As shoulder-padded, helmet-laden titans of Yale and Harvard clash on the field this Saturday, few will be worrying about who’s laying down tracks at the evening’s festivities. Fewer will be wondering which independent, student-musician supporting venue to hit up for the after-party. Music, it seems, will merely offer a backdrop for Yale-Harvard carousing; the competitive spirit and excitement of The Game takes precedence over Yale Precision Marching Band cacophony and Lady Gaga dance hits alike.
But what about the rest of the year? Does Yale ever put its music scene first? More importantly, is our music scene at the very least superior to that of Harvard?
Any comparison of Harvard’s culture with Yale’s evokes the David-Goliath showdown between New Haven and Cambridge/Boston. The offerings in Cambridge alone dwarf the Elm City’s smattering of bars, galleries and “venues” like Toad’s Place. And Boston’s venues from the House of Blues to smaller live music cafés bring national and international artists within subway reach of Harvard Yard. New Haven simply offers fewer and less diverse options.
While musical Yalies can occasionally find gigs at Keys to the City or ArtSpace, ensembles like Elephantom have a loyal host in the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub, the band’s keyboardist and Harvard College sophomore Matt Aucoin said. The pub, a subterranean venue and restaurant run entirely by students, offers live music every Friday night and an opportunity for Harvard artists to perform for their friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Yale has no such venue.
Harvard senior Caitlin Crump has also performed at the Queen’s Head, but more often spends time booking other acts from Harvard’s Veritas Records to play at the pub two nights per semester.
“Cultivating a music scene isn’t just about providing events, but the chance for musicians to become educated on the recording process,” Crump said. As CEO of Veritas, a student-run record company, she manages Harvard musicians and their gigs while helping them learn how to build a music career for themselves.
Ellis Ludwig-Leone ’11 said this kind of training is scarce at Yale.
One of the co-founders and composers of Yale’s Student Independent Classical Interdisciplinary Collective, or SIC INC, Ludwig-Leone said the lack of guidance offered at Yale to help students operate the three recording studios on campus is illustrative of a larger problem with Yale’s music scene.
“Anyone who’s doing music outside of classical or theater worlds has to fend for themselves,” he said.
With the help of the Yale Music Scene organization, SIC INC is recording their debut album in the Timothy Dwight basement studio. But Ludwig-Leone said most musicians at Yale will never access the resources they need, due to lack of central planning and ineffective equipment management.
“Yale has a vibrant music scene — not necessarily a well-rounded one,” Ludwig-Leone said. “There are tons of musical people here, but the culture is fractured and there’s no umbrella organization to coordinate the tiny set of rock groups trying to record and perform.”
Yale Music Scene, the closest Yale has to an umbrella organization has been growing opportunities for performance with its open mic sessions and larger events including last year’s showcase at Ivy Lounge since it was founded two years ago. But musicians like Will Moritz ’12 — a member of the Yale band Jamestown, The First Town In America — said, considering the present demand, there are still not enough opportunities for student music groups to play on campus.
Harvard College junior and professional DJ Mike Polino sees the same problems in Harvard’s music scene. He said there are only a handful of Harvard bands actively pursuing gigs at any one time.
“But there’s a huge premium at Harvard on a party with a good DJ, as opposed to just a standard iPod playlist,” Polino said.
He has DJ’ed many events hosted by Harvard student organizations, including dance parties at the popular Boston club The Estate, but said the lounge atmosphere of the Queen’s Head pub is not an ideal venue for most Harvardians interested in music, particularly larger bands and DJs like himself.
Similarly, Greg Rubin ’11, a Yale DJ and organizer of weekend dance craze Modern Love, has had to branch out to New Haven club Partners to host his student-soundtracked events. However, he has not been approached by on-campus organizations and said he’d gladly DJ parties like the Yale-Harvard Mixer organized for this Friday by Yale College Council, which opted to import San Francisco remix DJ Pance Party rather than showcasing Yale talent.
“If the University would give Commons to student DJs on the weekends, they’d be amazed at the success,” Rubin said. “Modern Love is one of the few chances for people here to feel like they’re involved in some kind of musical culture. Toad’s isn’t exactly musical culture.”
Yale’s notoriously insular independent music scene seems to have a slightly more developed counterpart at Harvard, but musicians at both colleges offer the same major grievances: institutional support, performance space and accessible equipment are all scarce.
Still, with a record label, even a modest undergraduate venue and greater opportunities for self-sufficiency thanks to the Boston metropolitan area, Harvard has one-upped — nay, three-upped — Yale’s “music scene.” AND Harvard indie pop ensemble Chester French just released their debut album, deemed “genius” by Pharrell Williams.
Musically impoverished Yalies can only dream.
For more Harvard-Yale coverage, visit yaledailynews.com/thegame.