WBHS senior helps revive old baseball tune with local ties
By Megan Landvatter, Current Staff
As the baseball season starts up again, a lost piece of Brewers history has been found and restored.
West Bend High Schools band directors Leah Duckert-Kroll and Corey Murphy as well as East senior Ian Janssen, a drum major and student leader within the band program, worked with the Cedarburg Historical Museum to produce the first recorded version of “Our Team’s Leading the Hit Parade.” Written in 1936, this song celebrated the Brewers march to the third American Association Championship, the championship for minor league teams that was often called the Little World Series.
Jerry Becker, who has composed music compositions for the West Bend High School Jazz Band, recorded the vocals.
Joel Willems, the new director of the Cedarburg Historical Museum, had started his own Milwaukee baseball project at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. While directing the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear, Willems received the only filmed footage of Borchert Field in Milwaukee, where the Brewers played while part of the American Association.
“I digitized it and then researched what it was to make sure and it was from this championship team,” Willems said. “And in doing that research, I got familiar with this guy who runs the Borchert Field website, Paul Tempony. He’s a big collector of baseball and he did an exhibit with us and then at the end of it he was like, well, I have this cool sheet music that you might’ve seen on display. I’ve never heard it.”
Willems reached out to Duckert-Kroll, who happily agreed to help find a way to get a recording of this piece. Although she was not able to assist much herself, she managed to get everyone else involved.
“I obviously have known what a talented piano player Ian is,” Duckert-Kroll said. “I know Mr. Murphy is talented at mixing, and I’ve worked with Jerry doing community theatre and big band since I was in high school; I knew he’d be a great choice for the vocals.”
Due to the pandemic, each part of the recording had to be done separately, which created its own challenges. Luckily, Janssen already had experience and equipment through being a member of Kids from Wisconsin, a performing arts group for Wisconsin teenagers, as well as the West Bend Brass Band. However, performing separately was still difficult.
“One of the biggest parts of music that I think often gets overlooked, is that there’s a certain little spontaneity and playing off of each other that can’t always be replicated when you’re playing completely separately and sending in parts over the internet,” Janssen said.
Using his experience as an organist, Janssen recorded his piano part first in order to set a baseline for the vocal part, something that the organ, now associated with baseball and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” is made to do.
“I sat down and made tempo maps with a quick track just so that I had something to reference,” Janssen said. “That was the biggest thing for me, just sitting down, figuring out exactly what I wanted to do and then having a backup plan for myself so that I could keep myself in check.”
Murphy, who has experience with mixing music, later put the two parts together and was very impressed with how Janssen played the piece.
“He put some pauses in it and some tempo alterations in it that you would’ve expected to hear at the actual ball game like with the crowd getting excited and speaking up a little bit or slowing down at certain parts,” Murphy said.
Similar to Janssen, the vocalist Jerry Becker has had experience recording music during the pandemic by playing accompaniment for different choirs and assembling the music into a virtual performance.
“Even before the pandemic it was typical in a recording studio to have some of the musicians record their tracks on one day, and have other musicians come in the next day to record new tracks to go along with the others,” Becker said. “It was a little different in the sense that a recording studio is a single place around which the work revolved.”
Once the piece was completed, Willems, who has been putting together music videos for different piano rolls within his museum, put together the video to match up with the piece.
“So I just finally stayed up one night and made that little music video kind of thing with it,” Willems said. “They put such good work into making the music production that I should do some work here on the video and put the images and film footage with it.”
West principal Ralph Schlass, a rabid Brewers fan himself, enjoyed the piece and the history that came along with it. Four years after the creation of this song, the Brewers were bought by a member of the West Bend community who helped them win three more pennants at the Little World Series over the following five years.
“Just after World War Two, a guy by the name of Bill Veeck owned the Milwaukee Brewers, and he at one time was one of the most famous owners in all of baseball,” Schlass said. “He also owned major league teams, he owned the Chicago White Sox. He owned the Brewers, and he lived in West Bend when he did.”
Schlass believes that it is important for the community to see West Bend staff and students completing tasks and helping people outside of the school district.
“The fact that teachers and students can get together and work on projects for people in the community, it’s awesome,” Schlass said.