Student music groups, solo artists work to increase collaboration on campus
Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 01:10
Tracy Chapman (LA ’86), famed singer-songwriter, attended Tufts. Popular alternative rock band Guster was founded at Tufts, and more recently, Timeflies, which performed at the Lollapalooza music festival this summer, was also created on the Hill.
Navigating the music scene at Tufts these days, though, can be a little difficult, according to junior Maeve Bell-Thornton. She has found that many bands start from sharing their work and jamming together.
“Freshman year there were two guys who were playing around on the floor below me in Houston. They needed a singer,” she said.
Out of this interaction grew the first Tufts band in which she became involved, Young Excursion, and Bell-Thornton, though panicked at first when there seemed to be very few folk musicians at Tufts looking to jam, was satisfied with the new group.
“I was so relieved to have a group because [Young Excursion] didn’t start a few months into school ... and I was like ‘where are the music-y people, I can’t find them anywhere,’” she said.
Senior Emma Scudder said that, when she came to Tufts, she secretly played in her dorm room but her floormates quickly encouraged her to play more.
“I then wanted [to] figure out who else was playing this kind of music on campus,” Scudder said. “It didn’t seem like there was really a place where people were getting together.”
Bell-Thornton explained that, like Scudder, she is shy with new collaborators.
“I get very nervous especially at first when I don’t know people and I’m singing around them and I’m like, oh this is ... intimidating because I’m kinda putting my heart and soul out there right now on the line,” Bell-Thornton said.
Personal creativity, she said, must be combined with solid group collaboration to allow a band some successes.
“Skill is important, but I think what’s most important is not being too intimidated by who you’re playing with,” Bell-Thornton said. “Then things flow so much better and that affects the quality of what you’re playing. You have to be willing to lose some sleep over it, to prioritize it.”
The Tufts community sets a high standard for its musicians and provides an opportunity to build a following, according to senior Hayes Peebles.
“To stick, to become something in the Tufts stratosphere, you need to be good and need to be doing things that people enjoy, but you need to be part of the community as well,” Peebles said.
Bell-Thornton added that the music community offered a social outlet.
“Also, socially, it was something that I really need. It was just a relief more than anything,” she said.
Hailing from Nashville, Tenn., Bell-Thornton said she grew up surrounded by music, and playing the guitar happened organically for her.
“My dad was a musician so there were ... guitars lying around the house and there’s a piano in our living room so I was like, well, free guitars; might as well do something with these, so I started dabbling and it was just ... playing music,” she said.
Since joining Young Excursion at Tufts, she has performed in a number of bands including Honey Baby and has also done some solo work, she said.
“I like being in a group a lot because there’s this community, hanging-out sort of sense which is really important to me, and you expand so much because you’re not stuck in your own parameters,” she said.
Bell-Thornton noted that while the Department of Music falls short in some genres, such as rock, folk, blues and electronic music interests, she has learned much from her classes that she can apply to her work.
“There is combination [of music] I’m interested in, that’s not really a thing in the department,” she said.
Bell-Thornton pointed out her Computer Tools for Musicians and Principles of Tonal Theory class as being particularly exciting.
“I am so itching to start wiring electronic music ... learning technical things and different types of mics because now I can sit with my friend, mixing tracks for Honey Baby and know a little more what I’m talking about,” Bell-Thornton said.
The singer-songwriter has also turned to other outlets to expand her musical sphere.
“I tell people: Join the Musicians’ Collective at Tufts on Facebook, post something and also get involved in Applejam [Productions] and Midnight [at Tufts] shows,” she said. “I think those things are super important. If you’re part of a Tufts band and you want a chance to play live, one way of doing it is through one of those groups.”
Bell-Thornton explained that Midnight at Tufts has a different vibe to it when compared to the more collective feel of Applejam.
“Midnight usually is a little less often and usually will get an outside group,” she said. “It can be anything from electronic to like pop or like indie or sometimes folk. That’s usually more often at the Crane Room or [Sophia Gordon Hall] more often than a house kind of feel. I’ve played through Midnight before but it’s like opening for other musicians.”
Although she would like to see more action from the Musicians’ Collective, Bell-Thornton said the underground roots scene of Applejam, a group that focuses on getting Tufts students to play while also bringing in local groups, offers another way for students to get involved.