Dare I say, that college is not the only stepping stone into a career; particularly a career in the arts? I know, I know….you need a plan B if you want to eat. “Un-Block The Music” begs to differ. As a journalist interviewing all kinds of creatives (and being one myself), I have heard numerous times, and I wholeheartedly agree, that you shouldn’t be an artist if you can see yourself doing something else. Today’s woman spotlight, Macy Schmidt, most definitely adheres to “Un-Block’s” belief. She is a music director, orchestrator and copyist and she is in her 20s.
Many careers exist in music, and often you have to find a mentor to help explore those jobs you might not know exist. Macy’s love of music theory may not have been all that conventional, but it was the skill that has led her to Tina Turner, The Musical on Broadway. But, that’s not all. She recently worked on She Persisted, the children’s musical based on Chelsea Clinton’s book, and she has made a true crossover into pop with Angela Sclafani’s Passion Project: Love Songs From Women To Their Work.
How could “Un-Block the Music” not connect to Macy? Not only is she an enthusiastic young woman, but she got her “theater” calling from Disney. If you know me at all, you know that I am obsessed with Disney. Anyway, she said, “Disney taught me Broadway with the full cartoon movies and their musical theaterisms And, going to Disney World as a child “taught me things like suspension of disbelief and storytelling through music.”
Macy’s family is not at all musically inclined, so she did not start out on her musical path until she was about 16 years old. “I had an incredible choir teacher whose nurturing was game changing for me. I started self- teaching on piano and began learning music theory which was my first love in music! I became obsessive about sheet music, and I would practice piano 6 hours a day!” While Macy said she wasn’t consciously thinking of music as a profession, some part of her must have known there was a path there, and she knew she had to play catch up since most pianists start at age 4!
Macy went to The University of Florida on an opera scholarship. Ironically, she really doesn’t like singing, but she had a scholarship. “After one semester I found in the catalog there was a music theory degree…and my professors said it was not active… ‘No one has taken that degree in 20 years!’” Well, Macy studied it anyway, and she loved it!
While Macy said she stayed away from musical theater productions in high school because parts were based more on politics than talent, she did get involved when she attended University of Florida. “I was approached by the musical theater department about student run musicals. They said, ‘we don’t have a lot of musical director people…..do you play piano? You must be qualified to be a musical director!” I wasn’t,” she laughed. “But, being a freshman in college was my safety net if I messed up. I immersed myself and learned a lot. As I faced the challenges, I found that this was a job I could do in the real world.”
While in school, Macy realized traditional study was just not for her. She wanted to go to New York. “I needed an internship that paid which narrowed down the field.” She came to new York and met one of “Un-Block The Music”’s favorite people, Jennifer Ashely Tepper (Be More Chill) https://unblockthemusic.blog/2018/05/03/jennifer-ashley-tepper-do-what-you-love-and-do-it-very-loudly/. Jennifer is a producer, a theater historian and also the Creative and Programming Director at Feinstein’s/54 Below, premier supper club in New York City. Macy said, “We became friends, and she was the first one that gave me a paid job in New York. She said, ‘be my intern. Let me set you up so that you can get a job. You will meet a bunch of music directors.’ I knew I wanted to get into her orbit.”
While she was getting mentored by professionals in New York, Macy continued with online classes. She said, “ in college you learn selective things. At least in my college, there was nobody on staff to lead me to a career in making sheet music. When I found out you can make a living at making sheet music for Broadway shows…my world exploded!” Even if college is still a chosen path, Macy strongly suggests finding a mentor in the field you want to pursue. Sometimes taking a gap year can help. Macy said, she didn’t know how many music jobs existed before coming to New York. “There is a music team on Tina. There are 10 different music roles!”
While Macy’s experiences can teach both men and women, she is a strong advocate for women. In addition to Jennifer, another of her important mentors, she said, has been MK Lawson, director of She Persisted. The show was still running at the time of the Coronavirus shutdown. The story follows fourth-grader Naomi’s field trip to a Women’s History Museum which turns into a time travel adventure where she encounters inspirational women overcoming barriers and making waves. “It was lovely to work on. There was the most beautiful energy,” Macy said.
A year ago, Macy was also introduced to Angela Sclafani, a composer that crosses over the theater and pop world. “She was looking for a female orchestrator to help craft this new piece, Passion Project, which is a song cycle of 12 women singing to their great loves…not romantic loves…but career loves. An aviator sings to her airplane, an astronomer to her comet, and most appropriately now, Katherine Hannan to her nurses. Un-Block The Music didn’t know Katherine’s story, so I googled. She was a nurse who battled the Pandemic of 1918. Check out Wicked’s Hannah Corneau’s version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BI9Gglsr8U. “That was my first crossover into pop music, but technically it is right in the middle of theater and pop because it is storytelling. My heart is in this work. It’s the most collaborative relationship I have ever had with a composer.”
This brings us back to Tina. How did Macy get the role as Music Assistant? She sent a cold e-mail to Nick Skilbeck, the music supervisor, when she heard that the show would be transferring from London to New York. He responded to her email right away. “He happened to be in New York, we met for coffee and he hired me,” she said. “And, he has become one of the most meaningful mentors in my life!”
With all of this already on her plate, what is Macy’s next goal? To talk about stepping stones for jobs such as assistant orchestrator, she said. Students need to know about musical careers and how to get there. Yes!!!