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The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm
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Grinnell’s music scene is alive and well, it’s just online now

Grinnell musicians are continuing to create music, even in a virtual setting. Photo contributed by Victoria Park.

As classes continue virtually, Grinnellians are struggling to keep things usually so inherent to life on campus — like music — alive and well. But although the sense of community has become more abstract, students are using social media as a way to connect. Through livestreams, open mics and even “song-a-day” challenges, musicians at Grinnell have used small-scale activities to stay in touch and in practice.

At the beginning of last spring, a time that was pre-COVID-19, Cát Đằng Tôn ’22, Victoria Park ’21 and Saketan Anand ’21 organized virtual Gardners. After summer break, though, all three were too busy to keep organizing the concerts and they had to put them on the backburner.

Tôn dropped out of the music scene at the start of this school year. School and life became too busy, and SGA Concerts were canceled for the year. The last thing Tôn wanted to do was pressure other students into making music. In a time where each day is increasingly more difficult, Tôn did not want to create more expectations. “That’s why I haven’t been following things,” they explained.

Meanwhile, Park, who plays the bass and goes by the stage name Pictoria Vark, has managed to continue to share her music despite being busy with school and final exams. In the past few months, Park released a cover of the song gec 2 Ü by the band 100 gecs, organized and played two livestreams during the term break and started planning a second cover that she plans to record over winter break.

Park was inspired to create her gec 2 Ü cover after a Philadelphia based band called Blue Deputy requested that musicians make covers of different 100 gecs songs. The songs, they hoped, would be compiled into an album. Some of Park’s friends told her about the opportunity, and she ended up participating.

“It’s, like, a cool practice to take a song that you already know and put your own spin on it and reimagine how you can do it with your own artistic voice,” Park said. While working on her 100 gecs cover, Park learned how to mix songs for the first time, taking different tracks from her guitar to put together. Although she hadn’t done something like this before, Park said that contributing to the album was a good way to find other artists to connect with. Similar to when she plays a show in person, Park keeps in contact with the musicians she meets online. “If we’re ever looking to play shows in other cities, they’re just some people I can reach out to,” she said.

Park also finds community through Instagram livestreams. Her first livestream, which took place on October 23, included several other bands. Another livestream served as a benefit concert for the Black Arts Future Fund.

Although not ideal, livestreams let Park see what people are commenting on her music as she’s playing. Park said that the positive reinforcement is nice to have. “It’s cool to interact with people in that way and have feedback coming in from people, or just, like, hear validation that aren’t people clapping,” she said.

Park started organizing livestreams to help support artists that are no longer able to tour, with the added benefit of working with musicians who she doesn’t live close to.

Performing in virtual concerts isn’t the only way students are staying in practice, though. Emma Schaefer ’22, who plays the guitar and is an avid songwriter, is participating in a challenge called “New Song November”. For each day in November, the goal is to write a new song and then perform it online. After seeing a video on social media in which Iowa song writer Lily DeTaey urged other artists to participate, Schaefer decided to give it a try.

“This is the perfect thing to keep exercising that songwriting muscle,” Schaefer said. She tends to spend one to two hours on the song, and she says that, overall, they are not great. “That’s not the point and I think it’s a good experience for me so far, still pushing through and performing it and knowing it’s part of this bigger picture challenge.”

Schaefer might re-work her favorite songs at the end of the month, and then re-release them on Instagram as part of a more complete collection.

Emma Schaefer ’22 is currently participating in a Song-A-Day-Challenge, where she writes a new song every day in November. Photo contributed by Emma Schaefer ’22.

Schaefer said that writing a song a day means drawing inspiration from everything. One day she heard a story from Oprah about a dying man who made sure he voted before passing away. “He wasn’t able to be counted, but that was just a story I heard and [thought] ‘Oh! Song! That would be really fun to write about.’”

Living in Colorado, Schaefer has not been in contact with many Grinnellians. Some days, though, she gets to visit another Colorado-based Grinnellian, Oscar Buchanan ’21, who lives nearby. Together, they play music and discuss songs and songwriting.

On campus, both Buchanan and Schaefer were part of a five-person songwriting circle. Unfortunately, when school was moved online, everyone became too busy to meet up. When quarantine first started, the group tried to create songwriter circle virtually through Microsoft teams, but it did not end up working out.

Jacey Birkenmeyer ’22 is another member of this songwriting circle, and said that although they have tried to bring the circles back, they haven’t been able to find a time to meet synchronously.

Luckily though, Birkenmeyer is also one of the managers of freesound, Grinnell’s student music organization, so even without the songwriting circles she has been keeping in touch with student musicians from Grinnell. Freesound has three main ways of outreach; their Discord server, emails and their Instagram account.

The freesound Discord has approximately 30 members who are welcome to hang out, share videos and event information and talk about music. The freesound Instagram lists upcoming event fliers so that followers can virtually attend concerts and performances, as well as short blurbs profiling student musicians.

Birkenmeyer said that freesound is trying to mimic the role they played on campus, and they welcome new ideas for events and activities. As of now, they are hosting both synchronous and asynchronous open mics.

With the collection of students’ online performances, it is impossible to say that the Grinnell student music scene has died out. Although life at the College has changed, student art continues to live on, taking on more forms and mediums than ever.

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