LADIES AND GENTLEMEN…MR. ALEX WILLERT!
As the fantastic 2015-16 choir season was coming to an end we were hit with the sudden and saddening news that director Dave Willert would be retiring at year-end. Not only was the news shocking, but it left a lot of us questioning what would become of United Choirs of Brea? And the Brea Jr. High Show Choir Express? How would these talented and driven kids move forward? Fortunately, within a few weeks of that announcement, the news broke that Alex Willert would be taking over as the new choir director of UCB and SCE! As you can imagine, this was met with a great deal of excitement and a renewed optimistic outlook for the future of these choirs. We had an opportunity to sit down with the new director so we could ask him a few questions about the upcoming choir year and beyond, as well as some not-so-serious and light hearted questions to get to know the new leader of the best show choir in the southland.
Wendy Miguel: What is your goal for the choirs during this first year…your inaugural year?
Alex Willert: Overall I want to keep it at the same level it’s been at and then try to improve it as much as I can. I want to make an impact since it’s my first year and have something that defines it as being a little bit different. You know, I like the direction it’s taken over the past 10 years that my Dad and Doug have been there, so I don’t want to really change all that much. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Also, Doug is still there, Kurt is still there, and Eric is still there so the program will still feel all of their influences. We have a proven formula, but I want to put my own little flavor on it.
WM: Well what about your long term goals? Is there anything you’re looking to change over the next few years?
AW: I want to keep trying to build up where we are in the national standings. I’d love to compete more nationally, but that costs money. So that doesn’t depend on just me, it depends on everybody else who wants to buy into that. I just want to keep improving and pushing the groups up that list again. I think when I was in my senior year we were ranked 15th in the nation. And as a student, that felt great! So I’d like to bring us back up to that level again. But rankings are also very subjective. They depend on all kinds of things, including who is judging you. I’ve always loved our shows.
WM: What about your song selection?
AW: Well I have to take a lot of things into consideration with that. I want to use some newer stuff for sure, because there’s a lot of music from when I’ve grown up that I really enjoy. At the same time I grew up with 60’s music with my Dad and Doug. That’s what I heard on the car radio all the time. It was always 60’s and early 70’s music. Then I also need to take into consideration what Doug wants to do too, because Doug and I are going to put the shows together, well, together! We put them together, together. (laughter)
I’d like to find a good balance, and I’d like to do those shows that have more of a story like the Alice set from last year. So I think it just depends on what kind of story or theme we have. We can pick songs that are old and new, and see whatever Doug wants to choreograph. He should have a lot of say in this too, like he always does.
WM: Pet peeves that choir members should be aware of?
AW: Well, I try to be understanding. But, when someone isn’t paying attention, like when they’re on their cell phone or talking while I’m talking & I have to talk over them, that’s always annoying. Wow! I’m starting to sound like a teacher from normal subjects! (laughter)
WM: Who are your musical influences? We kind of covered that a little bit, but be more specific.
AW: Growing up it was always the Beatles…I love them. (fist bump) And then a lot of musical theater. Les Mis I always loved hearing. And then later, my own personal music, I always loved the Plain White T’s. They were always great and have really nice harmonies. That’s why I showed them to my dad and he put them in the shows some years back. And then Panic! at the Disco…I know they’re kind of an obscure group that nobody knows much anymore, but musically they’re so above and beyond what the norm is. The lead singer plays every instrument imaginable. When I saw them perform he played the drums, the guitar, organ, keyboard, harmonica…he played pretty much every instrument you can think of. I was just so impressed!
WM: Any others?
AW: Not really. For me, I just go through iTunes and I find songs that I like. There are usually like 4 or 5 songs that I really like from each group. I’m pretty eclectic in that way.
WM: What is your most favorite character that you’ve ever played? Either on stage or at Disney?
AW: At Disney I’ve always enjoyed being “friends with” Flynn Rider. He has a lot of depth to his character and he’s more playful, and more flirty….you know, he can poke fun at people all the time. Other than that there are a lot of characters I’ve liked playing in theater. I loved playing Chad in All Shook Up and Bobby in Crazy for You, but I loved playing roles that weren’t the leading man type. Like Captain Hook, Jafar and Gaston. Those were some the most fun! I like to play the characters that are more over-the-top and a little more of a caricature. It’s cool to have a different kind of motivation than just a straight role. You know, he likes this girl…and wants to get to there. Wants to see her. You know, those kinds of things. The villains are always the fun ones.
