Vassar Student Musicians Union bands artists together

Vanessa Achoy ’19 and her band, Midway (formerly known as Lizard Pile) pose for an official band photo. As some members have graduated, the new members are not pictured./ Courtesy of Vanessa Achoy

Vassar Student Musicians Union (StuMu), formerly separate from Vassar College Entertainment (ViCE) Student Music, is an organization that orchestrates events for student performers and provides a platform showcasing musical talents. Student Music has officially seceded from ViCE after their rebranding effort last semester.

Co-leader of Vassar Student Musicians Union Nicole Lipman ’19 spoke about her responsibility as the communications chair in an email: “I’m the point contact-person for the org: I send emails, manage our social media accounts and help organize our meetings and events. I’m also a regular performer at StuMu showcases throughout the year.”

Lipman continued, “In the past, StuMu has chiefly organized performance opportunities for student musicians on campus—we’ve put on open mics and band showcases, and we’ve collaborated with other orgs to help student performers get gigs at various campus events.”

This year, StuMu is planning on implementing many changes. As Lipman explained, “[We] want to expand the org’s purpose to include serving as a real ‘union’ for student musicians on campus (hence the name change).”

She continued, “A big goal of ours is to make the Student Music community on campus more accessible in every way. The practice room is a big part of this—if we can secure that space, that’ll mean that every musician on campus can have access to a practice space with gear, regardless of what they personally own.” In addition, StuMu will be holding workshops on how to run sound and how to screenprint band t-shirts among other things.

Co-leader of StuMu Vanessa Achoy ’19 discussed via email her involvement with a student band: “Formerly known as Lizard Pile, we’re now rebranding into Midway. Our members at the moment are guitarist Jack Fischer ’18, drummer Jack Yaworsky ’18, guitarist Maya Morrison ’21 and bassist Ella Johnson ’21.

“Along with the new name, we’re moving towards a bit of a different sound than we had in the past—more serious pop-punk music. Jack Fischer is the main songwriter, but typically we’ll all meet for a session, listen to what’s been written, and then everyone bounces around ideas and changes until we’ve perfected it.”

Midway finds both on- and off-campus opportunities to perform. Achoy shared, “Last semester we had our first show at Ferry House which was super fun to play. We also had gigs at Darkside Records and My Place Pizza.”

With the support of the Musicians Union, students often find themselves readily bonding over a mutual passion for music creation. Several sophomores—Joseph Abriatis, Yase Smallens and Yoav Yaron [Disclaimer: Yaron is the Design Editor for The Miscellany News]—recently formed a band named “Bengal Newpaw.” They meet regularly in the basement of Raymond to learn and practice songs together.

The band focuses on original music, experimenting with different musical genres like surf and indie/rock and with punk and synth pop influences. Singer, guitarist and songwriter of the band Joe Abriatis ’20 remarked, “We have covered songs, but very early on, we’ve decided that we wanted to write our own. As of right now, it became an outlet for my songwriting. Everyone in the band is super acceptive of what I write.” Reflecting on participation in band shows and StuMu activities, he shared, “Last year I played in a couple of shows, either by myself or in collaboration with Tieren Costello [’20].”

Abriatis acknowledged the importance of the band’s name to its identity. He explained the thought and creativity that went into their album cover design: “It’s a collage that I made, and I Photoshopped the band name over [the] top of it. The name was inspired by this font that was part of the logo of a railway that my friend’s great-great-grandfather worked for. I loved the font, so I came up with the name to match it. ‘Bengal’ comes from the Bengal region and ‘Newpaw’ is a made-up word that worked with the font and sounded nice.”

Abriatis also noted the difficulties that StuMu faces. The organization’s deficient budget limits its capacity to purchase equipment, which proves to be a decisive factor for student musicians. For instance, he mentioned the only set of drums on campus and its inconvenience for practice purposes.

In spite of these obstacles, Student Music is working diligently on fostering a more inclusive environment. Achoy stated, “We’re hoping to create a music scene that’s open, inviting and not super intimidating for new bands, especially since in my personal experience the music scene has been at times toxic and competitive. Some of these efforts include running workshops for feminine-identifying individuals since the music scene is also rather masculine here.”

Lipman echoed the concerns, “We also want to make student music meetings and showcases welcoming and supportive for all musicians on campus, especially queer folks, female/femme/ non-binary students and musicians of marginalized identities. As a female student musician, I’ve experienced how daunting StuMu showcases can be when it’s just cis-straight-white dudes running sound and dominating the lineup.”

She went on, saying, “We hope that holding workshops in addition to performance events will democratize the tools of Student Music and help foster a greater sense of a ‘music community’ on campus, key components of improving the accessibility of the music scene this year.”

Abriatis agreed, adding, “I think it would be a great idea to have student bands be openers for the ViCE Weekly guest performers. It’s a great way for bands to get exposure and gives them a cool experience playing with experienced musicians.”

Achoy expressed that StuMu hopes to spur interest and increase attendance. She voiced, “Our goal this year is to have student music be a big deal on campus that everyone knows about and everyone feels comfortable enough to be a part of. It seems as though we might even be getting there already, considering we’ve had 15- 20 people show up to our most recent meetings, which is a huge uptick in interest!”

StuMu is hosting their first showcase of the year on Sept. 28 in the Mug. The show welcomes all types of music and gives priority to performers with fewer opportunities playing at Vassar. If you would like to sign up and perform, Student Music invites you to email [email protected]

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