Ten young musicians associated with the Eastman School of Music spent the night in jail after playing ‘Hail to the Chief” on Main Street in the minutes after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.
They were arrested for unlawful assembly after the musicians marched from East Avenue down Main Street to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where local top Democratic officials and supporters were celebrating.
Students flooded out of the Eastman Living Center to join in the procession, and by the time the march reached the hotel, more than 60 exuberant passers-by had taken up the musicians’ lead.
The musicians entered the hotel and joined Democratic leaders, including Mayor Bob Duffy, in song. ‘We sang the national anthem with them,” senior Stephen Lecik said. ‘They loved it.”
Although the Main Street corridor is not residential, police received noise complaints as the crowd passed residences near Eastman, and officers caught up to the ensemble near the hotel.Police asked the students to stop playing and they complied, proceeding back down Main Street to the Eastman campus. But elated Obama supporters continued to rally behind the musicians as they made their way home, and a critical mass of emotional Democrats provoked the students to resume playing.
‘All of a sudden we had 150 people behind the 10 of us with instruments,” Amos Rosenstein ’06 said. ‘So we had to play. We were going to stop when we got back to where people live.”
The second time officers approached the students, they were arrested for unlawful assembly, a law aimed at controlling violent riots.
‘The officers persuaded them to stop and desist, which they did,” Sgt. Mark Beaudrault said. ‘But then the crowd grew to an estimated 100 people and [the music] resumed. When you have 100 people at 1:30 in the morning walking down the sidewalk, what you don’t want to see is a jovial celebration turn into mayhem if one or two people did the wrong thing.”
‘We were about peace, and every single person we passed was so happy to see us,” Lecik said. ‘They honked and cheered everyone except this one cop.”
Students alleged political motivation.
‘One of the lead officers was a disaffected McCain supporter,” Lecik said. ‘He was like “Nope, we’re doing this,’ and they got 10 cop cars and a paddywagon. Most of the other cops even thought it was a joke.”
‘They brought armored buses in as if in case they had to pack in another hundred Eastman students,” David Tomecek ’08 said.
The students were held in an underground cell from 2 a.m. until a court appearance yesterday morning.
Beaudralt said he assumes the students were offered bail, but the students said they weren’t given the opportunity.
‘They conveniently didn’t mention that we could pay a nominal fee to get out,” Tomecek said. ‘Every worker we asked a question just said, “I don’t know.'”
The University’s legal department provided a lawyer for the students.
‘That is a little bit of an unusual thing for this office to do and we made the decision because we learned about it at 9 a.m. and they had an appearance at 9:30,” UR Associate Legal Counselor Richard Crummins said.
The musicians were grateful for the quick action.
‘U of R is a great school and this is an instance where they really came through for their students,” Lecik said. ‘We were supposed to get 16 hours community service, but UR said that was not acceptable since we just spent the night in jail.”
The judge agreed to expunge the criminal charge from the students’ records if they stay out of trouble for the next six months.
‘The court appearance was a continuation of our parade, literally,” Robbie Vuichard, who teaches lessons at Eastman, said.
‘To have to be processed on Election Day… the irony was so thick. The biggest irony is when you consider Chicago,” Tomecek said, referring to the Democrats assembled in Grant Park for Obama’s victory speech. ‘That was the biggest gathering of Americans ever.”
But even hours after getting out of jail, despite a ragged and weary appearance, the music students’ spirits were high.
‘I needed a cigarette and a cup of coffee,” Lecik said.
His attention was quickly drawn back to a news article listing the numerous Republicans who had lost their seats as the students sat in jail.
Tomecek strummed a few major chords triumphantly. He explained the sense of excitement he felt after the election.
‘I think all of us who go to this school are on an emotional level with music,” Vuichard said. ‘We all felt something last night and went with our instinct.”
Rosiak is a member of the class of 2009.