WM: Your favorite show choir memory, when you were active in show choir?
WM: Either performing, or behind the scenes. Something that happened in the wings…
AW: I remember this one time we were at Bonita Vista and we were going off to do a quick change, and I went to my box and my jacket just wasn’t there. So I had to miss two of the songs because someone just took it, and I was like “Argh!”. I was venting so much and yelling like the whole bus ride back. Then I actually made a speech to the class the next day. “Ok, whoever took my jacket…I won’t kill you. Just leave it here at the end of the day. I just want it returned. Give it back to me.” Yeah, everyone was so scared of me after that. (laughter)
But…good memories that year. Well I mean they’re all good. I always loved coming up with random comedic acts with my friends for the concerts and founding Thundercats was fun. But my senior year, every time we did that show I loved it. A lot of that stuff was a lot of fun.
WM: So your senior year set?
AW: My senior set was my favorite. We did a lot of Plain White T’s stuff that year. Hey There Delilah was the acapella and that was my favorite song at the time.
WM: OK, now for the fun stuff! What’s your favorite color?
AW: Blue. I know it sounds boring, but I like the deep dark blue. Because I’m partially color blind and the colors I have the most trouble telling apart are purple and dark blue. So whenever I see a dark blue it adds that little bit of mystery for me.
WM: Favorite food?
AW: Chocolate…I’m a chocolate person.
WM: Do you have a favorite sports team?
AW: I have a couple. I grew up a baseball & basketball guy. So for baseball it’s the Dodgers, and for basketball it’s the Lakers. Still hoping they’re going to get better again soon…it’s been hard watching them the past 3 years. And now that the Rams are back in LA, I think I might try following them this year too.
WM: Favorite restaurant?
AW: Cheesecake Factory – I love that place
WM: Do you have an absolute all-time favorite song?
AW: Well, it used to be Hey There Delilah. And I’d probably have to stick with that one. I haven’t really heard a new one that beat it yet. I know it’s simple, but it’s just so sweet.
WM: Ok, your favorite holiday?
AW: Growing up it was always Easter. I always like hunting for the eggs. That was my favorite. But now, I love Christmas. The whole feel of it, the atmosphere, all the songs too…all that stuff. You can’t beat the spirit of Christmas.
WM: Favorite TV show?
AW: Hm…I have a few. I never really watched TV much until recently. Actually in Japan is when I started watching it. I wanted to see American stuff and hear English again. Lately, it’s been the Big Bang Theory. I just think it’s hilarious and the writing is really intelligent. And Game of Thrones. Everyone is watching that one right now, and it’s really well done.
WM: What’s your lucky number?
AW: 23 is my favorite number. Random, I know. But I liked it as a kid and it just stuck with me. My favorite baseball player growing up was number 23, and then when I played baseball my number was always 23.
Richie Miguel: What position did you play?
AW: I was pitcher and third base when I played.
(Insert guy talk here, LOL)
WM: Your best and your worst subjects in school?
AW: I was always really good at math & science. But I was pretty good overall. I got straight A’s all through school. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I decided to come back and teach.
WM: What do you like to do in your spare time?
AW: What spare time, ha ha?! I’m still performing at Disney when I can. I try to relax, unwind and watch sports on TV occasionally. Hang out with friends and catch up on life. I listen to music. You know, all those generic things. But I really haven’t had that much spare time for the past…ever.
WM: Who is your celebrity crush?
AW: Emma Watson, for sure. Ever since I was around 12 I’ve had a crush on her, and she grew into a really great woman.
WM: Harry Potter?
AW: It wasn’t really a Harry Potter thing. I never really had a crush on her character when I read the books or anything so it wasn’t that. It was just something about her. I don’t know, maybe it’s the accent or something….it’s nice.
WM: Favorite movie of all time?
AW: Pirates of the Caribbean, the first one. Probably not the best made movie ever, but it’s still my favorite. I remember I went back and saw it twice on the day it came out. I didn’t expect it to be so good. I saw it first in the daytime, then I had to go back that night to see it again because I was so in love with it. Jack Sparrow is one of the greatest characters ever created in my opinion. It’s sort of a dream role of mine.
RM: I would like to ask a question here. Did you always know you were going to end up teaching?
