Minisode: Music in Unexpected Places with Allison Schweitzer

Music has always been a medium that brings people together. With all of its varieties and genres, music offers something for everyone. Today, in our first ever mini-episode, we’re talking with musician, entrepreneur, and conductor Allison Schweitzer on how she’s bringing people together through her new project Wisconsin Music Ventures. 

Guest Appearances

Allison Schweitzer is a conductor, private instructor, and lifelong musician who plays both the piano and the french horn. She has been teaching private piano and horn lessons since 2008 where she enjoys encouraging young people to reach their full potential while supporting balance with academics, athletics, other extracurriculars, and community involvement. 

This year, she launched two new projects, Music Biz and Banter for local musicians and Wisconsin Music Ventures to highlight musicians and composers. She is also an alumna of our Master of Church Music program. Learn more about Allison Schweitzer here. 

About Wisconsin Music Ventures

Wisconsin Music Ventures (WMV) is a program led by Allison Schweitzer designed to highlight local musicians and composers in distinctively Wisconsin settings. In pairing these unusual settings with musical experiences like brass quintets, cellists, mandolinists, and more, WMV provides musical and educational experiences for the public that might otherwise be inaccessible. Learn more about Wisconsin Music Ventures here

This weekend, WMV will be hosting an event right here at Concordia University Mequon. Come join us on October 27 from 2:00—3:30 for an afternoon of Americana featured a guitarist and a mandolinist on our bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. In the event of rain or cold temperatures, the event will be moved indoors to the chapel. Learn more about the event here.

What’s Your Music Story?

What role does music play in your own life? Is there an experience that stands out to you? We’d love to hear from you. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share your feedback on music or this episode.

Episode transcript

Allison Schweitzer: It’s been really cool setting up these performance experiences because I’ve seen the musicians play and the crowds that kind of you know stumble upon at these events; they’re just these random people who just happen to be at these locations on a particular day. They’re coming together around this music and in some cases, it’s people who would have nothing else in common. In some cases, it’s been people with language barriers. The music is drawing such a diverse audience that you know nothing else could really appeal to that way and it is really that universal language that is a connector. I just don’t know how else you can imitate that then by the arts so it’s just such an important value and we have to keep pushing it. I’m definitely doing my job.

ANGELINA: Hi friends. Welcome back to the Living Uncommon podcast. This is Angelina, and I am flying solo today. So back over the summer when we were brainstorming season two of the podcast, we talked about trying mini episodes. So many of our conversations go quite long and while we enjoy that format we also wanted to try something new. So I am super excited to bring you our very first mini-episode today.

A few days ago I sat down with local musician and entrepreneur Allison Schweitzer to hear a little bit more about her story and also learn about her new project that she just launched this past summer.  She is a lifelong musician who plays both the piano and the French horn. She’s also a private instructor and a conductor.

This past summer she launched Wisconsin Music Ventures to highlight other local musicians and composers in distinctively Wisconsin settings which is really, really cool because a lot of times if you want to hear this type of music you have to go to a concert hall or you have to pay a lot of money for a ticket. What she’s doing is taking something like a brass quintet and putting that group outside in a setting like a county park and she’s making it free and inviting the public to come and experience this music to bring people together who might not otherwise have connected or might not otherwise have ever gotten exposure to this kind of music.

She also has an upcoming event right here at Concordia University in Mequon. She’s bringing a guitarist and a mandolinist to our bluff which overlooks Lake Michigan. She’s going to be holding that event on October 27  from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. so we wanted to get this conversation out for you guys before that event so you could learn a little bit more about Allison, about what she’s doing with Wisconsin Music Ventures, and the response that she’s gotten so far from the events that she’s already held. So, let’s listen in.

ANGELINA: If you want to just kind of start by just giving me a little bit of your background, how you got into music, what instruments you play, and then what your path was like getting to where you are today with Wisconsin Music Ventures.

ALLISON: Sure I have been a musician for a long time. I started taking piano lessons when I was in third grade. My third grade teacher noticed that I was playing around on her piano in the classroom quite a bit and then just decided to direct me to a teacher who could instruct me the proper way. So I did that for a number of years and then along the way I picked up French horn as well. So those are my two main instruments and continue to be.  And I went on to study both at a higher level. I also eventually ended up also studying conducting here at Concordia University through the Master of Church Music program.

