Professor of Music and Crimson Express Director Pete Schmutte’s academic career began when he was appointed director of pop and jazz group the Crimson Express at the University of Indianapolis in 1989 for a semester-long position before signing on permanently in 1994 at the request of the department chair. At first, he served only as director of the Crimson Express, but Schmutte said that he became more involved the longer he was at the university.
As director of the Crimson Express, Schmutte said that he ensured the group had its own sound and style. For example, despite being a pop and jazz vocal group, the Crimson Express does not play covers. Schmutte creates original arrangements for the group to perform.
“I enjoy writing and arranging. In my 25 years here, I have never purchased an off-the-shelf piece of music for Crimson Express,” Schmutte said. “I would find a song that I liked or the [students] would suggest a song and I would arrange that for them. Everything Crimson Express did was a custom arrangement. I probably did over a 100 or 150 tunes that I’ve arranged over the years.”
Being able to arrange the music, Schmutte said, has helped his thinking and writing stay fresh. It also allows him to arrange music based on the skills and voices in the current group that he is teaching. He said that he occasionally arranged songs to be either more vocally complex or simpler, and the ability to do so was part of his professional portfolio before he became a professor.
“Early on in my career I did a lot of jingle writing,” Schmutte said. “Much of them were for smaller, regional accounts. Occasionally, you get a big one—American Airlines, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s—but that was years and years ago. The biggest aspects of what I did as a commercial writer was called industrial theater, which is when large corporations have a huge event. We did a lot of work for auto dealers. For example, Cadillac did one. When they release their new models, they would put together a huge show and invite all their dealers to it… They were like musicals that you would see in Las Vegas. Someone has to write that.”
Department Chair and Professor of Music Elizabeth Hoegberg said that his experience improves the program.
“One of the great things, when you pick out music, is you can gauge the song based on the singers,” Hoegberg said. “But Schmutte writes the music for them. The show is built from the ground up.
Schmutte has used his experience to make strides in the department’s curriculum in addition to the Crimson Express. Because of his background in recording and music technology, Schmutte was asked if he would help create a concentration for music technology, to which he replied “Why not?” He created an approved curriculum and was then asked to teach these courses. Schmutte said that without even intending it, he had become a full-time faculty member.
Sophomore music major Spencer Douglas is a student currently enrolled in the music technology and recording curriculum. He described Schmutte as immensely cool and laid back. Douglas said that thanks to Schmutte and the curriculum he created, Douglas can visualize where his education will take him in his career.
“In the music technology and recording concentration, you do not actually start your tech classes until your sophomore year,” Douglas said. “I was coming in very unsure and then I had my first class with [Schmutte], which was Electronic Music I, and he basically opened up to the world for me. I was like, ‘Wow, I chose a really good concentration and this is what it’ll look like.’”
Schmutte will be joining the Crimson Express for the last time as its director at their next performance on April 17 in the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall at 7 p.m. He said that he expects many of his past students to join the encore performance for his last show. However, Schmutte said he is now thinking about what he will be doing in his future.
“I would like to focus, spend some of my time, continuing to write. I don’t know what style of music,” Schmutte said. “I spent my entire life writing for somebody else. It would be interesting to see if I was just writing for the sake of writing, what would it be?”
CORRECTION: Apr. 3, 2019 at 2:25 p.m. EST
A previous version of this article had the incorrect location and time for the next Crimson Express performance. It is on April 17 at 7 p.m. in the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall.
This article has since been updated with the correct information.