First Takes - Music Man



At a time when his peers have settled into retirement, Will Schaefer quietly positions himself to become the desert’s “next big thing.” Last year, the 77-year-old conductor, arranger, and composer founded the Desert Cities Pops Band, a 45-member concert band boasting a talented lineup of musicians ranging in age from 17 to 80. Veterans of the big band era serve as mentors to younger musicians. “They do get along,” Schaefer says. “You wouldn’t believe it.”

The band’s repertoire covers everything from Strauss waltzes to big band, Americana, movie and television themes, contemporary songs, and Schaefer’s original work. “I love the desert and wanted to bring this type of entertainment back at a local level,” says Schaefer, whose performances routinely garner standing ovations.

No stranger to the spotlight, the Emmy and Pulitzer prize-nominated musician relocated from Los Angeles to Palm Desert nearly 14 years ago. But unlike many septuagenarians who reside here, Schaefer forgoes the golf course and country club crowd to devote more time to his singular passion: making music. “When you love something this much, there’s no reason to stop,” he says, In classic rags-to-riches fashion, the Wisconsin native launched his music career in the early 1950s, arriving in the Big Apple with a dream and a little more than $300 in his pocket. “Those were lean years,” he recalls. “I could only afford to eat five days out of seven, but I stuck it out. In my heart, I really believed I had what it took to make it.”

Schaefer initially made a name for himself composing TV commercials. Later, he landed a coveted position with The Walt Disney Co., creating scores for the popular Wonderful World of Disney television show. Other resume highlights include scores for The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo; arrangements for Count Basie, Buddy Rich, and more than a dozen Broadway musicals; developing the curriculum for USC’s Film Scoring Program; and a recent trip Budapest to record with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra.

With a schedule and work ethic that put musicians half his age to shame, Schaefer also is working on a film-scoring course book he plans to license to universities based on his 10 years with USC. But most days, you’ll find him eagerly preparing for his band’s upcoming performances (including Dec. 15 at Cathedral City High School and July 4, 2007, at Sun City Palm Desert). Schaefer pursues this endeavor with characteristic childlike enthusiasm.

“Writing for a live orchestra these days makes you a bit of a dinosaur — which I guess I am,” he says, laughing. “But for heart-stopping excitement, you can’t beat an orchestra performance.”

— Trudie Mitschang
Edit Module
Palm Springs Life
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Jane Lynch, The von Trapps, Igudesman & Joo Lead Picks for McCallum's 2015-16 Season

Mitch Gershenfeld’s successful track record in booking shows audiences love led him to establish “Mitch’s Picks” to showcase artists the public may not be familiar with appearing at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.

Open Call Gives Greater Palm Springs Area Talent a Chance to Shine

Kaitlyn Farley knew music was her calling from a young age, but opportunities like the annual Open Call at the McCallum Theatre took that passion to another level.

alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton Leads a Beautiful Coachella Life

alt-J’s immediate future is playing Coachella for the second time in three years, something the 2012 Mercury Music Prize winners are very much anticipating.

Tycho Set to Ride the Chillwave at Coachella 2015

If you told ambient chillwave artist Tycho that it seems like he’s in a constant dream state with a course permanently set for the outer reaches of the cosmos, he would very much appreciate the sentiment.

Out of Sight!

Every year, we stretch to imagine what Michael Childers will do next with his always-sold-out One Night Only benefit for Jewish Family Service of the Desert.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions + Contests

2014/15 Best of the Best

2014/15 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

Pets on Parade 2015 Photo Contest

Pets on Parade 2015 Photo Contest

Enter your “Cutest Pet” photo in the Pets on Parade 2015 Photo Contest. Online users will be able to like the Cutest Pet photos from six (6) categories.
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.