Accompany of Kids: Changing Lives Through the Performing Arts
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: The Accompany of Kids perform on TMJ4’s The Morning Blend in March 2017. Photos courtesy of Accompany of Kids.
While the format and rehearsal spaces have changed immensely for Accompany of Kids in the troupe’s over 25 years of existence, its mission to build strong men and women through the arts has stayed the same.
“We used to rehearse in any church basement or place that we could find the space,” says John Shull, founder and creative director of Accompany of Kids (also affectionately known as “AOK”). “We usually didn’t know until two hours before we were starting a rehearsal where we would be.”
Today, AOK rehearses in the group’s very-own studio in Menomonee Falls and offers programs for kids aged four through 21. AOK performs year round at many festivals and special events as well as an annual holiday concert in December and gala in March.
“For me the best part is watching the kids start as these tiny little people and then see them grow and get better and better,” says Jennifer Feucht, music director for AOK. “I get to see how shy and scared they are at first, and then how much confidence they gain as they get older.”
Feucht has been with the organization for eight years, and couldn’t help but laugh while recalling her first rehearsal with AOK in the basement of J Riley’s bar in Menomonee Falls.
“I came home smelling like cigarettes and my husband was like, ‘Uhh where were you?,” Feucht shares.
Feucht previously taught private voice lessons when one of her students recommended she apply for the open position with AOK. As the longest running music director with the organization, Shull says Feucht has helped the kids develop a level of consistency with their work.
The Accompany of Kids troupe performing at Summerfest. Photo Courtesy of Accompany of Kids.
“It was tough at first to even convince them that they had to use music and sing the notes on the pages,” Feucht says. “It’s crazy the stuff I can throw at them now and how fast they can learn. Some days we have three hours to learn a song and in school they have three months.”
Shull and Feucht’s ability to work in sync, almost to the point where they can read each other’s minds, has also helped AOK run smoothly. Feucht recalled her first gala when she was watching the kids run a number on stage. She gave Shull a confused look as if to say something was missing, but she didn’t know what. Shull immediately signaled for one of the kids to do a backflip to which she replied, “That’s it!”
“It’s been fun to have a partner who gets me,” Feucht says. “We are always on the same wavelength.”
A unique aspect of AOK is the group’s commitment to helping others. AOK participants put in many hours of community service and senior outreach, which has earned them the Betterment of the Community Award in Menomonee Falls.
For Shull, the most rewarding factor of running AOK doesn’t come from seeing the group nail a specific number—although he does admit that feels good.
“It’s never been about getting a standing ovation,” Shull says. “I get more emotional and more caught up when I see a kid who has been trying for years break through. That moment when you can see it’s helped someone, and changed their life, that’s the moments that I live for.”
The Accompany of Kids 2018 Live Out Loud Gala will be held March 17 – 25 at North Middle School in Menomonee Falls. Auditions to be a member of the group are held every six months.