Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Music / October 5, 2011

Playing their own tune

Outside of jazz combos or groups such as the Knox-Galesburg symphony, the Knox music scene can prove something of a fluctuating entity. Faced with a limited number of musicians, a sometimes less-than-receptive Knox community and the ever-present threat of graduating band members, uncertain futures are something of a standard.

Junior Jake Hawrylak had no specific recruiting process when he began assembling “Poets and Peasants,” an indie folk band with an expanding Knox fan base. Instead, he found fellow band members through chance encounters and shared music experiences.

“Annie [Pittman, senior], I had heard her sing at jazz night,” Hawrylak said. “Sam Lewis [senior]… the mythos with him is that … he was jamming with some people and I said, ‘Oh my god, those are the cleanest, most beautiful sixteenth notes I’ve ever heard.’”

Other members had played with Hawrylak before in jazz combos or had performed at Off Knox. Almost everyone, however, had some involvement in the Knox music department. It was a trend noticed by senior Mark Farrell when he formed his own band, Dersu Uzala.

“I think people coming out of the jazz department hold up a lot of the bands here that are somewhat independent,” Farrell said.

Farrell’s band originated when he and a few friends gathered together for informal jam sessions, gradually evolving into a more organized group. It was an experience similar to that of junior Jill Somera, who works almost exclusively as a solo artist, rather than as part of any combo or student initiated band.

Somera noted a similar trend in Knox music, saying it was hard to find other musicians outside of the department.

“I do feel like there are a lot of musicians here who are ‘dorm room’ musicians, they just never come out and play,” she said.

Less than receptive

Bands have also occasionally had problems getting audiences to come out of their dorm rooms to support their music.

“If you ask a lot of people who have their own independent band, they might not say the campus is very supportive,” Farrell said.

He pointed to the existence of Spondaic Buttons, a metal band that performed at Knox and in Galesburg last year.

“There were a couple of their shows toward the end that people just didn’t attend,” Farrell said.

Hawrylak noted the same problem and tried to address it early on. When Poets and Peasants was first starting out and performing at Off Knox they had over 20 members of the choir join in from the audience.

“That was intended to grab people’s attention and make them be engaged,” Hawrylak said. “That’s kind of been the philosophy behind why we have so many members.”

The Knox influence

Despite this, all the bands described Knox having a positive influence on their music.

“All the most recent tunes I’ve brought in for the group were influenced by the theory classes that I took here,” Hawrylak said. “Some of the history classes influenced my writing insofar as they’d expose me to newer types of music.” He noted that many of the band’s songs come from experimenting with ideas members have been exposed to in their music classes.

“The group is like a sandbox for everyone who writes music,” he said. “Anyone who writes music can just come play with a bunch of instruments.”

For others, their music contributed to their classes. Last spring, Somera was able to incorporate her music into a presentation for a gender and women’s studies class.

“I feel like Knox has really helped me to broaden my world-view and that’s affecting my song writing,” Somera said.

After graduation

Although Knox might have a lasting influence on their music, neither Hawrylak nor Farell anticipated their bands outlasting Knox. Both are bracing themselves for the inevitable problem of graduation. Poets and Peasants will lose four band members and Farrell himself will also graduate.

“As it stands today with the members, it probably wouldn’t last,” Hawrylak said.

While the band is discussing the possibility of touring for a month this summer, Hawrylak said there probably wouldn’t be a major effort to keep going unless the group got a record deal out of the experience.

Hawrylak remained hopeful about such a possibility but acknowledged that such groups are unlikely to continue outside the boundaries of Knox.

“If we could, that would be great,” he said. “But … I’ve been making sure to never kid myself that we can make it as a band.”

Farrell also anticipates his band breaking up come June, although he aims to record some songs before this happens. His true measure of his bands survival, however, is whether it can have a lasting influence on the Knox music scene.

“I think that what I want most is for there to be some band that picks up our style; makes kind of a legacy at Knox,” he said.

Despite any challenges, none of the musicians regretted any of their experiences.

“You get into [music] because there’s something in you that loves it,” Hawrylak said.

Katy Sutcliffe

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