Brandeis student music scene thriving

September 14, 2018

Friday, Sept. 14, only three weeks into the fall semester, the Stein will host student musicians performing from 10 p.m. all the way to 1 a.m. in the first Stein Night of the year. Semi-curated musical open mics, Stein Nights offer the opportunity for anyone with musical inclination to perform for and with their fellow Brandeis students. The open mic-like tradition has become an integral part of Brandeis culture, often drawing a sizable audience and connecting people in a relaxed environment of creativity.

Yet this environment has not always existed. It didn’t when Michael Harlow ’19 arrived at Brandeis as a midyear. There was only an empty Stein and rumors of failed fire alarms shutting down Chum’s, the only space built for live music on campus. Faced with this drought, Harlow started the first proto-Stein Nights as a place for Brandeis’ student musicians to “legitimize their talent as something worth paying attention to,” he said. By creating this opportunity, Harlow hoped to help his fellow performers share their art and expose Brandeisians to the music being created by their neighbors.

It caught on. Several successful ad-hoc events his first year inspired him to continue the effort as a sophomore, and upon so doing was met with a group of excited first-years looking to join his student music group. “I told them, I’d love for you to be involved, but there’s nothing to be involved in,” Harlow recalled, “so let’s build something.” With a new team to help him, Harlow was able to create more events, borrowing instruments from friends and equipment from the Department of Student Activities.

He met with friends at WBRS, asking them for an informal partnership and funding help. Seeing a shared mission of sharing music with the community, WBRS agreed to provide logistical and infrastructure support, helping the newly founded Student Music group grow into its ambitions.

They began holding more regular live music events, securing spaces for jam sessions where student musicians could practice together, and started concerts in Chum’s. Most recently, they secured a Community Emergency and Enhancement Fund (CEEF) grant to buy instruments specifically for Stein Nights and similar events, allowing them to help students without instruments perform without scrambling to borrow all the equipment necessary.

Now student musicians such as Bethlehem the Producer ’20, Eli Trout ’21, and Mathias Boyar ’20 pop out of every new class and onto Brandeis’ stages. Jam sessions are well populated and often throw musicians together in configurations they end up performing together in at the next Stein Night. Harlow himself has found success with fellow Brandeis musician Brian Rauch ’19 as the pair Late Night Thoughts.

Student music has become such a large part of Brandeis culture that a student group (Harlow and Rauch’s Late Nights Thoughts) opened at Springfest for the first time last year. Harlow talks about grand plans people have proposed to him, such as coordinating musicians to perform at local nursing homes, with optimism, as there is a large enough pool of music-makers to make them happen. There are serious plans to create a rehearsal space for anyone to develop their musical ability outside of Brandeis’ classes or fulfill the classic college dream of starting a band.

For Harlow, the success of his efforts to create a musical community are inspiring but not satisfying. As much time as he spends talking about how the student music scene has grown from nothing in his two and half years, he spends just as much talking about his dreams about how it could be bigger. He envisions musicians idly jamming by the SCC between classes, a thriving off-campus concert scene, live concerts streamed on the radio, music leveraged to help with charity, music used for protest and to create change in the world at large and maybe most importantly, music being used to bring Brandeis’ community together.

That spirit is what’s at the heart of Stein Nights. “The Student Music Committee is, at its core … really about just connecting” people, in the words of Max Weinstein ’21, one of the core members of the Student Music Committee. And starting Sept. 14, he’ll help provide the opportunity for Brandeis to come together for three hours every other week, united around music.

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