It’s not uncommon to come to UR with a love for music, but in the storm of interest meetings, class brochures, and word-of-mouth tips, deciding how you want to make it a part of your much-anticipated “undergraduate career” can be overwhelming. To get a feel for UR’s music scene, I spoke with four upperclassmen whose varied involvements include for-credit lessons at Eastman and underground basement shows.
“You Can Go UR Own Way”
When I ask Nicola Wiseman and her boyfriend, Scott Kirschner, what song best embodies UR, I’m met immediately with “Pocketful of Sunshine” from Kirschner. But he quickly reconsiders. “No,” Wiseman follows up.
“Part of me wants to say ‘Stressed Out’ by Twenty-One Pilots, but, like, I don’t want to tell freshmen that.” Then Kirschner tries again.
“‘White Winter Hymnal’ ‘cause it’s always fucking snowing.”
“‘Beer,’ by Reel Big Fish,” says Wiseman. “No, that’s also just, like, sad, because alcoholism.”
Kirschner interrupts, breaking into a falsetto Fleetwood Mac serenade. “You can go your own way, you can go there another lonely day.”
He explains himself: “‘Cause you can go your own way and make your own major and take all your classes and stuff.”
At once, they both realize the moment is ripe with opportunity for a pun: “You Can Go UR Own Way.”
Wiseman and Kirschner should know, too. Both are involved in multiple music-related organizations at UR. Both have piercings and wear fun-patterned clothing, subverting the status-quo. Wiseman’s hair is short and an electric strawberry blonde, if there is such a thing. She’s a junior majoring in earth and environmental sciences, and Kirschner is a senior studying chemical engineering.
Originally from Waterford, Connecticut, Wiseman went one night years ago to “I Am Fest” with a friend and wound up immersed in the local ska scene. In high school alone, she found herself traveling with bands to other cities on tour, learning bass guitar from another musician, and working for a production company in high school.
Now, Wiseman is co-president of Pep Band, the former internal president of No Jackets Required (NJR)—a contemporary, student-run musical performance group—an off-floor member of the Music Interest Floor, and a member of WRUR (the on-campus radio station, which broadcasts online and at 88.5 FM). Along with bass guitar, she can play saxophone, viola, ukulele, euphonium, and piano.
“My mom was like, ‘Do you really want to go to an all-engineering school? […] You should find some place that also has the artsy side,’” she says.“And so when I came across [UR] I was like, ‘Oh, so I can do both of those here.’”
Kirschner is a member of the brass choir, the pep band, and NJR. He is also a general manager of WRUR and is proud to “operate a house venue,” meaning he lives in an off-campus home where he hosts bands. He remembers walking past WRUR’s table at the activities fair his freshman year and hearing good music. He showed up to the first meeting for pizza and just sort-of kept showing up.
“It was definitely something I was thinking about,” Kirschner says of continuing music at UR, having played the euphonium throughout middle school and high school. “I knew that this was a place where I could do [both].”
Kirschner says he wishes the music scene at UR was more than “indie college rock with the occasional funk cover by the Brass Monkeys,” referring to a popular student band that recently played its last show.
He has a point. The college-campus music scene, in general, does seem pervaded by indie rock. Bands like the Arctic Monkeys and the Black Keys are looked upon with adoration by some, but then they are hated by those people who reject indie rock that’s too mainstream. Kirschner thinks this is “because people want to be like, cool and hip and be, like, ‘Yo, I know this band. Do you know this band? Probably not, because you’re not as cool as me.’”
So this is jazz, huh?
A Brooklynite through and through, junior computer science student Sean Levin plays jazz saxophone. He wears those collared shirts that button all the way up and fashionable footwear, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rocking a bow tie now and again. Levin went to high school at LaGuardia in Manhattan (the art school the movie “Fame” is based on), and his senior year band experience there “skyrocketed [him] into jazz awesomeness.”
Now, he plays with the Workshop jazz band at Eastman and pays for private lessons from a Ph.D. saxophonist. He has also played in the UR Jazz Ensemble and recently joined with friends to create a jazz and funk group called “The Hip Conspiracy.”
Levin had to experiment with different levels of commitment before reaching that level of awesomeness, though.
“I couldn’t keep up, honestly,” he says of his time in the larger, more advanced Eastman Lab Band he was part of his freshman year. Last year, he joined the new Workshop Band.
“That allowed for just way more growth on my level,” he say. “[The Jazz Ensemble] is so much fun,” he says. “I get my ass whooped at Eastman. Like these kids practice every day for hours. And I would go over there, practice my ass off, get whooped […] and then I could come back, go to this jazz band, and do whatever the hell I wanted […] It was like the perfect combo.”
Wiseman, when reflecting on her time with NJR, cited the same kind of excited energy that comes with performing with friends—for fun.
“For each specific show, I think there’s usually at least one song that stands out to me, and I’m like, ‘This is it. This is why we’re a club,” she says. “I’m just out there watching, and I’m like, ‘I’m so proud to call these people my friends. They’re all so talented.’”
UR also has an underground house band scene, which student groups like the Brass Monkeys and Levin’s band are a part of. Wiseman and Kirschner are in that off-campus crowd, as well, in part because of word-of-mouth at WRUR meetings. And it isn’t necessarily only student bands who play these shows—bands will come from out of town looking for places to perform or at the request of a Rochester friend to play a set. Kirschner said 30 to 60 (or more) people usually show up for the party, friends, and live music.
What song does Levin think UR would be?
“Something cold,” he says, and then he thinks some more. “Something, like, slow. I’m thinking, like, Miles Davis right now […] ‘All Blues.’”
“We’ve got Eastman right down the street”
Senior Gavin Piester takes classical trumpet lessons for credit at Eastman. While Kirschner, Wiseman, and Levin are likely to be found at more alternative Rochester venues like Water Street Music Hall, the Armory, or the Bug Jar, Piester prefers the classical music scene offered downtown by Eastman and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO).
“I love going to the Eastman concerts because they’re free, and they’re insane,” Piester says. A biochemistry and chemistry double-major, he is president of Undergraduate Musicians’ Council and a member of the Symphony Orchestra.
Piester takes a more “academic” stance as a musician on campus, meaning that, alongside his other academic pursuits, he can maintain a serious dedication to his art.
“I think that there are a lot of people at Rochester who are focused on whatever their academic pursuits are […] and that is what they’re here at Rochester for,” he says. “But, at the same time, music is something that is very important to them and is something that they keep up with rigorously and are able to in a really nice manner.”
Come as you are
Incoming students shouldn’t be intimidated to jump into the music scene at UR, Kirschner thinks.
“Don’t feel like this is some exclusive club that you can’t have access to because you’re not cool enough,” he says.
He, Wiseman, Levin, and Piester all emphasize the accessibility of music at UR for those who seek it out.
“You definitely have to experience it,” says Levin. You have to experience—in a perfect world—everything, but that’s impossible because nobody’s the same […] You’ll never know that if you don’t try.” The ideal situation, in his eyes, would be “if [freshmen] could audition for Eastman, get a private lesson, join a band, take theory, do all this other stuff, and then sit down and say, ‘Hey, am I committed to this? Do I want to do this with a passion?’”
Piester echoed this.
“All music on campus is really accessible, and it can be entirely the same as what you did in high school, or it can be entirely different,” he says. “If you don’t try it out, and you don’t jump into an orchestra, or see what playing in NJR would be like, you’re not gonna know, and you won’t be able to see if that’s right for you.”
The musicians all had the same advice: Just go for it.