Lifelong musicians Wilder Deitz and Ruben Arndt have long envisioned a place where the discipline of classical training could be applied to the joyful, creative music they both love. This summer, the duo opened the Wilder Deitz School for Creative Music, a brand-new, innovative musicianship community on Madison’s east side that will host a Fall Open House on Friday, Aug. 27, 5-9 p.m.
Deitz first learned music on tour with his father, local roots musician Ritt Deitz, and later under the mentorship of jazz great Richard Davis.
“With this school, we want to bring the excellence that we found with Richard Davis and his teaching and the tradition that he comes from to the people of Madison,” Deitz tells Madison365.
Deitz says that he grew up playing what he now calls “creative music.”
“I learned it from my dad going out around the midwest on tour with him when I was 8-12 years old playing drums, keyboards and bass and singing harmonies. I never really let anybody else teach me,” Deitz remembers. “I was always so intent on leading bands and playing with my peers and learning just by doing … until I got to the University of Wisconsin where I met Professor Richard Davis, who I immediately recognized would be the next person to teach me because he is such an incredible teacher, an incredible musician and incredible man.”
As hard-headed as Deitz had been before, he immediately softened up to Davis, who was then the professor of music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I knew this was somebody that I really wanted to mentor me,” he remembers.
Deitz became part of Davis’s Black Music Ensemble his freshman year of college and it inspired him to start the Black Music Ensemble at Madison East. “Right away, that music entrepreneurship spirit that I pursued transformed under Richard into starting the Black Music Ensemble in high school,” he says.
Between performing engagements, Deitz started the East High School Black Music Ensemble in 2014 and started teaching creative music. He would soon meet Arndt, his future business partner. Arndt, a pianist, helped Deitz take over the Black Music Ensemble university program from Davis when he retired in 2016. Arndt also started the Madison La Follette Black Music Ensemble program to complement the one at East High School.
Years later, the two came up with the idea to start their own school of creative music.
“Ruben and I just enjoyed our collaboration so much that we just decided that we want to do this all the time. We want this to be our job,” Deitz says. “What we were seeing in that program was a passing on of the educational musical legacy of Professor Davis, who would be the first to state that he is passing on the musical legacy of his mentors.
“We just wanted a space where this could happen all the time and that’s where the idea for this school came up,” he says. “It’s been two years since we’ve had the idea and it’s been a lot of hard work, but now we have our space and it’s really rolling.”
The space is at 3510 E. Washington, two doors from the Access Community Health Center and right next to La Taguara, a popular eastside Venezuelan restaurant.
“We were looking for an ideal space with a big lobby and practice rooms and a performing hall along one side,” Arndt says. “From January through May, we spent those months searching and searching all around the east side of Madison for space. Wilder convinced me to check out this building and I was dragging my feet because I had driven past this building my whole life and it was always the Wisconsin Physical Therapy Association [APTA Wisconsin].
“We walked in and what did we find? 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,” adds Arndt, who is now the director of operations for the Wilder Deitz School for Creative Music. “It’s been wonderful.”
Arndt and Wilder had the placed painted and furnished and moved four pianos there. They’ve been there since mid-June.
“It’s really been a joy creating the musical workshop jam clubhouse that we always dreamed of having when we were students,” Arndt says.
The Wilder Deitz School for Creative Music is a musicianship community where creative players can hone their craft. Like a “training gym” for musicians, Dietz describes it, with the school offering classes, performing ensembles, and a unique membership program.
The Fall Open House on Friday, Aug. 27, will be a chance for musicians and community members to come and check out the place and meet the staff.
“It’s been awesome to see the times when we have music happening at a high level in my office, Ruben is working next door on music in his office and on the other side there are students working some songs out and then across the lobby there are people in the performance space and the practice space over there,” Deitz says. “The house is full of music, at that point, and it is really, really cool. We can’t wait for it to be our daily experience here.”
Inclusiveness and accessibility will be a very important priority for the organization as it looks to grow.
“It’s important to have people from a variety of backgrounds exposed to music and we want to make sure this is as accessible as possible.,” Deitz says. ”
“Diversity and inclusion are great on their own but they are also a sign that other aspects of the teaching and the business are being done well,” he adds. “I think that was very much the case with the Black Music Ensemble program and we hope to see that with the school.”
The Wilder Deitz School for Creative Music’s Fall Open House will take place on Friday, Aug. 27, 5 p.m., at 3510 E Washington Ave in Madison. Light refreshments will be served.