Not your average summer job: Summer concerts operations manager

| Denise Olson

Blugolds are a "build your own adventure" bunch, creating new learning opportunities where they may not yet exist. When senior Event Production Crew operations manager and music education major Maria DeRidder saw a gap in music events on campus, she proposed to the University Activities Commission a whole new summer concert series, and pitched herself as the producer of the events — a pretty bold move. 

Maria Derrider organizing her EPC staff pre-concert

Maria DeRidder, left, gives direction to her EPC concert crew for the July 22 "Sunset Sounds" event on the campus mall.

Months later, DeRidder, a Kimberly native, has produced more than half of the six-concert series, "Sunset Sounds." Before summer's end she will have built her marketing, coordinating and outreach skills in ways that will support a role she hopes to pursue. DeRidder's long-term goal as a future K-12 music educator is to be equipped to expand individual and small-group music performance opportunities for her students. 

"I saw a real gap in performance opportunities for students here, in terms of community concerts. Same was true for both my own high school experience and as a student observer in area schools for my major," she said. "I'd like to have the basic skills to help present more individual and small-group student performances in communities, from knowing how to find artists to how to set up the needed equipment." 

What DeRidder proposed was actually more of a revival of a past summer-music series, a student-run project that had fallen off in recent years as managing students graduated and the Event Production Crew had become the primary labor force for the annual Eaux Claires Festival.

"It really became an easy approval process since there was an existing funding structure in place through UAC from the previous summer concert series, and we had the capacity to staff the events," said Tyler Edmondson, event production coordinator and supervisor of the student managers and crews.

"Maria has done a really nice job with the logistics of the whole thing," he said about DeRidder's role in every aspect from booking artists and marketing the events, to staffing EPC crews and overseeing setup and operations at each show. "Our purpose in offering student employment opportunities like Maria's is essentially to expand those high-impact practices that are a signature of UW-Eau Claire. If it's not providing experiential learning to supplement what they learn in their degree, then it's just a job. We want it to be more."

Over the course of three years working with EPC, DeRidder has done a little bit of everything, as most crew members do, and she eventually became one of eight managers among the student team. Within this current job scope, DeRidder has tried to grow as an event producer and to help reverse some gender inequity in community music in general.

"It's a male-dominated industry, even on the local level. It's been important to me to find more female artists and groups to perform, as well as being one of the few women on the producing side of it all," she said.

With just a few shows left to produce, DeRidder has met the challenge she set for herself, which was to garner skills to make the music lives of her future students better — more full of performance opportunities and musical expression. Now well-equipped to plan and execute small-scale concerts, she can pair her classroom teaching with options for the aspiring performers as well. 

UW-Eau Claire student employment, like the unique and diverse jobs available through the UAC and Event Services, is just one of the reasons Blugolds leave here with so much more than a degree. EPC members acquire problem-solving, troubleshooting and process-facilitation skills that will transfer to any career path in their future.

DeRidder's position is a perfect example of what Edmondson says is his favorite way of looking at the university's purpose in providing these jobs.

"Yes, they do their jobs, but they also become able to envision how they can do their lives differently and better."

See details about the final two "Sunset Sounds" performances on Aug. 5 and 19.

Top image caption: Maria DeRidder and Tyler Edmondson work out final lighting details for the July 22 "Sunset Sounds" concert.