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Student Spotlight: Alice Schmitz at The Knights

This post is part of a series of posts by students who are part of our 21st Century Student Internship program. As part of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s on the UMS season.

U-M student Alice Schmitz was paired with The Knights in Summer 2017. The Knights are in Ann Arbor on November 12, 2017.


Photos: On left, a view of the Hudson River from the park next to my apartment. On right, a shot of a double rainbow taken from a subway car in Brooklyn.

While it was inevitable that I would listen to The Knights, a chamber orchestra hailing from Brooklyn, New York, as a classical bass student in college, I first learned of The Knights because of my love of the banjo. As a middle-schooler, I fell in love with bluegrass and listened to Béla Fleck’s recordings religiously. So when Béla Fleck performed a concert an hour and a half outside of my home in Minneapolis, my mom and I, of course, drove out to see him perform. He collaborated with a string quartet founded by two brothers, Eric and Colin Jacobsen, who also, as chances would have it, had recently started an orchestra called The Knights. So when I learned this May that I would be interning with The Knights, with a start date just a week away, it felt like fate. To work with an ensemble that has collaborated with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, and the rock band Dr. Dog, was beyond any of my expectations for this experience.


Photos: On left, the orchestra rehearses at the Naumburg Bandshell for its performance that evening. On right, members of The Knights perform with Lisa Loeb for a family concert at the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.

I think the picture below almost captures the essence of The Knights’ spirit that made their vision so enticing and invigorating to me. I took it during my first evening as a Knights intern, during a celebration for BLUESHIFT, a group of donors the ensemble created to allow young donors the same access to the ensemble and its creative process as other supporters. In the photo, a baby doll lies next to the remains of a barbecue while the audience listens to a Colin Jacobsen’s performance of a Schubert Sonatina, which, Colin casually mentions, would also be performed at the Tanglewood Festival later that summer alongside the legendary Immanuel Ax.

The scene, like The Knights, was the perfect intersection of the exceptional and the everyday. The Knights’ model is revolutionary because they acknowledge and embrace the fact that classical music does not belong on a pedestal, separated from its audience, but rather classical music should be folded into the fabric and beauty of the life of every member of the ensemble’s vast community of listeners. Knights coexist in both the world of Tanglewood and the Elbphilharmonie and the world of Brooklyn parks and breweries. While some ensembles performing the classical repertoire have confined themselves to a rote form, canon, and setting, The Knights easily adjust themselves to any circumstance and eagerly seek a broad range of these circumstances.


Photos: On left, a baby doll lies next to the remains of a barbecue while the audience listens to a Colin Jacobsen’s performance of a Schubert Sonatina. On right, a rehearsal for the Tanglewood performance in the same space.

The Knights’ administrative office, where I spent the majority of my internship, is located in a Brooklyn townhouse, tucked on the floor between the apartments of the two artistic directors of the orchestra, Colin and Eric Jacobsen. As an intern in a small and dynamic team of administrators, I was able to participate in virtually all facets of the work which make The Knights’ success possible.

I researched opportunities for funding, assisted at rehearsals, drafted grant proposals, and learned about the National Endowment for the Arts guidelines, all the while chatting about punk operas and jazz masses with my coworkers. I was also generously included in community engagement meetings, a post-concert celebration in Central Park, and a board meeting. The Kinghts board includes both leaders of brand-name companies and record labels and members of the orchestra. The whiteboard I sat next to at the office was a daily reminder of the ensemble’s commitment to honoring their members’ needs in this way, covered with notes on how to improve the rehearsal process and support the lives and of the musicians.


Photos: On left, lunch with The Knights office staff on the last day of my internship. On right, fellow intern Patricia and I staff the merchandise table during a performance at the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.

It is, of course, impossible to write about spending the summer as an arts intern in New York City without mentioning the city itself. In the six weeks I spent living in New York, I was able to attend more performances, exhibitions, and cultural events than I had attended in the past year. During my very first two days in the city, I watched the New York Philharmonic from the VIP section of their concert in Central Park, stumbled upon a musical in a subway station, and scored free tickets to a performance by one of my childhood idols in a tiny eyewear shop. Living in an apartment in the heart of Washington Heights, I would fall asleep to Despacito outside and wake to my apartment-mate working on material for his noise album.


Photos: On left, a musical performance at the Fulton Street Station I discovered after getting lost on the subway. On right, meeting a childhood hero, vocalist José James, after his performance at an eyewear store.

Working with The Knights in one of the most dynamic cities in the world was the most empowering and enriching experience I have ever had.  I am extremely indebted for the warmth and support I experienced as an intern in the ensemble’s office, and for this internship opportunity, without which none of this would have been possible. I cannot wait to enjoy a performance by The Knights on November 12 in Ann Arbor, this time with Avi Avital and Kinan Azmeh. Having spent hours researching and writing about this program for a grant supplement, I can promise that this concert is not one to be missed!

See The Knights on November 12, 2017.