I definitely knew that music was my scene, and I knew I had a talent for it. I didn’t quite have any real other topic that I was really interested in and that is definitely where the passion was. It took me a while to really figure out my niche in music, and I guess that’s really why ultimately I ended up starting my own project—my own business. I have tried so many different parts, different careers in music: arts administration, church music—which I do like and continue to do—and conducting and playing. But I really like the business angle and I really like promoting and I like working with other musicians. And it turns out just starting your own business kind of gives you the option to put it all together so that’s that’s kind of what’s led to Wisconsin Music Ventures.

ANGELINA: And how long have you been doing Wisconsin Music Ventures?

ALLISON: I just started it this last summer in July. So that was the very first performance and I think I’ve had about eight or nine performances now throughout the area—a few each month, and I continue to try and have that many each month. Some of them are more family-based, more educational-based to kind of build off of my studio of private teaching. I like to keep a focus on music education at some of these but some of them are just performances just to have musicians out in fun, unexpected places.

There is an element of music education in that really as well where if you have a saxophonist out on the beach at Grant Park in South Milwaukee to be discovered by people—that can be a real education moment because people who would not necessarily be listening to that music, especially this really cool original music that he’s put together, suddenly find themselves enjoying it and wondering how they can find out more and learn more about that that style and about saxophone music. That’s part of the fun that I’ve been able to put together, you know, as you’re putting these events together and you’re there and you’re seeing people interact with this music and with the unexpected locations.

ANGELINA: Have you gotten much feedback from people who are just you know there to participate or engage in that? What have you been hearing from people?

ALLISON: I’ve gotten some really great feedback. Overall people have really enjoyed it. That’s been the real joy about it—the unexpected locations. I’ve had musicians, as it’s been nice out, along bike paths, along trails.

I had to have one relocated recently because of weather and I relocated into Boelter Test Kitchen. I shouldn’t try and quote what they what they sell—it’s basically kitchenware products,  They have an event room where they have a Test Kitchen and they were kind enough to let us use their space for a concert when we’ve got rained out of our option outside. So those people in that store all of a sudden came across the music of a string quartet that was playing like pop music. It’s really fun—the discovery of it has been really cool. The people who are there for the performances know about it in advance; they have really enjoyed it of course too, but they also enjoy watching other people discovering it.

Everyone has wanted to learn more about it. It’s been fun to promote musicians who play original music—that’s been a big goal of mine with this—or play music maybe that doesn’t get out there as much as the standard, typical cover band kind of stuff that you might expect to hear in the area so that’s been another another fun part about planning these.

ANGELINA: When you think about making this type of music available for free to the general public, what was your motivation behind doing that?

ALLISON: I wanted to make sure it was accessible to anyone initially and so that it’s not exclusive feeling. There are some events that I do that are bigger. Like I’m doing one this weekend that has a lot more involved to it and there is a charge. But most of them are not and so it’s a patron based thing. They’re people who do believe in getting the music out there for free and you know providing that to the general public, educational events to the public, and they help support that businesses and individuals. It’s just getting that exposure for the musicians. Getting the public interested in these musicians is really important to me and to those patrons that I’ve been working with.

I was recently at Pike Lake State Park in the Hartford area and there were a bunch of people there just camping for the weekend. And they got to discover an Aretha Franklin cover band that was there with me that weekend. It was just really fun for them, and it was a blast. We had a great crowd that time and in that area they’re not used to hearing a lot of like R&B and jazz; it doesn’t quite get out in the more country areas and they just loved it and had a blast. And when would they typically come across that, especially in a live performance? It was just so much fun and people were dancing.

ANGELINA: One other thing that I kind of wanted to ask you about is sometimes when you think about schools especially when something has to be cut oftentimes it’s art or music programs that are the first to go. We’re almost, and this is like going into an extreme, but we’re almost taught that it’s a frivolous thing; it’s nice to have it but it’s not necessary for human existence. As a musician and an artist yourself how would you respond to that? I mean I think just the way that you’re living your life and the things that you’re doing show the importance of art and music. But for someone who may have said that for my existence as a human or even for my existence as a Christian, I don’t need music. What would you say to them?

ALLISON: Man yeah, I mean you need some creative outlet of some sort and you know right now STEM programs are really big and so a lot of arts programs are kind of going by the wayside because STEM is being built up which is great—that’s a fantastic field to get into and very lucrative so I understand why. But yeah you need a creative outlet and there is work in music and in the arts—it may be tougher to find, it may be more competitive, but you can actually be a little bit more entrepreneurial about it and really make your own way if you choose to. I know a number of people doing that and it is vastly important.

