creative:impact - Instead Of A Learning Curve, New Arts Director Tackles Flattening The Curve

May 19, 2020

Monica Swartout-Bebow in front of the Kerrytown Concert House.
Credit Kerrytown Concert House /

After 23 years of performing, producing concerts, renting studio space, and volunteering at the Kerrytown Concert House, Monica Swartout-Bebow was prepared and excited to take on a new role as executive director last summer.  Still, she expected a slight learning curve.  What she got instead was the full onslaught of COVID-19.  Monica gets on the line with "creative:impact" co-hosts Deb Polich and David Fair to talk about how, instead of you going to the Kerrytown Concert House, it’s coming to your house.  Listen here.

Deb Polich, President and CEO of the Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.


Monica Swartout-Bebow is the Artistic and Executive Director of Kerrytown Concert House, a nonprofit performing arts organization whose purpose is to support artists, music teachers, students and audience members, and that is dedicated to enriching the community through presenting diverse programming that creates unique opportunities for Southeastern Michigan’s cultural community to connect in meaningful ways. 

Monica Swartout-Bebow
Credit Monica Swartout-Bebow

As a professional mezzo soprano, she is a busy regional artist known for her versatile singing and engaging performances.  A native of Michigan, she made her professional operatic debut as Juno in the Detroit Oratorio Society’s production of Händel’s Semele, in which The Detroit News described her as “captivating.”  Her other opera credits include: Annina in La Traviata with the Dayton Opera; Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro with Michigan Opera Works; Dorabella in Così fan tutte, a performance co-produced by the Lincoln Center Institute and The Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York City; and the title role in Bizet’s Carmen with the Comic Opera Guild.

She has worked in an apprenticeship capacity with the Dayton Opera, the Toledo Opera, the Brevard Music Center, and as a studio artist with the Chautauqua Opera Company.  In 2001, she wore the hat of stage director with the Ann Arbor Opera’s production of Gianni Schicchi and was able to resume stage directing during her time as the director of opera workshop at Eastern Michigan University.

Ms. Swartout-Bebow’s orchestral concert engagements include solo appearances with the Plymouth Oratorio Society, the Rackham Symphony Choir, the Adrian Symphony Orchestra, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Grand Valley State University Orchestra, the Brevard Music Center Orchestra, the Ann Arbor Symphony, the Toledo Symphony, and the AIMS Orchestra in Graz, Austria.  While living in Chicago, Ms. Swartout-Bebow performed as an ensemble member and featured soloist with The Lakeside Singers, a professional chorale under the direction of Robert Bowker, appearing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival.  She has also performed as an ensemble member for The Detroit Symphony’s Christmas Pops series. 

Monica Swartout-Bebow
Credit Monica Swartout-Bebow

In the world of contemporary classical music, she was featured in a performance of Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light, under the direction of Suzanne Acton in Detroit, and was also featured in a premier performance of Enid Sutherland’s Daphne and Apollo Remade, under the auspices of The University of Michigan University Musical Society and the Phoenix Ensemble.  Ms. Swartout-Bebow enjoys the recital stage, and has presented solo recitals at concert houses and churches in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois.  She still performs at the Ann Arbor Kerrytown Concert House regularly as part of its annual concert series, including the Parisian Soirée, the long running Ann Arbor Festival of Song, and in Wine, Women, and Song, for which she is now also the creator and director.  Having started her career in various nightclubs and theatre venues, Ms. Swartout-Bebow’s singing extends to the genres of jazz, cabaret, and musical theatre. She has appeared in cabaret and jazz performances at regional venues including Davenport’s in Chicago, the Kerrytown Concert House, the Cadillac Club in Lansing, and at the Toledo Museum of Art.  In addition to her live appearances, she has appeared on regional jingles as well as other recordings.  She has served as a voice faculty member at Eastern Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, where she taught applied voice, diction, and opera workshop classes. She maintained a private teacher studio in Ann Arbor for nearly twenty years, and also served as private-voice-teacher-in-residence at both Huron and Saline High School.  Additionally, she is the Founder and Director of Front and Center Cabaret Works, LLC, a performing arts organization whose mission is to develop communication skills and self-confidence in high school students through the act of Cabaret performance.  Ms. Swartout-Bebow holds a Master’s Degree with Highest Honors in voice performance from The University of Michigan where she studied extensively with Martin Katz and Joshua Major, and was awarded the Joy Whitman Weinberger Award for showing outstanding potential in the field of opera.  She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her husband, John, and daughter, Delaney.

Monica Swartout-Bebow with friends.
Credit Monica Swartout-Bebow


Since opening in 1984, KCH has become an important part of the cultural fabric of the greater Ann Arbor, Southeastern Michigan, and northern Ohio area, offering year-round, rich and diverse performing arts experiences as well as monthly art exhibits to an audience that reflects a cross-section of community members.  KCH presents 100+ concerts per year with a variety of musical genres: traditional to avant garde jazz, world music, cabaret, and classical (historical early music to contemporary new music).  KCH artists, emerging and established, reflect the multi-age/multi-cultural mix of the community.  Area artists often gain new artistic experience and access to new career networks as they are invited to share the stage with artists of national stature.  Notable audience diversity is an organic outcome as KCH presents concerts featuring the distinguished musicians from the Detroit area African American community. 

Many “Live at KCH” recordings have been released over the years to the benefit of area artists.  KCH Edgefest, a 4-day avant garde jazz international festival now in its 24th year, broadens the community base as it presents international artists who bring fans from around the US and Europe.  Edgefest artists teach in-residence at a Title 1 middle school, working with 200 band students there who gain inspiration and learn out-of-box techniques and participate in the Edgefest Parade in downtown Ann Arbor. 

Area studio teachers hold classes, recitals, and special events at KCH that bring in parents and community members. Area nonprofits and community organizations hold board meetings and events.  KCH also serves area university communities as faculty present projects outside of the university setting, and students present degree recitals, debuts of new ensembles and premieres of new compositions.  Students, audiences and performers alike gain a sense of community and belonging as a result of the direct connections made in the intimate and uniquely personal House.

Live @ the 415
Credit Kerrytown Concert House /

LIVE @ THE 415

During the pandemic, the Kerrytown Concert House is hosting a series of online streaming concerts.  A new artist performs each week, including Ellen Rowe, Emmet Cohen, and Mr. B.  The concerts are free to watch, but donations are encouraged.


Kerrytown Concert House

Monica Swartout-Bebow

Live @ The 415

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at