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Arts & Culture

RME Hosts 200th Music Lab

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River Music Experience
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Thursday, January 7th was a special day for River Music Experience in Davenport and its nearly 10-month-old Music Lab program.

The weekday kids’ music show – featuring fun singalongs and learning about popular musicians and musical styles – marked its 200th episode, since premiering last March after the Covid-19 pandemic shut down live performances and RME school programs. Bret Dale, education director at RME, runs the half-hour Music Lab, usually from his Moline home. In 2020, it aired daily at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live, and later Mediacom, and this month has switched to 3:30 p.m., but he wasn’t sure it was going to work at first.

“Once we first got started, I was excited for the opportunity, but I was worried about the reaction we would get. Because of the unknown of running a new program, live in front of my computer, that goes out to such a broad audience.” Dale realized that many parents watched Music Lab with their children, of all ages – from toddlers through high school and college students. He often performs with his wife Kate, who's the RME director of entertainment, and Ben Schwind, RME education coordinator.

“The biggest thing I could do with it was just have fun, and make sure that every day we have interaction along with a message of an opportunity to learn something, whether it’s a specific band or artist, talk about different types of musical genres, while we’re playing different songs.” He says compared to the usual school programs he and Schwind do, not having in-person interaction with students was very difficult in the beginning.

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“I soon realized that I noticed, there were more people watching after we recorded it and put it out there. And after a couple weeks of getting feedback from students and adults of all ages, I realized the impact that Music Lab was making.” He and Kate and Ben often make up their own silly lyrics to songs, and encourage feedback and suggestions from viewers. They sing songs recognizable for both kids and adults, and fun for all to take part in together. RME executive director Tyson Danner says there have been a total of over 40,000 viewers so far, from 23 states – and even London. Bret Dale is blown away at the impact the show has had, far beyond what the RME could typically do.

“So being able to take the blanket of the greater Quad-Cities and add the whole country to that, that’s pretty special. It was a big shock, knowing that people would want to invest their time with us at the River Music Experience for 30 minutes a day. That really hit home with me and made me realize how special our mission at the River Music Experience is. A perfect mix of programming content, with people who are staffed at River Music Experience, from day one to now. It’s been almost 20 years, and the RME is always ever growing and it’s always getting stronger, with a bigger footprint.” Danner says the past 10 months have been challenging, but the most important thing to RME has been, “how do we keep bringing music to our community?” Music Lab is not only a source of fun and entertainment for kids and families cooped up at home, but has also been an important educational experience that's filling a need in the community. Dale and other local musicians have filled similar needs by bringing curbside concerts to the public starting in April. Including curbside caroling over the holiday season, they did 348 concerts, reaching over 7,000 people. During the summer, they got so many requests, they sometimes had three RME staff members play at three different locations at the same time.

“Even in the face of fear and uncertainty with the pandemic, the fear and uncertainty of, can the River Music Experience make it through such times? Finding out that the answer is yes, we can come out of this stronger, and better than we were before something like the pandemic.” Dale also hosts the RME Radio Hour on WVIK, Saturdays at 6 p.m., featuring blues, soul and roots music. He andthe RME plan to continue both Music Lab and Curbside Concerts even after life gets back to normal, post-pandemic, because they serve the nonprofit’s mission. In fact, Dale says they’re just getting started.

“To be with an organization, for me, for 11 years out of its almost 20-year existence, and every year I’m able to say we’re just getting started – that’s a really special opportunity to be in.”