Interviews / Music

Macy Schmidt is Orchestration’s Hottest Trailblazer

Nothing elevates a performance like the magic of the orchestra, as orchestrator Macy Schmidt will tell you. With a single flourish, you can be swept away in a sea of sonic delight. “I’ve always been so moved by the way subtle changes of timbre within an orchestra can shape an audience’s emotional experience, even when they aren’t fully conscious of it,” Macy exudes. “One of the first experiences that made me aware of the effect a great orchestration can have was going to Disney World as a child. We’ve heard these same songs over and over, and yet, when you hear them as a huge sweeping symphonic orchestration in the firework show, it just hits differently than when you hear them on a cocktail piano in a hotel. I also personally love the relationship between orchestration and a sense of musical ‘grandeur’ — we all fall in love with these old Broadway cast albums with a big sweeping sound, and I think in recent years we’ve seen Broadway orchestra sizes shrink and shrink until they’ve become referred to more often as ‘bands,’ so my personal passion for orchestration has a lot to do with the restoration of ‘grandeur’ on Broadway.” She founded The Broadway Sinfonietta as a means of both addressing disparities music and to create a space for talent to continue blossoming during the pandemic. “The Sinfonietta is an all-women and majority women-of-color orchestra and production company that I founded, beginning with our inaugural NYC-based orchestra (The Broadway Sinfonietta) in the summer of 2020 in response to a slew of issues plaguing the entertainment industry: widespread conversations about the effect of racial and gender injustice in the industry, the pandemic putting performing artists out of work, and the period of rest that Covid created for us all to really get to evaluate what we want to add to this world. The inaugural orchestra launched in October 2020, and after that, it was just off to the races — we quickly became in high demand as a recording orchestra, and as the industry began to reopen in fall 2021, we became sought after as a house band for galas, live events, brand sponsorships, etc. Now, the orchestra is entering a new era with our label partner Sony Masterworks, recording and performing original arrangements as a headlining orchestra in itself. Our first program, titled ‘Something To Say,’ debuted with Carnegie Hall Citywide last summer and is set to perform residencies around the world in the coming years. Building the Sinfonietta has really been the greatest joy of my career, and I can’t wait to see where it will go next.”

Macy’s success has been recognized by some of music’s most glittering echelons, most notably Forbes 30 Under 30 Music. “It’s been an unbelievable honor accompanied by unbelievable experiences,” she says. “The Music category has traditionally skewed very commercial, honoring pop stars and rappers and agents, so to be included as a Broadway orchestrator for my work with the Sinfonietta was particularly special. When the list was released, I don’t even think I understood the opportunities and experiences that would blossom from it — just this past year alone, I’ve gotten to travel the world representing the Sinfonietta at Forbes summits everywhere from Abu Dhabi to Botswana, and have met lifelong friends and colleagues along the way.” You can also see her in action in the poignant Broadway musical, Kimberly Akimbo. “Kimberly Akimbo is a beautiful original musical penned by the brilliant Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay Abaire, telling the story of a lonely teenage girl, Kim, who suffers from a condition that causes her to age rapidly, giving her the appearance of an elderly woman. It had its debut Off-Broadway at the Atlantic last year, at which point I was brought on by Jeanine and John Clancy to contribute Additional Orchestrations. I’ve been very vocal about the ‘closed-door’ nature of the Broadway orchestration field, so it was a gesture that meant a lot to me for veteran artists like Jeanine and Clancy to take a chance on someone new, especially on a high-profile new production. I’m deeply grateful to them for paving the way of embracing new talent. Now, the show has opened on Broadway to critical acclaim — I highly recommend grabbing a ticket!” Surprisingly, Macy is the first female orchestrator of color on Broadway. “It’s a huge honor, of course — but also a bit of a shock to process the fact that in all of Broadway’s history, the industry has failed creative women (and women of color in particular) so severely. Orchestration has historically been such a mentorship-based field, so in a way it makes sense that it took this long for women to begin to secure these roles, but it’s a disappointing statistic nonetheless. Every time I see a ‘first’ of this nature in the headlines, it’s jarring to realize that we are still in an era where these are ‘firsts.’ I hope I’ll do the honor justice by making sure that I’m far from the last.”

Her meteoric rise was catalyzed by a piece of music written directly from the heart. She had no idea that she would change the lives of countless artists in the process. “It’s absolutely surreal. ‘You’re Gonna Hear From Me’ was really the song that started all of this. It was peak Covid, the summer of 2020, during an intense racial reckoning in the Broadway industry. I’d had this arrangement in my mind for a while and always wanted to do it, and I’d recently seen Solea Pfeiffer’s star turn in Sammi Cannold’s Evita at City Center, and I was absolutely awestruck by her performance of ‘Rainbow High.’ This striking, commanding woman of color center stage, belting to ‘Christian Dior me’?! Later, once we were all in lockdown, I pulled out this chart that I’d started for fun a while back and started fleshing it out, and realized along the way that I’d written the arrangement around Solea’s voice in my head. Luckily, a cold email later, she said yes. I produced a music video with support from Broadway producers Jana Shea and Daryl Roth, hoping that the piece would be a message to the industry and, more importantly, a small way of providing jobs to women musicians while Broadway was shut down. The response was more than I ever could have dreamed, and the orchestra began working steadily on commission for brands, recordings, and live performance events. Since then we’ve signed to Sony Masterworks to record new arrangements, headlined our first live concert in NYC presented by Carnegie Call, and are gearing up to perform all over the country next year. So it’s really an honor for this particular track to be under consideration for a Grammy nomination because the roots of this orchestra and the entire movement surrounding it trace back to this one song.” Macy has become an in-demand globetrotter, sharing her gifts far and wide. “I’m excited to be recording music with Sony, touring the Sinfonietta in 2023, and am currently in the process of establishing additional orchestras based in cities around the world.” Sharing passions across communities creates the sweetest symphony.

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Macy Schmidt is Orchestration’s Hottest Trailblazer. Photo Credit (in order): Em Char and Rebecca J Michelson.

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