Off Pitch’s Rob and Tim are the fearless leaders of Grand River Singers, committed partners, and show choir fanatics with years of experience teaching aspiring performers across a wide range of ages. Since GRS is made up of La Crosse’s most musical twentysomethings, what’s the best part about working with adults? (Other than post-performance refreshments, natch.) “We can lower the neckline and raise the hemline,” says Rob, one half of this brutally honest duo whose hearts are bigger than their own showbiz dreams.
For a group that’s heavily rooted in pop and musical theater, GRS gets booked for their fair share of unlikely gigs (take their upcoming performance at a local “mudder” for instance.) But their failure to see the irony in any setting, or anything negative about performing before a crowd of people who may not “get” what they’re all about, is endlessly endearing. Being that we’re in the era of YouTube and constant gratification, everyone wants to be a star and believes that they truly should be. But it’s not the destination, it’s the journey (or whatever tired IM quote you want to use) and Rob and Tim are responsible for ensuring that their group of adopted children has the best ride possible.
Now that the series premiere has aired–and received very positive response!–VH1 spoke with Rob and Tim to determine how they’re feeling about seeing their faces on television, as well as learn the best way to tell someone you’re just not that into the sound of their singing voice.
Tim: Rob and I believe in being honest with performers. There’s a large generation of kids growing up right now and we will coddle them, everyone’s great and everyone’s perfect. Well, everyone does do something great, but everybody doesn’t do everything great and you have to be honest with them and really explain where their strengths and their weakness lie. And that’s something we really strongly believe in at Grand River, and we will foster, help, and do what we can to make someone better, but if there’s something that is not going right we will be straight up and honest with them, and that would be the same for anyone else in the community, too.
Rob: Coming from a performing background, I hated going to those auditions where they’re like, “Oh, nice job!” and then you never heard from them again. I want that feedback.
What kind of strategy do you have before a performance? How do you win the crowd over?
T: Well, we put the girls in the least amount of clothing and have them work the crowd beforehand… No! [Laughs] It’s not about being perfect all the time, it’s about being a good communicator and a good performer so that you engage your audience. I don’t care what audience you’re performing in front of, if they see you’re having a good time, that’s infectious. There’s absolutely no way an audience is not going to have a good time if they can tell the performers on stage are having a good time and communicating with them. That’s the bottom line.
R: Well said, Tim.
What’s your tolerance for tears during rehearsal?
R: You can cry, but put on your Big Girl and Big Boy pants and keep moving. [Laughs] No, I mean we cry all the time! People cry, and I’ve made people cry before, Tim has made people cry before. It’s tough love to make them the best performer they can possibly be.
Traditional show choirs have anywhere from 50 to 60 people. Is there a reason why you keep your group smaller?
T: Well when we first started out we thought we were going to be a traditional, 50 person [group] and then when everybody auditioned and showed up we found out, “Oh, we only have 25 people… that’s not going to work.” [Laughs] So, we kind of molded it to do this theme park-style show and it just evolved into what we liked. And we didn’t want to work with 50 people’s schedules. It’s hard enough to work with 18 people’s schedules.
Since La Crosse is a small town, have you ever had any awkward run-ins with people who were upset they didn’t make the cut for GRS?
R: We’re pretty vocal people and if someone approached us in a grocery store or in public and wanted to give us their two cents, I would stop them cold in their tracks. If they want to talk to me in private, they can, but you know what? I’m not going to be talked to in public that way.
T: That doesn’t happen very often. I can’t even think of a time where that’s happened. Most of the time people will ask why they didn’t make it and most of the time they just want to have a learning experience.
Does the small talent pool in La Crosse ever frustrate you?
R: Well, Grand River melded into this weird, dysfunctional, nontraditional family and that’s kind of one of the things that I like about this group. I like that not everyone is perfect. Everyone has their strengths, but everyone also has some weaknesses that they need to address. We try to help push those weaknesses along to make them better. Take Josh, for example. He came to us and couldn’t step-touch and now he at least blends in, so he’s come a long way in two years.
T: As far as having a “ringer,” would that make our job easier? Yeah, the easiest way to look like the best director in the world is to have the best performers. For me that takes away the educational experience, and that’s why I love doing it. I love teaching someone and watching them grow throughout the year; I love watching the evolution of that whole process.
What do you hope the series will do for GRS and its members?
R: We’re very fortunate for this opportunity and we’re really, really excited at the possibilities of what might happen from it. But at the end of the day we go back to our normal lives and we do our jobs. And then we go back to GRS rehearsal two days a week.
T: Like Rob said, at the end of the day, what’s the worst case scenario? Well, we have a great group of people that we love working with, we have great jobs, and we have a great community we live in that supports us. If that’s the bad end, that’s a pretty good deal. But then of course on the other end of things, if things explode and things go great, it would be great to be the first cast of show choir zombies on The Walking Dead. [Laughs]
Do the members of GRS feel like your children?
R: They’re like the children you can pack up and send home if you get tired of them.
T: On Marcia’s birthday they all went out and partied, and three of them ended up texting us at about 1 o’clock in the morning that they were just going to crash at the house because they didn’t want to drive home. On any given morning we could wake up and there might be two or three of them downstairs. [Laughs] R: We changed the locks on the house and somehow they all have the new keys.
Do we need to talk about boundaries?
R: We’ve established the boundary issues. Sometimes it gets blurry once and a while, but we address it fast, and then it usually doesn’t happen for at least two weeks… and then it happens again.
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