Anyone who has lived in a college dorm is familiar with the sound of thumping bass coming from adjacent rooms. More often than not, the music is streaming from an aux cable instead of an electric guitar. Yale, with an undergraduate music department that rivals a conservatory, is known for its robust community of musicians. But where are the ones that don’t play in Woolsey Hall?
The answer: suites. Various undergraduates interested in independent music production are converting their common rooms into concert venues. They seek to ignite a community of musicians and establish new physical and intellectual spaces for music at the university.
“Yale has a reputation for being very musical, and there’s a lot of truth to that,” Jason Altshuler ’22, a member of the band Toil, said. “It’s the only Ivy League that has a music school, and if you’re a classical musician, there are a lot of resources available for you.”
Altshuler believes that independent, live music is available at Yale outside of conventional contexts if students seek it. He explained that student bands don’t always want overwhelming publicity. They want audiences, but not a show that feels like “something you find on OrgSync.”
Other artists share this perspective. Hero Magnus ’22, a songwriter and staple act in the community, was surprised by the lack of independent music when she came to Yale. After reading about the live music scene in the News before her first year, she was excited to get involved.
“But it turned out to be kind of spread out and niche,” Magnus said. “It’s hard for people to understand where exactly live music fits into the musical world at Yale.”
Magnus noticed a gap between the environments where students often consume music. An acappella concert in Sudler Hall differs greatly from the intimate environment of a live performance. According to Magnus, live shows feel “like a more communal space with audience and performer interaction. I really enjoy the indie crowd that comes to all the live shows, and I believe in that community.”
Thomas Hagen ’20, member of the band Sargasso, noted the logistical challenges involved in establishing a live music scene at Yale.
“There’s a limited amount of housing off-campus, a limited number of places where people can host shows,” Hagen said. He also alluded that not many students have the time to devote to starting a band. Hagen said he thinks students choose to dedicate time to career-related pursuits instead of writing and performing live music.
Conrad French ’22 highlighted the importance of community in live music as well. He is a founder of the O61 Conglomerate, a suite-gone-underground music venue in Saybrook College.
“I was really surprised and sort of disappointed at how little live music there was when I came to Yale,” French said. “We started the Conglomerate because we wanted to hear cool people play good music, so we created a space where it could happen.”
The Conglomerate has hosted four shows this year, each with a different line-up. Their goal is to make music accessible to people in an informal setting, reflecting the broader feel of Yale’s live music community.
French also speculated that live music might not be widespread because of modern musical tastes, noting that “it seems like some people are afraid to hear guitars.” The hip-hop and synthesized pop dominating modern charts is not easily recreatable in the context of a college dorm. This may indicate a shift in the public’s perception of the structure of a live music performance — less suburban garage, more music festival mainstage.
Hagen said he wants to see more small shows with audiences of 10 or 20 people in eclectic spaces.
“It’s great if you don’t even have a power outlet to put on the show,” Hagen said.
Magnus sees engagement with live music as indicating a broader cultural question. She thinks students do not take live music seriously because of its DIY nature or perceived lack of professionalism.
“Musicians deserve a space where people are coming to listen to the music,” Magnus said. “At the same time, we shouldn’t have to tell people to sit down in chairs or book a ticket.”
Magnus said she wants Yale’s underground live music scene to welcome all kinds of musical talents and tastes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean more organization or control. She stressed that “it would be a mistake to try and institutionalize live music. It would kill it.”
Tyler Brown | firstname.lastname@example.org