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Past leaders of TinyDorm reflect on building self-governance and community through music

Tuesday, August 27th marked the day of the first TinyDorm concert of the 2019-2020 school year. Instead of taking place in a dorm room, however, the event was held in the Joe Rosenfield Center (JRC), and instead of being an informal, exclusively student-run concert, it was on the official schedule for New Student Orientation.

For Artis Curiskis ’18, hearing about the NSO concert was almost surreal.

“I’m a big fan [of TinyDorm] and it’s really cool seeing it take off, but it is a little odd watching the NSO opening,” Curiskis said. “It feels like some legitimacy, which is cool to watch unfold from a distance.”

Curiskis was one of the original founders of TinyDorm — in the spring of his second year at Grinnell, he and his roommates Erhaan Ahmad and Ronan Brooks, both ’18, started holding concerts in their first-floor Read triple. Their friends performed, and other friends came to watch, and the only way to know the date and time was through word of mouth or an email chain.

“The goal was to get all of our friends together to listen to music that we were making or sharing, or other friends who made music and giving them a chance to perform for everyone a lot,” Curiskis said. “On another level, we made it as a celebration of self-governance, in that it could be a space for students to enter, safely, knowing that there’d be music, and sharing spaces that are often very private, as in dorm rooms.”

After the success of their first concert, Ahmad, Curiskis and Brooks held a few other TinyDorms and expanded to four during the next semester. The events quickly snowballed in popularity, filling a niche for those looking for small concerts on campus.

After they graduated, Ahmad, Curiskis and Brooks turned TinyDorm leadership over to younger students, but the unique atmosphere they had fostered continued.

“I hadn’t ever seen a place where everybody had equal attention. There was attention being given to the room. There was attention being given to the audience because it was so intimate, and it’s so close,” Saketan Anand ’21, a former TinyDorm organizer, said. “So many people get to know each other and so many people take away something from it.”

The process for setting up a TinyDorm is cooperative: students volunteer their rooms, musicians volunteer their time, and TinyDorm staff coordinate and advertise the concert. A few hours before it begins, staff will clean up the room (often finding lost or forgotten objects in the process) and move furniture around before doing sound checks.

Ahmad, Curiskis, and Brooks grouped student musicians by genre for each concert and then used dorm space creatively, reorganizing students’ unique rooms to fit the vibe of the concert. However, holding concerts in dorms helped with more than just decoration.

“What made it really, really amazing was that people were invested in it,” Ahmad said. “If you do a thing in someone’s room, they’re invested in it to a different degree than if you have a concert somewhere in a concert hall. What we loved about it was that people got really involved, and that it was very self-organizing.”

The intimacy and community that the small concerts foster makes it appealing to performers as well as audience members.

“TinyDorm is a great platform for people who are looking to sing for people, but not way too many people,” said Govind Sartaj Brahmanyapura ’21, who sang at the NSO event. “It’s a nice, warm, cozy, friendly, positive environment for anybody who wants to express themselves.”

Ahmad emphasized how Grinnell’s close-knit community makes TinyDorm special.

“Grinnell is a lovely, lovely place for this,” he said, “because we are all we have, really. There’s nothing outside of our community. You can’t go to a club or a bar or a library far away and forget about everything. You have the people that you’re around, and those are the ones you have fun with. And so that made it a really conducive environment.”


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    Sharon SquassoniSep 10, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    Would love to hear some sound-clips from Tinydorm concerts! Sounds a bit like GroupMuse, which is one of the best things to come out of social media.
    Intimate settings can really enhance the experience.