At a recent Waterloo School Board meeting, the board discussed adding guitar classes to Waterloo High School’s music program.
Board president John Caupert jokingly suggested Waterloo Superintendent of Schools Brian Charron serve as the instructor for such a class.
The comment drew laughs from Caupert’s fellow board members because Charron is developing a reputation for his guitar and vocal performances at school functions and at Vintage Wine Bar in Waterloo.
“I like playing the guitar even more than I like talking about tax levies,” Charron told the board.
Charron’s in-laws got him a guitar for Christmas in 2011 after he told his wife, Tina, about a group of WHS students who would gather to play guitar after band concerts and other performances.
Charron, who was WHS principal at the time, had often wished he had learned to play guitar when he was younger and saw how much fun the students had.
“I thought it’d be fun to be the guy sitting around the campfire with family and friends strumming some familiar songs,” he said.
After receiving the guitar, Charron called his friend Scott Roever of Valmeyer, who plays guitar and has played in a band.
Roever instructed Charron to learn some basic techniques, which Charron spent the next few weeks doing by watching YouTube videos.
Once he had those basics down, Roever taught Charron to play one more chord and the friends began learning songs.
Charron was hooked.
“I found playing the guitar to be very therapeutic,” he explained. “The job is sometimes stressful and (playing guitar) is a safe, productive therapy session.”
Since then, Charron has continued practicing, learning and playing with Roever and another friend in Roever’s basement. He also plays at gatherings of family and friends.
In 2015, his second year as superintendent, Charron used music in his first day of school speech to the 300-plus employees of the Waterloo school district.
The theme for the year was crossing the line, which in this case meant going outside one’s comfort zone to make life better.
Charron decided to perform Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line,” noting how district personnel needed to go past that line to model that idea.
“I felt like I had a really good relationship with our employees, and I was willing to fail in front of them to overcome my fear of playing the guitar and singing in front of people,” Charron recalled.
“I remember hearing some people cheering,” Charron said of the employees’ response. “Some people were excited for what I was about to do, and some people were worried for me.”
Since that performance, a rendition of a theme song has become a tradition in the district, with Charron, Rogers Elementary School social worker Michael Nehre and even a band with a student performing.
Songs that have been tied in with the theme for the year include “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2 and “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.
Those who are not school district employees or among Charron’s social circle started getting the chance to hear him perform at Vintage Wine Bar earlier this year.
Charron was at a fundraiser at the downtown Waterloo establishment that was poorly attended, so one of Charron’s co-workers requested Charron bring his guitar and perform the next week.
Charron – who had bought some equipment for performing – acquiesced. It was the first time he had played in a public setting.
“I remember being overwhelmed with anxiety and I thought about leaving before it started,” he said, noting he gets nervous every time he performs. “I was afraid I was going to drive people out of the place. The ones that were staying, I was worried that they were there because they thought it was humorous for me to play.”
His performance again went over well enough that he was asked to come back, and it has since become a regular occurrence.
Now, Charron performs solo at Vintage Wine Bar, as well as with friends and with the house band.
“It’s something that became very fun for me to do, and it was another step in building confidence,” Charron said.
Charron does not have any plans to quit as superintendent to pursue a music career, as his only hope is that his children can play with him someday.
“It’s just another tool that helps provide an enjoyable time with family and friends,” Charron said of his guitar playing. “I only ever dreamed to play around a campfire.”
Charron is next scheduled to play at Vintage Wine Bar on Dec. 12 and Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. Visit the bar on Facebook for more information.