Every year, the arts create a ripple effect of positive change in the St. Louis region by connecting thousands of men, women and children with meaningful arts experiences. Bill Koch is just one of those examples.

Koch’s ripple effect with the arts began 14 years ago when he made his first gift to the Arts and Education Council (A&E) through a workplace giving campaign at Edward Jones. Koch knew that with one gift to A&E, he could support dozens of arts organizations in the bi-state region. He recognized the importance of a healthy arts community to a vibrant overall region and donated regularly through the annual workplace giving campaign.

Then in August 2016, Koch discovered the direct impact the arts would have on his life. His Parkinson’s disease, something he had embraced as part of his life since the initial diagnosis 24 years ago, had accelerated its impact on his physical and social wellbeing. His speech was less understandable and he grew increasingly isolated from social activities, often limiting himself to watching television at home when he wasn’t at work. That’s when his speech therapists recommended something unexpected - singing.

“They said the best thing you can do for your speech, dictation and clarity is to join a choir. Singing is viewed as a natural way to keep the voice moving and to keep the voice box going,” explained Koch. “Without any additional medicines, singing is just a way to use what you’ve got to help treat what you’re fighting.”

By September, Koch had joined the Gateway Men’s Chorus (GMC), an A&E grantee and tenant in A&E’s Centene Center for the Arts. The group welcomed him with open arms. Koch dove head first into the weekly rehearsals, voice and theory classes and one-on-one lessons.

Then in December 2016, Koch sang for an audience for the first time at GMC’s annual holiday concert and his speech therapists, family and coworkers were there in the audience cheering him on.

Fast-forward 18 months and Koch is exceeding everyone’s expectations. “I’m bounds ahead of where I was - dictation-wise, speaking in a clear and concise way,” said Koch.

That impact on his speech turned into impact on his social wellbeing, too. “The social side of what I’ve gained from this group is huge,” he noted. “The supportive, friendly environment is a safe haven for a lot of us. It has become family.” 

Now, Koch is looking ahead to the upcoming year of rehearsals, performances and group activities with GMC and approaching his speech therapy with renewed vigor.

Koch’s ripple effect started 14 years ago with his gift to A&E and while powerful, it isn’t unique. Because of gifts like his – and yours – to A&E, stories like Koch’s happen nearly every day.

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For more stories about the ripple effect of the arts in our region, click here.

For more information about Gateway Men’s Chorus, click here.