Big Momma’s House, Volume II: Heid Music

Heid Music is located on College Ave., one block away from the Conservatory of Music.
Photo by Larissa Davis.

There is a tendency among Lawrentians to assume that the city of Appleton is an uninteresting place, leading many to rarely leave campus. This column seeks to profile spots in the city to burst your Lawrence bubble, while I use my experience as a townie to give them a side by side comparison with my eponymous mom’s house.

A lot of people from around here say that the Fox Valley is a vein of musical talent unrivaled in the west of Wisconsin, with Appleton at its heart. There are two main reasons Appleton has this position, and amazingly enough, they are just across the block from each other: Lawrence University and Heid Music. So, as hundreds of con kids find themselves in a practice room after months in the open air, let’s take a look at today’s spotlight.

Heid Music was established by Peter Heid in 1948, and it currently supplies most of the area’s musical needs. If Appleton does indeed live and breathe music, it is partly because of Heid. This sizeable store has two showrooms of pianos, another room of guitars and drums, stacks of sheet music and large stocks of other assorted instruments. To my knowledge, it provides the instruments for most of the schools in the area. It has more recreational inventory as well, such as plastic trumpets and trombones, melodicas, ukuleles and harps. Of course, we haven’t even talked about the fun stuff yet: sheet music. Heid has everything from pedagogical books, class A-C solos and scores to compilations and pop or jazz transcriptions. Upstairs, there is a pantheon of well-credentialed music teachers. These private teachers rent out space and include instructors for nearly every instrument imaginable. 

For how well-organized Heid Music is, my mom’s house is messy but almost as well stocked.  The key is in finding the instruments in the first place. My mom used to keep a drawer of kid-geared instruments, like toy tambourines and assorted things to blow into. Over the years they have gradually gone missing from the drawer and wound up sprinkled around the house, often to be chewed by my music hating dog. The sheer confusion that graces the face of anyone who finds a plastic toy recorder tucked under a pile of clothes is a common sight in this house.

Along with the toys, mom has four kids she probably often wishes would also go missing. All of them play piano, three play upright bass — with a French grip, thank God — and all sing off-key. The opportunity for music is equally present as at a music store, as is the lack of pressure to be good at the instrument. Compare that to the air of judgement that betimes settles over any music store and how Heid seems to attract people who can and will attempt to show off their piano chops to anyone in the gallery. If you have any skills at all, I guarantee my sister, my mother and my dog will all be impressed. Just be prepared for my sister to grab an instrument and start practicing two feet from you, only to then smile when you stop because she’s so loud and claiming she’s better than you. Hobbes will probably bark, and my mother will try to solicit Christian rock covers. I urge you not to play these songs for her; that is what she has dogs for.

Admittedly, my house is a bit lacking in both expertise and instruction. You want to learn how to play the clarinet? Is that the brass thing Lisa Simpson plays? You want to know the best brand of valve oil? Have you tried olive? You want an edition that’s difficult to track down? Actually, my mom might have that, as her piles of sheet music are large enough to rival Heid’s. In most areas, the best we can offer is a smile and a seasonally inappropriate love of Christmas carols. 

So, how does my mom’s house stack up against Heid Music? Problem number one: noise complaints. My neighbors are all very elderly, so the hours are pretty much the same as Heid. Number two, you can’t actually take the instruments at my house, as much as my mom would like to never see a double bass again. Even if we did, my mom does not offer financing. We want cash, and now. So while I’d like to give this win to my mom’s house, I can’t deny the truth. A hotspot of music it ain’t. Heid takes this one, and I pray my mother never reads this. Or, even better, a Heid employee reads it and offers me a discount.