Improvisational jazz music and adventure racing are not often spoken about in the same sentence or found to have much in common.
That is, unless you know Tim Buchholz, an associate professor of music at UW-Stevens Point campuses in Wausau and Stevens Point.
“Both require prerequisite knowledge, multi-tasking, flexibility, a willingness to make mistakes and lots of teamwork and collaboration,” said Buchholz, who has been involved in both teaching and performing improvisational vocal jazz and taking part in adventure racing for nearly 20 years.
Jazz performance is in his blood. A Stevens Point native, he grew up listening to it with his father and grandfather and played in his high school jazz ensemble. He has spent more than 20 years as a performer and educator, earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in jazz studies and jazz vocal performance. He has sung and toured around the world, won 10 DownBeat Magazine Awards for his singing and musical arrangements and released his latest album in 2018.
As a singer of improvisational jazz, Buchholz must know the music – the chords, the harmonies and rhythmic styles. He has to listen to other musicians, anticipate what’s next, adjust for mistakes and keep going forward. “When you make music together, you each have a role.”
Adventure racing, an off-road hiking, biking, paddling and orienteering challenge, has also been a part of most of his adult life. He was a collegiate national champion and has more than 65 first-place finishes in 140 races. He and his wife, Anna, became interested after watching the Eco Challenge reality show and found some races held in Wisconsin.
Races may be three hours or several days, with teams of 2-4 people given a map of checkpoints to complete along a variety of trails and waterways. Teams must plan the best route over varied terrain, how long they have to rest, what they need to eat and how to work together to reach their goals.
“At first the draw was that it was adventurous and spontaneous,” he said. “Now we are more competitive. We want to win.” The couple has been on teams that ranked first in the nation in 2016 and 2019. Buchholz is also director of the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge and president of the Wisconsin Adventure Series and the IRONBULL Board.
“In racing, you have to have the physical skills as well as know how to read a map while moving and looking for checkpoints,” he said. “You have to manage your gear, adapt for mistakes, take risks and adjust. You have to stick together as a team, because everyone has a role.”
Both activities offer challenges, said Buchholz. “They push me to my limit, mentally and physically. Both are a never-ending learning process. I’m consistently learning how to be a better improvisor and how to be a better racer and teammate. It’s constantly evolving.”
Both of his passions influence the work he does in the classroom, Buchholz said.
“I incorporate my experiences in adventure racing that have taught me to be someone who can deal with adversity when things don’t go as planned,” he said. “The elements of collaborative teamwork in both improvisation and racing apply to how I teach students in my jazz ensembles.
“I love working with students on a daily basis to challenge them to create music that both inspires and invokes positive change in our world,” said Buchholz.
He encourages others to try new things as well to keep the brain working. Learn an instrument or a foreign language, do math in your head, memorize a song or a poem, play a word puzzle or use your non-dominant hand, he suggests.
“Be inquisitive and seek other points of view,” he said. “Seek more ways to challenge yourself.”
To learn more about Buchholz’s “music and maps,” check out his recent HANK Talk at UWSP at Wausau.