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.”
School Spotlight: Adventures in learning, inside and outside the classroom
Each Monday, the Wisconsin State Journal features a story about learning in Wisconsin. You can find all the School Spotlight stories from 2021 here.
The trees and the vista just beyond the school forest could be preserved under current plans for the North Side subdivision
A field trip to a Wisconsin Dells water park was cut short when a thunderstorm rolled in, giving campers another water-themed lesson.
The camp at Madison Community Montessori School in Middleton was designed to pique students' interests and explore language, math and science.
Glitter became dragon scales, and dish soap was worm guts.
Harbor launched 12 weeks of summer camps that take advantage of the athletic club and also bring in educational elements, with themes such as summer Olympics, recycling and carnival.
Madison School & Community Recreation, Madison Parks and the Madison Reading Project are bringing free, accessible recreation to the city's neighborhoods through the Mobile Madison program.
Greathead showed up at an end-of-the-year party wearing a skirt decorated with rainbows her students drew with fabric markers.
Signs on the Eagle School trail identify species through the characteristics of leaves, fruit and bark, explain why leaves change color in the fall, and discuss oak savanna restoration.
The school began in a church basement in 2005.
Children learn a new language while engaging in hands-on activities such as arts and crafts, storytelling, music and movement and dance.
Marilyn Ruffin founded the Sun Prairie BEAM Awards to shine a light on the positive examples of Black excellence and achievement in the community.
A $13,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation will help expose middle-schoolers to careers in manufacturing and technology.
The school celebrates the passage of seasons through art, music and story to strengthen a connection to the rhythms of nature.
“It’s really nice we get to go outside and do nice things for people,” said freshman James Bradley.
Keena Schroeder's cheesecakes have raise $1,000 for the Sun Prairie School District’s Hunger Hero Campaign to pay down outstanding balances for students' lunches.
“I have very few (curriculum areas) that teach reading, writing and critical thought better than hip-hop,” said social studies teacher Andy Hartman. “It lends itself to kids who typically don’t engage in schools.”
Once Monona Terrace was secured for rehearsal space, the “Percussion Extravaganza” concert was recorded, and it will be available online at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Drotzer's Polish bantam chicken earned her a grand champion award at the Jefferson County Fair, where her drake was a reserve champion.
The program combines academic and technical classroom instruction with mentored on-the-job learning.
Social workers in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District sprang into action to get essentials like toilet paper to families in need.
Edgewood Campus School teacher Kim VanBrocklin has been using brain-based learning initiatives in her teaching for nearly two decades.
“Daphne is a force to be reckoned with,” said Leah Williams, science teacher and adviser for the school's Green Team at Middleton High School.
Students were asked to grab a makeshift drum and play along or dance or do both as they watched an online video performance at home.
Olbrich's Rainforest Rhythms celebrates cultures from tropical and sub-tropical rainforest regions through dance and music.
The program serves disconnected, low-income young people ages 16 to 24 in Dane County and guides them toward self-sufficiency through mentoring, education and employment training.
A $1,115 grant from Friends of MSCR grant was used to buy winter clothing, such as snow pants and gloves, and play equipment, including sleds and tools to build igloos.
Sophia De Oliveira and brother Nickolas De Oliveira created Project Empower's Lung Model Kit to help children understand the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the Middleton High School hockey season was canceled because of COVID-19, team members built two rinks at Penni Klein Park.
In Kathy Nieber-Lathrop's “Gingko Finds Her Forever Home,” a girl who is adopted sets off on an adventure to find her Chinese tree an earthen home.