Eclectic instruments filled the first floor hallways of Fitzgibbons Hall last week during the newly formed pep band’s fourth rehearsal.
“Playing the cello lets me play my emotions out since I have a difficult time doing that on my own,” said pep band president Connor Gordon.
Last semester, Gordon discussed putting an orchestra group together through Student Activities with advisor Mary-Ann Gulyas, who teaches the only music class on campus, music appreciation. “I really think the school will be ready. I think we’re going to get some big support,” Gulyas said.
“The fuel was there, [Gordon] ignited it,” said Sherwood Ludwig, college alumnus, who took an eight-year break playing the alto-saxophone until he heard about an orchestra starting up on campus. Four years ago, the advisor discussed starting an orchestra on campus in Ludwig’s music appreciation class but the idea never travelled further than the classroom.
Ludwig believes not having a music program gives the club an advantage. “It’s not the program we’re after. It’s because we are willing to step outside of our comfort zones and blaze at new path in Hudson Valley’s history that nobody has in 40 years,” he said.
The last time Hudson Valley had an orchestra was in the 1970s. A trombone, snare drum and two toms have been the only instrumental pieces Gulyas has uncovered from the college’s past in an effort to find extra instruments for the band.
Along with lacking extra instruments, the group lacks a library for music, new stands, and a budget but Ryan Peller, trumpeter, believes their new status has advantages. “In an established band, they’d be like ‘here’s the music from the semester.’ But, here, you get to bounce off ideas with each other and say ‘yeah, we’ll have a little jazz and a little Christmas over here,” he said.
According to violinist Melissa Yusaitis, performing with the Pep band has provided her with a new opportunity to head back to her musical roots. “Whenever I play my violin, nothing else matters. Me and my violin talk a lot,” she said.
The club chartered “pep band” from Student Activities in an effort to avoid having to create a new club. In the future, the club plans to change their name to appeal to players that specialize beyond marching band-style instruments.
The group considers playing as an actual pep band alongside the football team,not worth achieving in the near future. “We’re not established enough. We’re not known enough to go there,” said Ludwig.
In effort to separate themselves from pep band music, they incorporate unorthodox instruments from tenor banjos to synthesizers. “I really enjoy techno music so I got a microphone and a guitar pedal so I can modify my own sounds so I can create a techno type of sound,” said Austin Elliot, multi-instrumentalist.
Despite not having sheet music designed for tenor banjos, Jesse Rock still plucks along. He typically has played with three to four other players and has never had the opportunity to play his tenor banjo in an orchestra. “It’s something I’ve never done before. It’s exciting. It’s it’s own thing,” said Rock.
All of the current members have stuck with the group since their first rehearsal earlier this semester. The band seeks a larger variety of musicians from drummers to oboists and wishes to expand to 35 people by next semester. “It’s good to see people [pass by] because they’re probably spreading the word that there’s an orchestra on campus,” said Gordon.
Despite not being involved in a music program, pep band vice president Jake Baldwin hopes to leave the college continuing to pursue music. “I want to do this for the rest of my life,” Baldwin said. Next month, Baldwin will audition for The New School, a private university known for its jazz program in Manhattan.
After nearly over a decade playing music at Shenendehowa High School, Yusaitis, in her second year at Hudson Valley, hopes eventually to return to music but, believes her skills were not strong enough to be involved in a music program. “I want to go professional but, I’m not exactly ready,” she said.
Graduating Niskayuna High School High School in 2014, Gordon went from being involved in two choirs and a symphony orchestra to not being involved any music groups at Hudson Valley. When looking for colleges after high school, Gordon couldn’t find an affordable campus with both a premedical program and a thriving music culture. “It was kind of frustrating to me because I would like a place where there is both so that’s why I really needed to start this,” Gordon said.