If you need to know the history of the Fireside Choir, contact Joe Brisben, as he has been singing continuously with the choir since its inception in 1980. At that time the choir, under the direction of James Osburn, sang hymns out of the hymnal. The choir took a giant step forward when Peter Alexander became the director. Joe recalls the choir was made up of the “Faithful Eight” and sang works by Mozart, Bach, Mendelssohn, Vaughn Williams, and others. Some of the early singers who are current UU members include Virginia Melroy, Cecile Owings, Jeanette Carter, Jim Laughlin, and Gerry Pearson. The choir has the honor of having a commissioned work written by a University of Chicago classmate and friend of Joe’s, Robert Applebaum: “The Hour of Lead.” The wonderful accompanists over the years included Paul Soderdahl, Margaret Richardson, Joseph McKinley, Younjung Cha, and, currently, Jonathan Tauscheck.
Joe joined the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines in 1971. Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before His presence with singing.” Joe sings every day. Singing is not Joe’s only mode of musical expression, as he plays six- and 12-string guitars, four- and five-string banjos, ukulele, violin, valve trombone, and harmonica. He also owns an electric piano, a trumpet, a flugelhorn, a mandolin, a kalimba, a quiros, a tambourine, a tong drum, a set of castanets, and a five-string fiddle.
When not making music, Joe writes short stories and novels. His first book, Marvin’s Garden, will be published in a few weeks. When time allows, Joe takes in movies, especially those directed by Preston Sturges, John Huston, Sidney Lumet, Billy Wilder, and William Wellman. Joe is an avid fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team—and don’t try to reach him during the NCAA basketball tournament!
Early in his professional career, Joe worked for the old City News Bureau of Chicago and the Chicago Tribune. Thereafter, he moved into college public relations for the University of Chicago, Drake University, and the University of Iowa (the last move thanks in part to the late Gordon Strayer). The last 28 years of his professional life, Joe was an investment adviser for the old Securities Corporation of Iowa and then Broker Dealer Financial Services.
Joe’s mother loved to travel, and by the time he was 12 years old they had toured all 48 contiguous states. Since then he has visited Hawaii and Alaska. He has traveled in Europe, Asia, South America, and thanks to the UU Partner Church program, Hungary and Romania (six times). When you ask Joe about his “favorite” travels, he will list (in no particular order) Ireland, England, Brazil, Germany, Austria, Singapore, Indonesia, Greece, and Italy.
The conversation will inevitably return to music. Joe leans toward folk music and jazz because that is what he thinks he plays best. Choice is an individual matter, but as Duke Ellington said, “There are two kinds of music: There’s good music, and then there’s the other kind.”
—Submitted by your Music Director, Gloria Corbin