Zachary Schmitt: Histories of the School of Music for the Illinois Distributed Museum (F20)

Zachary Schmitt

            My own fascination with History began sitting on my grandpa’s lap and hearing stories about the world he grew up in, where it took three sets of tires to get the family to vacation at Pike’s Peak in Colorado and Great Grandpa flipped his car into the ditch to slow erosion on the family farm during a particularly heavy rainfall. My fascination grew deeper when I was exploring some local woods near my childhood home and stumbled upon an overgrown cemetery.  Instead of being scared like the rest of my young peers, I realized I only wanted to know the stories behind how it got there, why it was neglected, and if it had anything to do with the former lead smelting operation our neighborhood was built on. As I grew up, I realized the information I was being presented was never enough for my own curiosity.  I wanted to know far more about the story behind an event, place, or thing instead of simply what it was as so many of my peers seemed satisfied with. Because of this, after flirting with different fields of interest, I came back to my fascination with storytelling, and my belief that telling stories of the past drive us forward as a people and keeps us grounded with the ideas that came before us.

            I completed my internship at the Illinois Distributed Museum during the Fall of 2020 With it being 2020, this obviously means my internship was inseparable from the strain all the events that 2020 has brought the world.  But with the museum itself being online regardless of the state of the world this meant that my internship was largely unchanged from what it would’ve been with or without the effects of COVID-19. While the largest loss from the COVID-19 crisis on my internship was my ability to readily access information from many of U of I’s physical archives, it encouraged me to dig much deeper online. The largest benefit from this was that my exhibits can feature more resources that visitors looking for a deeper understanding than the general public can readily find even if I was not able to gain as much personal experience with physical archives.

            Another major positive aspect of completing my internship with the Illinois Distributive Museum was that the history of the University of Illinois is so diverse that I was able to combine my interest in music with my love of history and storytelling to focus histories within the School of Music here at Illinois. My specific studies focused on Bruno Nettl’s life and Paul Rolland’s String Project.  While I certainly relied on a substantial amount of information about their most famous accomplishments, I was able to use my own approach to ensure I could tell part of the story of these pioneers as people instead of just a list of accomplishments. The freedom and open-endedness granted to me as an intern allowed me to take a topic and ensure my voice would always be present in my work as one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic and professional career.

Paul Rolland
Bruno Nettl

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