AW: It’s been on and off my mind until more recently. When I was in high school, I thought I would go on to do pre-med and become a doctor. And so that’s why I went to UC Berkeley. And then I got there, and I tried doing the choir and stuff on the side, but I didn’t really like their music program. And I realized that I really missed making music and performing all the time. So that’s when I transferred to Chapman, and in my opinion, their music program is so much better. I figured if I’m not going to do pre-med, why am I at UC Berkeley anyway? So I came back here and did that. But I got my degree in Music Education because I always knew that part of me wanted to be teaching too, so I got it just in case. And then, it was mostly after I went to Japan that it really sunk in. I went there and I was performing 24-7, and I just realized that I really missed the teaching part of it and putting on the shows, seeing the students grow and all that stuff. So when I came back I decided I wanted to pursue that. So I started going back to school for my credential. When my dad left I thought ‘well that would be perfect’. I love this program. It’s a dream job for any teacher to be working in a program like this.
WM: What is your biggest or weirdest fear?
AW: Bees. I hate bees. I don’t know why. I think it could have happened when I was a kid. I was playing baseball in the back yard, and I put my glove down for a little bit to go inside and get some water or something. I came back out and put my glove on, and there was a bee inside and it stung my finger. So ever since then. And I think it’s because you don’t know when they’re coming…when they’re flying around so fast. You know, spiders are on the ground, and they’re not going to fly around at you. So you know where they are. Snakes, the same thing. You know, they’re there and you can see them. But bees, I hate ‘em.
WM: Do you have any allergies?
AW: Not that I know of, knock on wood. I haven’t found any yet.
WM: Are you a night owl or a morning person?
AW: It depends on what kind of schedule I’m in. But I’m more of a night person naturally. I’m gonna have to start becoming more of a morning person soon though with the school schedule.
WM: Are you messy or a neat freak?
AW: More of a neat freak. I’m pretty OCD with most things in my life. I want to have everything just right. You wouldn’t get that from looking at my room though. It looks messy, but I do know where everything is. I call it organized chaos. But with scheduling and stuff I like to have everything planned out and in order.
WM: What would be your chosen super power?
AW: I don’t know. I feel like all those psychic ones are so versatile. You know, you could know what’s going on and be able to figure things out a little better.
WM: You mean like reading people’s minds or telepathy?
AW: Yeah, more like reading people’s minds. I think that would be a good one to have. But I don’t know if I’d want to hear EVERYTHING they’re thinking.
WM: All right, do you like tomatoes?
AW: Random! I like tomatoes in things, like in a taco or something like that. Or ketchup, or salsa…that kind of stuff. But I don’t like slices of tomatoes, like on a burger. Or just tomatoes by themselves. Unless they’re cherry or grape tomatoes. Those are good. That is a random question!
WM: What are some things you can’t leave the house without?
AW: Mmm…all the basics. Phone, wallet, keys. Oh, and a positive attitude! (Cheesy grin)
WM: Your most embarrassing moment?
AW: Most embarrassing? I feel like I’ve blocked them out of my mind because I don’t want to remember those moments. (laughter) Um, there was one that was funny at Stagelight a long time ago. It was in Annie, and I was younger. Janice had entrusted me with bringing the dog onto the stage at the end of the show. This Sandy was a big golden retriever dog and I had to bring it down the stairs, onto the stage. The dog was bigger than me and he decided to take off, and I couldn’t hold him. So he just dragged me down the stairs, all the way on. That was funny! One of the best ones I had in a high school show was in Crazy For You. I was Bobby and he has to wear a wig for part of it when he’s pretending to be Zangler. So I was wearing this wig when someone shook me in the scene, and my wig came off. And I just said “Oops sorry…I’m balding!” Then I put it back on quickly, and it was the biggest laugh of the whole run!
WM: What would be a good theme song for your life?
AW: I feel like the song would change depending on my mood and situation, but right now it would be “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons. Whenever I hear it, it just seems to fit how I’m feeling at this point in my life.
So, there you have it folks! We had a great time with Alex, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him better. He is a young, charismatic, well rounded, intelligent, motivated individual, and we all look forward to this upcoming year with much anticipation. Alex knows what the United Choirs of Brea program is all about. He has experienced it as a member, and will now take the reins of one of the most electrifying choirs in the country! With his vision and the talented choir staff returning, the future of UCB does indeed look bright!