When she was in sixth grade, Stefanie Schmitz didn’t put much thought into her decision to play the clarinet. “I just sort-of picked it,” she explained. “I didn’t really know what to pick, and it became a life-long passion.” She pursued learning the saxophone in high school so she could join the jazz ensemble, but the clarinet would once again become her main musical focus during her college years at UCSD. She would go on to earn a degree in music with an emphasis in clarinet performance.
Even so, she said, “The whole time, I never really saw that music was going to be a career, I never really could picture it. So, I was just kind of lost after that. I didn’t really like playing classical music. I didn’t like being in the wind ensemble. Your part kind of gets buried. Then I started discovering these other musical styles with smaller groups, where you get to take a solo and have a moment and express yourself through different kinds of music.”
Gypsy jazz and choro — an instrumental genre of Brazilian music that originated in the 1800s — were what she gravitated towards. She discovered the latter shortly after finishing college, when she started playing drums with a samba community group that introduced her to various styles of Brazilian music. By 2009, she had formed her own choro group, and by 2012, she had quit her day job to pursue playing and teaching music full-time. She has been juggling bands and students since then, but it all became much trickier in March 2020 when the pandemic hit.
Happily, her student base actually grew a bit during the shutdown, when a couple of older players “wanted to pick the clarinet up again after not playing for, like, 20 years.” She also embarked on an ambitious challenge: to play a song a day streaming live on Facebook. And in August 2020, she rolled out her first episode of The Stef Show, another live-streaming endeavor that would feature musical collaborations with a variety of her colleagues.