In memory of John Austin Butsch

April 11, 2011
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There aren't words, of course.

Last Friday, I attended IU Opera's world premiere of "Vincent." In its final moments, I was struck by the obvious notion of how the death of an artist takes with it more then the loss of a life. Also lost are the things that artist would have created.

Shortly after returning home, I learned of the murder of John Austin Butsch.

I did not know Butsch well, but I knew of his work as musical director for Bobdirex productions at the Athenaeum (including the delightful "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" last summer). And I appreciated the generosity, care and talent he brought to last September's IBJ Arts Night event at the International School.

More than that, though, I knew that his work had impacted the lives of many theater artists in Indy.

There was a lot I didn't know of, including Butsch's piano education as a Cincinnati College-Conservatory Corbett Scholar, his Aspen Music Festival win, his composing for Time-Warner and ABC, and his stage time with the likes of Tina Turner, Tony Bennett, the Pointer Sisters, and Burt Bacharach. We in Indy only saw the latest of the music he created in his 59 years.

As details surfaced of the horrifying crime, one glimmer of light appeared. The latest project that Butsch was working on with creative partner Bob Harbin will be going forward.

In an announcement of the cast for Bobdirex's upcoming production of "Camp Rock," Harbin noted: "It is also with great sadness that I share news that some of you may not know. Our Musical Director and my close friend, John Austin Butsch, was taken from us Thursday last. ... We will persevere ... we are mighty, and we will put on a show that would make John proud."

May his memory be a blessing. May his music be heard. May his family and friends find comfort as they mourn both the man and the future work that has been taken from us.

Your thoughts?

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  • So sad
    This world has lost a genius...and I do not use that term lightly. John was, in my opinion, one of the most musically talented individuals ever. From 1995 until last Thursday, we had the opportunity to share many laughs, many onstage moments, and a multitude of wonderful musical moments. His talents never ceased to amaze me...whether it was sitting down and sightreading a piece of music like he had been practicing for weeks, or listening to a song on the radio and sitting down to play it perfectly note for note.

    The arts world is at a loss, John, but the music in heaven will now definitely be sweeter.

    Rest in peace.
  • A loss, indeed.
    I would like to echo Scott's sentiments. John really was a true musical genius whose talents and demeanor brought joy and laughter to many theatre-folk in Indianapolis - professionals and volunteers alike. Speaking as a fellow musician, rarely does one have the chance to work with such a graceful master. It should also be noted that John had a great interest in fostering young talent. He had influence on many performers who have gone on to successful careers because of that. I am glad to see that Bob Harbin plans to go forward with the youth production this summer. John would have wanted that.

    Thanks for posting this memorial, Lou. We have lost a fellow artist and a lovely human being. He will be missed.
  • From John's youngest sister
    John (My brother) was also accepted to Julliard, but chose not to attend, instead moving to San Francisco.

    Among the "celebrity" names you've mentioned above, he also played with Martha and the Vandellas.

    Oh, and with Angels of Light musical theatre group in San Francisco, as well as did music for Broad Ripple Playhouse (don't know if it's still in existence). Also with Sylvester, a disco recording star back in the 80s. With various members of the Los Angeles renown AME Church choir. There are lots more.

    He also composed music ranging from pop to R&B, to show tunes, to jazz, to movie scores, to classical, to neo-classical, etc.

    His accomplishments are almost too many to list in a page or two.
  • A loss Indeed
    I grew up with the Butsch family and remember John as a loving, kind and sensitive human being. He was talented beyond description. His sad and tragic death will leave a void in our community.

    May he rest in peace.
  • Witty John
    As stated by Scott and Brent above, John was brilliantly talented to be sure. During "Forum," Bob Harbin privately and publicly had nothing but glowing praise and admiration for John.

    I also relish what a wicked, dry sense of humor he had. With John, you had to pay attention to the quiet comments he made or the brief musical phrases he played to comment on whatever was going on.

    Prayers to John's family. He will be missed.
  • Prodigy to Genius
    John was recognized in his teens by Van Cliburn, who remarked that he had to have been a child prodigy turned teenage genius. And that he was until the day he died.
  • Brilliant Pianist
    I worked with John for several years at Raleigh's Dinner Theatre in the mid-nineties and then again in both of the long runs of "Menopause The Musical" at ACT. John was funny and brilliant and eccentric and kind. He could play anything, follow a singer's lead and lead a singer through his or her mistakes and out the other side to safety. He was a wonderful friend and a humble, sweet man. He mentored both of my daughters and helped them grow as performers. This monster stole someone truly amazing from us, but he cannot touch our memories. Play on, John!
  • Shocked and so Sad
    I loved working with John--he was a musical genius who had worked with some of the best, but he never EVER made those of us who were dancers (and really not singers) feel unworthy or lesser than or anything else negative! He was never anything other than kind to me, plus, as Paul said, his comments and asides were truly hilarious! I was shocked to hear of his murder, and, more than anything, so, so sad. To say he will be missed is a huge understatement.
  • val
    My prayers are for you and your family! I cleaned John's place a couple of years back and used to clean for Gloria! You are all in my prayers!
  • A Musical Loss for Indy
    I was personally shocked by this terrible murder last week. I knew John as a fellow musician, friend, and he was always kind to me and shared piano oppurtunities/gigs. I have always aimed to reach his level of musical mastery, especially with theatre/showtune music. He never ceased to amaze me with his abilities. Indy has suffered a major loss and many people might not have realized from a musical point of view, how brilliant this man really was. I agree that he will continue to make music and that monster who ended his life will never be in that place. We were all lucky to experience his talents. Best Regards.
  • Stunned and Shocked
    I am just now learning of this tragic loss and echo the sentiments shared earlier regarding such a talented, giving, and wonderful human being. I had the pleasure of attending some of John's performances at the Athenaeum and the level of his artistry was quite evident in every note he played. Indianapolis' entire community mourns his loss and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
  • A Great Loss
    This is one of those times in life when we question why bad things happen to good people, isn't it? What a loss for our musical community this will be. John's mom goes to church where I go and she has always beamed with pride over what John has been able to do with his enormous natural talents. My heart goes out to her over the loss of her beloved son. There will always be a missing piece in Indianapolis theater, as a result of this senseless and savage murder.
  • Terrible Loss
    I had the privilege of covering theater in Indianapolis when John Austin Butsch returned from his world travels to enrich the musical theater world of his hometown. He was quiet, reserved, kind, witty and never tried to outshine the people with whom he worked or the shows he was accompanying. He made everything he touched a little better. Thanks Lou for a touching column and all the comment writers for their lovely words. Having been out of town and then recovering from a pinched nerve, I only today saw the obituary in the Indianapolis Star. I am shocked and saddened. The city and its music and theater communities have suffered a great loss.

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