If you attended a music event at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Peck School of the arts in the late ’90s, it’s highly likely Josh Schmidt was there.
“I took advantage of a lot at school,” Schmidt says. “There were equally diverse situations all on campus, and I took the time to get out of my dorm room. Every recital, I was there. Every open master class, I was there. Every concert in the city that had a student discount, I did my best to make it.”
That dedication paid off for Schmidt, who came to UWM with the intention of studying piano performance. He discovered an interest composition, and studied with Yehuda Yannay, founder of the Music from Almost Yesterday concert series.
“I had a lot of one-on-one access to teachers, and on top of that I was working in the city,” he says. “I could immediately apply what I was learning in the classroom to a professional environment in places like theater or live performances. If I had gone anywhere else, I wouldn’t have gotten the attention from the professors and the integration into a professional career.”
It was that combination of academic and professional experience in a wide variety of music-related tasks that helped set the groundwork for Schmidt’s career. “In order to have stability in a career, you have to be able to do every aspect of the field,” he says. “You have to have different sets of skills to draw from: engineering, mixing, writing, contracting, conducting – applying it all to the different mediums of film, dance and theatre.”
And Schmidt was able to acquire those skills, he says, because he took advantage of everything the Peck School had to offer. “Learning music history, how to research, how to write and speak, how to construct a budget – these are all part of what I do to stay in business,” he says. “School was the place to digest all of that, to learn how to succeed and fail. There’s no fallback in the real world, but I knew I could do it.”
After graduation, Schmidt had built a significant base of professional relationships and went straight into contracting as a composer. Today he composes for organizations nationwide. “Now, I’m flying all over the country to work, and I don’t have time to sit down and absorb like I did when I was a student,” he says. “But those five years were incredibly important to who I am professionally.”