Guided by his passion for music and guitar, sophomore Zack Schuster explores both creativity and structure in how he practices and lives
A faint vibration can be felt through the light blue wood of the porch. Through the front door and into the house echo the sounds of an electric guitar and laughter. The parents know the drill: stay out of the basement and away from the music. The sound intensifies with every step down the stairs. Loud ideas and lyrics are being thrown around, and variations of chord riffs are scrambling to keep up with every new lick. It’s a normal practice day for sophomore Zack Schuster and his band, the Cymbalix.
Music is a passion that makes up a large portion of Schuster’s personality, but the dynamic combination of improvisation and hard work are really what come together through his talents. Many friends describe him as someone who is crazy and always thinking of the next best joke to say or do, but what is often underneath that is his serious, determined side.
As a sophomore, Schuster is a part of three different bands, two rock based and one jazz based, and has already obtained experience in song writing and performing at local gigs across the city. Needless to say, he is serious about music.
One of his rock bands includes other Minnehaha sophomores Peter Carlen, Lucas DiBlasi, Noah Bauer and JD Schwab.
“We were at Lucas’ house, and somebody had a guitar and started messing around with it and it just happened,” Bauer said. “A week later, our [band teacher Ryan] Larson told us we had the pops concert coming up and we could play together if we wanted, so we did.”
The group dynamic is one of free play and love for music, as there isn’t really a set leader of the group. In fact, as of now, the group remains nameless.
“We’re commonly known as the sophomore boy band, and soon to be known as the junior boy band,” DiBlasi laughed.
As well as the Minnehaha band, Schuster also practices and performs with another rock band called Cymbalix, which he created with friends from his previous middle school.
The members of the band, sophomores Asher Bernick-Roehr, Joe Heyman, Jack Branby, Owen McCready and Schuster, all decided on a name that followed a trend set by one of their inspirations, the Beatles.
Cymbalix has more experience with performances and song writing, as they have performed at coffee shops, fundraisers, and even the State Fair.
Schuster’s third, jazz-based band is less intense and simply holds weekly practices at the Walker West Center.
There is one clear connection between rock and jazz: improvisation. Schuster explains how he is more likely to enjoy playing something when he isn’t just reading notes.
“Especially in music, I hate when it’s overly constructed,” Schuster said. “I was in [the school] band, and I used to play saxophone, and I really liked playing the instrument, but I didn’t like how much I had to play the specific notes over and over. When I’m playing guitar, there are always variations you can play and different things you can experiment with. The style of music is better for me… [and] when I could finally start being a part of that community, it was really fun for me. I’m definitely not rule-oriented; I don’t like things to be completely planned out, in any part of my life. I just go with the flow, and with music if it sounds good, I’ll play it, and if it sounds bad, I’ll probably do it anyway and learn from it,” he said.
However, Schuster doesn’t just pick up the guitar and somehow know how to play every guitar solo. Diligence in practice is key in his work towards learning a new repertoire.
“Consistency [in practicing] is much more important than simply the amount of time put in. 30 minutes five days a week is more beneficial than six hours straight every Saturday.”
Bernick-Roehr appreciates the fearlessness Schuster exhibits when he tries new things without the stress of failure looming above his head.
“He messes around with a song when we’re working on it, and he’s not afraid to make mistakes,” he said. “At the same time, when he finds something good, he doesn’t move beyond that. He takes that something, that little nugget of goodness, and he builds upon it until he finds something that really fits in the song. Then when it fits, he doesn’t try to change it too often, because when it fits, it really does fit.”
Band teacher Diane Hallberg expresses that the determination needed to combine a natural mind set of improvisation with literacy based skill of reading is something that doesn’t come easy.
“Zack does also read music, which is really beneficial, and I think that’s made him be able to take those two worlds and combine them in a very dynamic way. He can do improvisatory things, he’s got a great ear, but he also has that literacy where he can read something and understand it that way too.”
This is not to say that Schuster is simply all work and no play, however. The alpine ski team describes their team member with a smile on their face as they remember the crazy stories at countless practices and meets.
“Zack is really obsessed with using the word gnarly,” junior Sierra Takushi said laughing. “He uses it as an adjective that describes both good and bad things, as a verb or as a noun. He even says that you can measure his excitement level in gnarls per hour.”
Takushi describes the annual ski trip to Giant’s Ridge, where the whole team gets together. This year the sophomore boys were placed together and Takushi expected them to be on their best behavior. The boys, however, stayed up until 4 am playing video games and Takushi remembers how she “woke up in the middle of the night, and heard someone yelling ‘gnarly’, and it was Zack.”
Schuster still has a lot of time to think about the future, but as of now, he predicts he will stay involved with a band and playing music in general, stretching the improvisational part of his personality, as well as exploring the rational, fact based side of science. While Schuster might not be seriously considering science as a career, the possibility is apparent in his mind.
“[My dad is an engineer, and] I like the rational way he does a lot of things, which comes from engineering because the things you build have to ‘rationally’ work,” he said, “Music is more of just feeling things and..[ultimately] always boils down to, ‘Does it sound good?’”
Schuster’s passions may still be narrowing down, but his desire to follow his dream stands strong.
“I would define success [for myself] as how well I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do while maintaining a good lifestyle. I haven’t accomplished success yet, but I think I’m on the right track as long as I keep working hard.”