© 2024 WNIJ and WNIU
Northern Public Radio
801 N 1st St.
DeKalb, IL 60115
Northern Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A musical director from Rockford finds solace in theater

Julia Schade showing off a mug that her father gave her.
Yvonne Boose - Screen capture from Zoom
Julia Schade showing off a mug that her father gave her.

A Rockford native is now the music director of an award winning Broadway show. She once struggled with anxiety and depression and is now helping others get to a peaceful state.

Julia Schade is the musical director of "Six the Musical" on Broadway. "Six the Musical" tells the story of the six wives of Henry VIII.

Schade’s childhood was quite melodic. She said she and three sisters didn’t watch much television, so they used records to entertain themselves.

“My mom had a lot of little 45s from like the 60s and 70s,” she said, “and she listened to Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer, and I don't know all sorts of stuff. And my dad really liked, like Chicago and Styx.”

Schade grew up in the 80s when people sported boomboxes on their shoulders. Schade’s was pink. She said radio DJs were an important part of the culture. She remembers how one Rockford DJ filled her ears with joy: Jeff Wicker from 97.5 WZOK.

“I was obsessed, like, I would like get up to listen to Jeff Wicker in the morning,” she shared. “And then I would put a little blank cassette tape into my thing and try to hit the songs. You know, record the songs when they would come on. And me and my sisters would call him like every day.”

Schade and her sisters took piano lessons and that’s when she learned how to read music. She said she was terrified of doing solo recitals. She recalled how a small student helped her when she had to perform at her senior recital.

“And she said, you know, Miss Julia, somebody told me once that if you wiggle your toes in your shoes before you go out, it'll get some of your nervous energy out,” Schade said. “So, I always would try that. I thought the little girl was brilliant.”

Schade also said her grandmother gave her Reader’s Digest compilation books that had hits from previous decades. She learned every song in the book, which helped her with sight reading.

Schade went on to study music in school and continued to refine her craft. But the joy of music couldn’t overshadow the dark cloud that hovered over the artist. She said depression started to seep into her world. She calls this mental state crippling. Schade shares how she coped.

“I went to NYU for jazz studies," she said, "and I, I tried a lot of drugs and things for you know, for a couple of years and then mostly after that, it was like marijuana.”

At the time, she didn’t think much of it but in 2018 she moved to Chicago and said she found herself reverting to her college days. She started experiencing with substances again. She moved to New York and got back on track. Then came the pandemic. She moved back to Rockford to stay with a friend and the dark cloud returned. She turned to drugs again but this time it wasn’t just marijuana. She began taking opioids.

“And in November 2020," she said, "I found myself both withdrawing from opioids and in a very severe depression, and I was alone and isolated. That is when I hurt myself, I did not want to live anymore.”

Her friend called the police and Schade spent three weeks in the hospital and another three weeks in an inpatient rehabilitation facility. This recovery happened when she was back in New York. Schade is two years clean and said she wakes up every day thinking about recovery.

She also started leaning in on a technique that she learned in the early 2000s. She said she took a class around 2012 based on a prediction from a psychic.

“And this person told me that I would be good in the healing arts," she said. "So, I thought, well, I'll just take that Reiki class and see what it's like."

She worked with a teacher from Rock Valley College. She continued her training and became a Reiki master. Schade said she also feels a sort of healing during these sessions. She says the energy moves through her body as well and she feels a boost.

Schade credits theater as an important part of her healing journey. She said being a part of a team centers her.

“That moment when the lights go off, and I could hear the actors sort of like giggling or, you know, mumbling, a little bit excited,” she said. “And the band is sort of just like, “ah” you know, that breath, and then like, bam, we're going and it's just… I don't know, I just feel part of something important, meaningful, and beautiful.”

Her goal wasn’t to be a music director. She was the associate music director for “Six” in Chicago, but the music director of that production became the music supervisor for all of the U.S. “Six” productions and Schade became the music director for the Broadway production. Schade said this position helps her with anxiety.

“Music directing is -- taught me to practice that, you know, and to not only trust my decision making, but to know that not every, it's not always just right or wrong, right,” she explained. “I mean, sometimes it's just a decision. And if it ends up not working out, you do something different.”

Schade said she hopes that “Six” continues for more years to come, but if it doesn’t, that’s OK with her. Schade explained that she is at a place where she is not afraid to not have a plan. She is satisfied with filling out the blank slate in front of her as she goes along.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.