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New music school reflects founders' East Side roots
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SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT | WILDER DEITZ SCHOOL FOR CREATIVE MUSIC

New music school reflects founders' East Side roots

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When Wilder Deitz and Ruben Arndt were envisioning a new music school, they drew their ideal floor layout on the back of an envelope.

Then a five-month-long search of vacant spaces on the East Side led to a building at 3510 E. Washington Ave., which was the longtime home to the Wisconsin chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association. With an exterior finished in various shades of brown, the former office had little curb appeal. Photos of the place indicated it also had a dropped ceiling, and Arndt “wanted anything but,” he said.

But when they walked into the building they saw it had the exact layout they had imagined — a big box with a little square in the middle for a lobby, practice rooms along the side and one long performing hall along one edge. As they looked around, they knew it was THE place, Arndt said.

“That was the first space out of all that we toured that really felt like a place we grew up in ... The East Side that Wilder and I grew up in was not fancy. It was full of people who worked really hard and loved their families,” said Arndt, director of operations for the Wilder Deitz School for Creative Music.

“We could wrap our minds around (owning and maintaining the site),” he said. “It didn’t feel so lofty that it was all play and imaginary.”

Opening the Wilder Deitz School for Creative Music at the site this month is “as close as it gets” to living his dream, Deitz said.

Together, Deitz and Arndt envisioned a place where the “discipline of classical training could be applied to the joyful, creative music they both love.” It’s the kind of place they wish had been around when they were growing up and learning to play “creative music” instead of taking more traditional routes that were more available.

They define creative music as anything that “strives toward expression.”

They consider the school a “training gym” for musicians by offering classes, performing ensembles and a membership program, which allows members to use the space and get discounts on school offerings, such as courses and workshops. Every player who is drawn to creative music and can show a demonstrated investment on their instrument is welcome, regardless of their age or genre.

The school was designed to provide a musicianship community and feature courses, ensembles and private lessons to members and nonmembers. The performance space allows ensembles to perform at the school.

The first day for lessons, classes and ensembles was Sept. 13.

Owen Reinders, a senior at East High School, has been taking piano lessons from Deitz for several years at the teacher’s house. Reinders said his lessons are more “learning about music through the piano.”

He has a membership now at the school and likes that it is a dedicated space designed just for music, which is motivating.

“I can go in whenever I want and play with whoever I want. I can use the practice rooms,” Reinders said. “It’s just like a membership to the gym. It is open for you to go in and just hang out with whoever is there ... There’s a bunch of pianos there, there’s more space and there are more musicians around.”

Carrie Hinterthuer, who takes piano lessons from Wilder as do her daughters — seventh-grader Brynn and fifth-grader Maggie — said the new school is handy when they come to their individual lessons together.

“My daughters have been using the practice rooms when one of us is taking lesson,” she said. “They can go from their lesson and be kind of excited about what they are learning and go to a practice room and work on it.”

Deitz, who serves as the creative director, said the space is well insulated.

“You can go in the performance space and close the door and you don’t hear a peep (despite people playing music in another room),” he said.

Deitz, who plays piano at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ of Madison, first learned music on tour with his father, local roots musician Ritt Deitz. Later the younger Deitz was under the mentorship of Richard Davis, a legendary jazz bassist who taught in the UW-Madison School of Music and started a Black Music Ensemble there.

With the blessing and mentorship of Davis, Deitz started a Black Music Ensemble at his alma mater, East High School. That’s how he met Arndt, another East grad who started a Black Music Ensemble at La Follette High School.

Arndt, a pianist, also learned music by an unconventional route, eschewing lessons for jam sessions and leading worship music in church. He currently is a general music teacher at East, worship director at Resurrection Presbyterian Church of Madison and worship leader at Bread of Life Anglican Church of Madison, which was started by his father, Matt Arndt, who is the pastor there.

James Fishman-Morren auditioned with his guitar for the school’s String Band Ensemble a week ago, which was the first time he saw the place.

“I wanted to be in a really focused group playing (American roots) music,” he said. “It’s a nice, intimate space.”

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Each Monday, the Wisconsin State Journal features a story about learning in Wisconsin. You can find all the School Spotlight stories from 2021 here. 

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