Interviewing the Interviewer

The Music of Milwaukee Radio Host Ben Merens

by Angie Mack Reilly 3.9.20

Ben Merens Musician and Radio Host on the Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame

New Release!  Listen to “Babylon” by Ben Merens on Hot Seat Records

A Master of Improv

Have you ever seen the show, “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”

It’s an improvisational comedy television show.  One feature is that the actors are asked to make up comedic lyrics and a melody on the spot while a band plays music that they’ve never heard before.  NOT an easy task!

I have always marveled at the show’s actors’ ability to do this. Decades of teaching music and drama has taught me that improvisation requires a heightened sensitivity and a rapid mind. Improvisation is done without any preparation. It requires having a wealth of knowledge to pull from as well as a bravado of spirit.

This is why I like to listen to jazz.   In my opinion, jazz is one of the most difficult and advanced musical art foms to master.  Why?  Because of the improvisation.  Likewise, stand-up comedy.  It requires a high skill level of improvisation that is extremely difficult.

Like I was saying.  Very few people have this high level of skill that entails composing music, creating lyrics and creating a melody on the spot.

Ben Merens has this skill.

Having been in journalism for over 30 years, Ben is somewhat of a celebrity in the Milwaukee area. Most people know him as the longtime radio host for Wisconsin Public Radio’s At Issue With Ben Merens on the Ideas Network.

As a live radio host, Ben has had to improvise on every program.  He has literally spoken on thousands of shows without a full script.   Again, not many people can do this.

I find it fascinating that Ben has taken this strongly exercised skill of improvisation and has applied it to music.

An Example

Ben came over to record some music recently and met my son Joshua for the first time.  Within minutes of meeting Joshua, Ben created a comedic song complete with lyrics, melody and music.  The song played on the ironic fact that Joshua is a baker who cannot eat gluten.  Check it out.

 

“Yes.  God must have a sense of humor you see.  When a baker cannot eat gluten.  I think that’s God’s stand-up comedy.” – Ben Merens

Communication Expert

Ben explained to me that all of his experience in radio has taught him amazing focus and mindfulness.   He is a keen listener which can be a rare commodity in today’s self-centered and busy world.  In fact, Ben has written a book called People Are Dying to Be Heard.  He is an experienced keynote speaker on the topic of communication.  He conducts workshops that help people and organizations find their unique story or voice.  His ability to understand people also fuels his ability to create on-the-spot songs.

Adaptability

“And the only constant in life is change. And we all must be willing to rearrange” – Ben Merens lyric from One Hundred Voices

People who have the ability to improvise are highly adaptable.   They quickly adjust.  They are keenly sensitive.   Aware.  Flexible toward change.   Adaptability knows how to feed an audience while feeding off of the audience.  Because no two audiences are the same, you will find that no two versions of Ben’s songs are the same.   He adjusts the song to fit the environment.

Forget buying mood lighting at a party.  Hire Ben to come and entertain your guests in a way that they won’t ever forget!  I’m serious!  Hire him to speak or sing at your place of worship, school, workplace or event.  Ben has a long track record of connecting with audiences of all demographics.

The Background and the Vision

Ben and I recently started connecting after a music event that we both attended in Cedarburg.   The more I have gotten to know him, the more I have appreciated what a gem of a human being he is.   Ben loves people.  Pure and simple.  And he uses his talents to help others in a variety of creative ways.  We have a similiar intuitive, improvisational and heartfelt manner in which we share our talents with others.   We both understand adaptability or, as I like to call it, fluidity.   Ben recently invited me talk with him about creativity on his Riverwest Radio show called Just Talking.  You can listen to the link below.

Because of how creatively compatible we are,  I thought that it would be great to work on a creative project with Ben.  Since we both love networking, I thought that we should invite others who want to join us.  It’s a bit improvisational.  The musicians and singers will have to be adaptable.  But we want to communicate a message as a performance public art piece.  Not perfect.  But heartfelt.  Because a lot of people need a glimmer of light right now.  Please join us.

100 Voices:  Public Performance Art

WHO:  Calling 100 Musicians and Singers for “One Hundred Voices Jiant Jam” (a Flash Mob type performance)  Don’t worry.  Nobody’s making anyone dance. (lol)
WHAT:  We will be performing “One Hundred Voices” written by radio personality Ben Merens (listen to the track above….lyrics are in the comments).  This song was inspired by the book 100 Voices:  Americans Talk About Change by Mary M. Clare.  Mary traveled the nation asking diverse people what change meant to them.  Ben wrote the song upon meeting the author.

Event has been cancelled and will hopefully be rescheduled due to Covid-19 crisis

WHEN:  Sunday March 22nd, arrive no later than noon.  Performance will be videotaped/recorded at 12:30pm.  By participating, you are agreeing to be on film, audio recording, social media, television, etc….Rain date of Sunday March 29, same times.  Try to gather in the cul de sac just south of the giant piano Walk of Fame when you arrive.
WHERE:  Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame in downtown Grafton (outside of Atlas BBQ)
HOW:  We will rehearse the song at noon under the musical direction of Angie Mack Reilly.  Looking for acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitars, hand drums, voices, violins, saxophones, etc….Please have the song memorized and rehearsed before arriving
WHY:  We want to raise awareness about the ripple effect that “one voice” has and how music continues to be a unifying, meaningful and valuable tool to bring people together.  This is an attempt to raise awareness about the musicians who recorded for the Paramount record label.

RSVP:  send your firm email commitment to angie@ozaukeetalent.comMiss6123@gmail.com or ben@benmerens.com No last minute cancellations please.

Published by ozaukeetalent

Ozaukee Talent is a training and networking facility for people of all ages wanting to advance in the arts. The Ozaukee Talent Headquarters and Music Lab are located in Grafton, WI. Ozaukee Talent provides private music and acting lessons, recording sessions, hosts musical events, workshops and classes in the arts. Contact: Ozaukee Talent 1701 11th Ave. Grafton WI 53024 angie@ozaukeetalent.com 262.309.4112

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