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TJ Schmidt's Douglas Burtch: Conductor par excellence


By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of Doug Burtch

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Whether Douglas Burtch is conducting business or music, he does so with a flair.  Turns out that he is not only Business Manager of TJ Schmidt and Company, but also Founder and Conductor of the East Shore Wind Symphony.

When asked which musical instruments he plays, Burtch replied, "Piano and clarinet are my primary ones, but you come to learn them all."  He is that type of midway manager, as well.

Having worked his way through all facets of carnival life, he is knowledgeable about them all.  Back When Burtch reminisced, "When I was just a child, the fairgrounds were in the backyard of my hometown [Standish, Michigan].  I would peddle over on my bike and spend hours just watching them set up.  I was there every single day that the fair was operating.  I wPhoto By Doug Burtchould roam the midway, taking in the sights and smells, imagining myself 'running away with the carnival.'"  

"When I got to be about 12 or 13, before I could drive, I went and knocked on Mr. Ivan Arnold's office door.  That began a friendship and mentoring that has lasted through today.  When I turned 16, Ivan and Agnes Arnold's daughter Sandy gave me the opportunity to come and work at a concession on certain weekends.  So that's where I started, and I never looked back."

"It's like living a true dream.  First you imagine yourself doing something, and then you get to go out and do it.  Throughout the years, I just took on more and more responsibilities.  And when it came time to invest and purchase equipment, it was Ivan Arnold who sold me my first ride."

TJ Schmidt and Company
Sandy Arnold went on to marry Terry Schmidt, whose parents were carnival owners Sherman and Joy Schmidt.  In 2008, Sandy and Terry launched TJ Schmidt and Company.  Their years of prior experience made for much success. 
The TJ Schmidt and Company website explains:  "From 1982 until the close of the 2007 season, Terry and Sandy owned and operated a large amount of equipment with the Schmidt Amusement Carnival which was founded by Terry's parents." 

Given Doug Burtch's own years of related history, it seems only natural that he too is now an integral part of TJ Schmidt and Company.  Burtch serves as Business Manager, and works closely with Executive Director Terry Schmidt, Food Service Specialist Sandy Schmidt, and General Managers Josh and Kyle Schmidt (sons of Terry and Sandy).

Burtch added, "We've been blessed with a wonderful staff, many of whom return year after year.

We try to be as accommodating as we can, understanding that life on the road is demanding.  We therefore have Employee Appreciation parties and an Associate of the Week program."

"We travel to over 20 cities a year and have given some paid time off for employees to visit the sights of historic Michigan cities.  TJ Schmidt and Company also plays a very prominent role in its home community of Standish." 

"Terry's father, Sherman Schmidt, was Fair Manager of the Standish Fair, and that's how he got started in the business.  W. G. Wade Shows played that fair, and that's how the Schmidt family began with it.  So the Standish Fair launched the careers of the Schmidt family and myself."

Burtch continued, "Standish is the classic American small town.  Growing up there, I remember that we had a single traffic light and an old downtown district.  The County Fair was always the event of the year."

"For many years, TJ Schmidt and Company has done a fundraiser for the elementary school each spring, basically donating all the proceeds back to the PTA.  Sandy Schmidt sits on the hospital board.  Company folks are very involved in the community."

Burtch added, "During the past two years, we've made major equipment purchases and seen well over a million dollars of reinvestment in the company.  As a team, we come to the table with all our different perspectives and make such decisions together."  

"We go for a variety of classics, thrill rides, foods and games so that each event will have something for everyone.  Teenagers wants the thrills, little kids want the trains, grandmas and grandpas want to share their own childhood favorites with their families."

Making Beautiful Music Together
Burtch has found that carnival management can be quite compatible with his other great area  of expertise:  conducting orchestras and bands.  The East Shore Wind Symphony website lists Burtch as both Artistic Director and Founding Conductor.  He has also been "a frequent guest conductor with the CMU [Central Michigan University] Wind Symphony, the critically acclaimed CMU Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the Chippewa Marching Band."

Burtch is well prepared for all of these starring roles, having attained "a Master of Music Degree in Instrumental Conducting from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education from Saginaw Valley State University."  He has "conducted and taught at all levels including elementary music, middle and high school, collegiate and adult bands."

Highlights from Burtch's music career include the following:  The concert band that he directed at the Cass City Public School District not only "received superior ratings at Michigan School Band & Orchestra Association District and State Festivals," but was also "selected to perform at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida..."

It is rare that a person realizes not just one, but two of his fondest dreams.  It is also rare that such dreams fit so well together.  As any fairgoer knows, midways and music complement one another.  Music needs its venues, and midways need their "soundtracks."  

Burtch stated, "During the height of the carnival season, from early April until early October, all of us (parents, sons and myself) generally travel in one unit, along with the 25 rides, the games and the food.  At other times of the year, I travel to some music functions, and the Schmidt family travels some too."

Douglas Burtch and TJ Schmidt:  "making beautiful music together" for past, present and future generations.    

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