It’s been really cool setting up these performance experiences because I’ve seen the musicians play and the crowds that kind of you know stumble upon at these events; they’re just these random people who just happen to be at these locations on a particular day. They’re coming together around this music and in some cases it’s people who would have nothing else in common. In some cases it’s been people with language barriers. The music is drawing such a diverse audience that you know nothing else could really appeal to that way and it is really that universal language that is a connector. I just don’t know how else you can imitate that then by the arts so it’s just such an important value and we have to keep pushing it. I’m definitely doing my job.

ANGELINA: Kind of going off of that—in an earlier conversation we talked about how sometimes a friend or a family member might say, “Can you come play at this? Can you do this?” And they’re just like, “Oh you’re family or you’re my friend so you’ll do it for free, right?” And that happens beyond just music. It happens with a lot of different types of artists where you’re almost expected to do your craft for free. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of honoring your craft? Like for you, you’ve had years and years of education and you’ve poured yourself, you’ve invested yourself monetarily, and it’s expensive to keep up your instrument and it’s a lot of practice, so can you talk about how, for someone who’s never really understood the value of a musician?

ALLISON: Yeah absolutely. I like to say on my on my website for Wisconsin Music Ventures. . . I have a musician advocacy section because I like to make sure that everyone understands the value of musicians. There are so many places and people that expect us to to come and play for free or for quote-unquote great exposure, and we just get so tired of that.

We have been working on performing and honing in on our craft for longer than anyone else has been doing their job most likely, and it is so much work and it’s so much preparation. To prepare a set of music for an hour and to really find that right set for the right audience, to make sure it’s appropriate for that concert series or maybe even for the weather that day, or you might have to have a different instrument for that climate—there are so many things that go into this and often there are many rehearsals and practices beforehand. It’s hours of work, hours and hours, and people only think of that one performance hour as what they’re actually paying for but it’s really a lot more that goes into it than that.

I really like to ensure that the musicians that I’m scheduling and promoting for Wisconsin Music Ventures are paid appropriately which is why I have the patron program supporting this because you just have to make sure to appreciate and support musicians. That’s just a no-brainer for me. I’ve gotten tired of being asked to play for things for friends and family for free. I’ll do it if it’s really important for family, of course, but you have to have your limits so that you’re not taken advantage of. So please, please pay your musicians in your life and artists. They work really, really hard.

ANGELINA: And one cannot exist on cans of soup.

ALLISON: Right, right or exposure.

ANGELINA: Yes and they’ll say that as if they’re doing you a favor.

ALLISON: Right, yeah.

ANGELINA: So for someone who you know maybe has never had exposure to this type of music or maybe is getting into music for the first time, whether they’re interested in playing or just learning about it, do you have some resources or suggestions that you would make for someone who just wants to learn more besides coming to Wisconsin Music Ventures?

ALLISON: You know I think finding a good mentor is always a good thing, a good teacher, mentor who can help guide you and answer questions for you.

Being very patient and persistent is always important. There’s always a lot of frustrating points along the way. As a musician, you’ll hear people, you’ll be in concerts hearing people who play better than you and it’s easy to get discouraged. You won’t make money right away if that’s what your intention is. It’s a long haul but it is possible. Again finding mentors you know to work with—that’s been really beneficial in my life.

Seeking out resources such as podcasts. There are a lot of great music podcasts, music business podcast, websites that have a lot of great study materials on them. There are a lot of free resources out there right now and there didn’t used to be that so there’s so many possibilities. YouTube has lots of great recordings on it. There’s just so much available now to study with that. You can just get it for free but you know I honestly think the mentorship is a really big piece to the puzzle and I would recommend that to anyone starting off yeah.

ANGELINA: Is there anything else that you want to share either about Wisconsin Music Ventures or yourself or music in general.

ALLISON: Yeah I have that event coming up here on October 27 with the bluegrass Americana musicians. Wisconsin Music Ventures is yeah my goal is to pair Wisconsin musicians specifically. you know I’ve actually gotten some requests already from non-Wisconsin musicians to play here with me which is great, I love that word is getting out about it, but I really want to pursue Wisconsin-based musicians or composers. That’s the other caveat. If anyone out there has any suggestions for either locations or musicians, I’m glad to take more.

I’m trying to start expanding outside of the Milwaukee area a little bit now, and I’m looking for some recommendations so I’d love to learn more about what other people have to suggest for me.

ANGELINA: And we will have all of Allison’s information in the show notes so if you have any ideas or suggestions or want to get in touch with her to learn more about what she’s doing, you can find that information there.

ALLISON: Thank you so much.

ANGELINA: Thank you!

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