natural fit and brings great things to both ensembles. Brennan expanded that to included Jacobs School student Teaching Assistants, providing an opportunity to receive training in working with kids in the arts.This has enabled us to expand our program and offer additional ensembles. We also treasure our friends at IU and the community of artists at the Jacobs School of Music, who have been so eager to share their talents and are supportive of what we do!

We also have a wonderful relationship with Windfall Dance studios because Brennan started teaching there as soon as she arrived in Bloomington from LA. When we started BEAT, they opened their doors to give us a home.


Members of BEAT's "Syncopation" on their way to perform at Disney World!

PJ: How do you go about establishing yourself in a community that is so arts-saturated?

LW: We really stumbled into a need in this community that also fit our specific skill set. There are wonderful school music programs in the Bloomington area, but none of them currently offer competetive show choir at the junior high level. When we first created Syncopation out of an interest from kids and families who were our daughter's age at the time, it was a unique experience for that age group. They seem to find great purpose and engagement and have shared their experiences with friends. We've been really thrilled and humbled at the growth we've seen.

BW: We reached out to friends and families to see if there was enough interest in this thing to make it go. We did a Mini-Camp to gather interest and sent out e-mail blasts, created a video promoting it and checked the P.O. Box we set up every day to see if we had new registrations. It was a really fun, exciting time when a new registration form would come in! It was like "YES, WE HAVE 10!" After we started Syncopation, it was all word of mouth from there!

Teaching Assistants

Ly and Brennan pose with BEAT's staff of Teaching Assistants.

PJ: Considering the growth that BEAT has seen in the past several years, do you find it difficult to stay true to its mission, or does it change?

LW: BEAT has grown precisely because of its mission to instill fundamental performance skills, to strive for excellence, and to instill confidence in young people through music and movement. We center our business practices around those values and it will likely mean that we will see a hold in expansion so we can maintain them and honor our commitment to current students.

Buskirk Chumley

A great component of BEAT's mission is community engagement. They frequently perform at local venues such as the Buskirk Chumley theatre.  

PJ: With Project Jumpstart’s Innovation Competition just around the corner, what’s your biggest piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs?

LW: Lean into the thing that you love, become excellent at that thing, and create as many positive relationships as you can in and out of the arts. Many of our first participants in BEAT were family friends who believed in the opportunity and education we were providing for their kids and shared it with everyone they knew. Brennan is wonderful at cultivating relationships and in promoting our activities and our BEAT families have been equally as engaged in sharing what we are doing as an organization and that has been the key to our success.

BW:  Flexibility and Creativity. Assume that people are doing the best they can with what they know. Treat parents and kids like you would want to be treated. Don’t be afraid to go for it! You might have to let some ideas go in the beginning because of financing and budget, but keep them in the back of your mind for later down the road. Building something worth doing takes time, patience and loads of laughs and love! Finally, as Ly taught me—SWAG MATTERS! Clothing and logos make a thing real!

The kids of BEAT

A group photo of students in BEAT!

PJ: And finally, what music is playing in your house during the holiday season?

LW: We have been inundated with holiday music since the summer, but especially the last two months. We are currently watching our whole collection of Christmas movies - Arthur Christmas being my favorite at the moment! But I just picked up the India Arie Christmas CD and it's terrific. Plus, Pentatonix, The Carpenters, Ella Fitzgerald, The Singers Unlimited, a GRP Christmas, New York Voices, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and the Biebs are perennial holiday jams!

BW: I LOVE Arthur Christmas! The Polar Express was my childhood favorite book so the movie now creates all of the magic for me! Drummer Boy by Justin Bieber is my holiday jam for hip hop classes and rehearsals! The kids love it and so do I!