My guest bloggers this week are Parker Woodworth ’13.5 and Michael Gadomski ’13.5. They took the lead in trying to redefine the student music scene, and they are writing today about some of their successes and obstacles and the philosophy behind their efforts.
—Shirley M. Collado
On a fall afternoon in his kitchen in Cornwall, Matt Bonner ’91 reflected on the social scene during his time at Middlebury: “We’d decide we were going to have a party on Saturday afternoon. It was almost as simple as, ‘keg goes here, band goes there,’ and that was that.” A few months earlier, as part of his 20th reunion, he had played a show at 51 Main with one of his bands from his time here. For Matt and many others, playing and being around music was a defining part of the Middlebury experience.
Nineteen years after Matt’s graduation, we found ourselves, dazed, excited, and a little sleep deprived, walking the cultish candlelit procession to Mead Chapel for February convocation. Despite the eerie gravity of the moment, we were deep in a conversation about our shared lifelong love of music.
A year later, we were again talking about music, but this time we were focused on how much we missed it. At that time, there were zero active student bands on campus. You could still say, “band goes here,” but it wouldn’t work out very well. We didn’t even know where to look to find students who might be interested in starting a band. Pretty much the best you could do as a musician was to play a lonely solo set to the four friends who felt like they really should come to your show at the Grille.
In large part, the reasons for this were straightforward. Spaces were difficult to access, and equipment was nearly nonexistent—there was simply no easy place to turn to make music with fellow students. Instead, resources were uncoordinated and worst of all, thoroughly steeped in bureaucracy.
Middlebury Music United was created to untangle all of that mess. Surprisingly, we met little resistance initially. From SAO, the administration, the SGA finance committee, the music department, and even the trustees, so long as we made our case reasonably, it was met with genuine concern and enthusiasm. Although enthusiasm was not always immediately followed by action, we were able to remove bureaucracy, change to student management, and make access easier just by continuing to ask nicely. In our minds, the goal was to make students, rather than institutions, the drivers and shapers of music at Middlebury.
An illustrative example was MMU Nights: the series of weekly Grille and 51 Main shows that we were given to distribute to student musicians. Essentially, our job was to fill pre-determined dates at pre-determined locations with student musicians. This invariably amounted to twisting the arms of our friends into playing hour-long sets or else doing it ourselves. Everyone more or less dreaded playing these shows, and everyone seemed to dread attending them as well.
The takeaway from that experience formed the basis for MMU’s philosophy: we never want to force anyone to play music. We don’t want “MMU Presents” on the top of any posters. We want to help musicians present themselves, to enable the same “band goes here” spontaneity that Matt Bonner told us about. That’s why we ended MMU Nights. Those venues are still open to musicians, and we’re happy to help anyone put a show together, but they’ll need to make the decision to play on their own.
Student culture at Middlebury needs to be driven by students. Culture, in our opinion, comes from what you do because you love it, not because you’re getting graded on it or because it looks great on your resume or because anyone asked you to. Sometimes it’s difficult to prioritize things like that, and we wanted to make it as easy as possible for musicians to do so. That’s why you probably haven’t heard of MMU, but you probably have heard of Thank God for Mississippi or Stoop Kid. And that’s just how we want it. We love music because of how it brings people together and how it makes creativity part of a night out. We want to help musicians, but we also want to help people who like to dance, or like to listen, or just want something a little different on a Friday night. Music at Middlebury isn’t for a select group of people—it’s for everyone. It all started with a simple goal: “band goes here.”
You’re here because you’re ambitious, because you believe in something, and you’re surrounded by people who are here for the same reason. In our years here, we’ve learned that things change when students decide to care. So ask yourself, what do I want this college to be like? If you want more students playing music, we can help. If you want something else, just like a band, it goes here. You are exactly the right person to make it happen. Start doing it, and keep going. You won’t regret it.