This may come as a big surprise to some of you, but the viewbook probably didn’t tell you all you needed to know about the music scene at Yale. This is probably because a cappella groups look way more adorable than bands. They wear dresses and tuxedos, while most musicians just need haircuts. But that’s a poor excuse for not informing the hundreds of musically-inclined Yalies who want to perform rock and bebop instead of Bach and doo-wop.
There is a thriving band scene here infused with diversity, and even though it may take a little detective work and a little patience, playing in a small group on campus is one of the most fun and creatively rewarding things you can do while you’re here. Besides, once you’re in a band, you earn at least two coolness points during your college career.
I’ll admit that it’s not very easy to become a band overnight. It usually starts with the kid in your entryway who plays the flute who knows somebody with a drum set who heard you play the bass. Then you need to find a place to practice. Most residential colleges have practice rooms with some equipment. You should contact your Master’s Office, though, because policies vary with each college. Drummers usually have the most trouble with the limited storage space and practice rooms, so they usually don’t bring their own sets. But there are enough people who are willing to share their equipment if you ask permission first.
Once you have your group together and have practiced a few times, you’ll probably be looking for a place to perform. Of course, Yale and New Haven are nothing like New York City, but there are plenty of venues on and off campus to get your music out. Check outside of Yale for clubs like Cafe 9 or Rudy’s Bar and Grill. Enterprising groups even make it down to New York City for a night. Closer to home, the Women’s Center next to Durfee’s on Elm Street has generously offered its intimate space to student bands for years, as have student cultural centers. Also, there are many occasions to play in college courtyards, dining halls or basements. For example, the Calhoun Cabaret is a performance showcase in the Calhoun basement that has a few exciting shows each semester. And each year, the Yale College Council organizes a Harvard-Yale Battle of the Bands in the fall, and a Yale-only battle in the spring, from which the top-placing groups go on to open for the main act at Spring Fling.
The best thing about Yale bands is that, like most Yalies, they are full of talent, energy and fresh ideas. It’s hard to categorize the “band scene” here because styles include a range of jazz, rock (punk, industrial, jam bands, indie, ska), blues, country, hip-hop, rap, electronic, experimental, and everything in between. However, a frequent complaint about the scene at Yale is that it is not as firmly established as singing groups or large instrumental ensembles like the Yale Symphony Orchestra. Creative impulses usually appear sporadically. This is mostly because student bands can only last four years at most and don’t have as much money as other groups. Another problem is the busy schedules most Yalies keep, as well as competition with other student organizations to secure performance and practice space. All of these factors make student bands relatively less visible on campus. Then again, all those factors give Yale bands more creative independence than any other group on campus. The chance to develop your own unique music is one you can’t have at any other time. There are hundreds of talented musicians on campus who just need to find each other. If you love music or have ever wanted the chance to live the dream of a rock star (minus the drug problem, of course), take the initiative.
Michael Scherzer is a senior is Silliman College and a member of the band General Tso and the Tenderbites.