The Pink Jalapeno Poppers, a deep-track Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band, snuck into the jazz studio in the Howard Music Building late one Sunday night to rehearse for the 2015 Battle of the Bands. I was the band’s singer. Inspired by the brash vulgarity of the Chili Peppers, we removed our shirts to rehearse some of their more obscure songs. It was what the Chili Peppers would have wanted us to do. After striking the final chord of a rendition of “All Around the World”, Chris McCourry, the head of the jazz program, barged into the studio red-faced and yelling. We were not allowed to rehearse there. He wanted to know how we got into his studio.
Pulling on our shirts quickly, we grabbed our amps and high-tailed it out of the room as he continued to berate us. It was a true rock-and-roll moment. And although we were proud of it, getting kicked out of rehearsal indicated a larger problem within the Hillsdale music culture. There is no place for rock and roll within the walls of Howard Music Building or anywhere else on campus. In a department which performs or organizes nearly 100 classical and jazz concerts each year and speaks proudly of its nearly 33,000 square feet of rehearsal space, there is no place for raw attitude and high decibels.
Despite the classical tendencies of the music department, rock and roll is an essential element in an well-rounded musical education which should engage with both ancient and contemporary forms. Professor of classics Eric Hutchinson agreed: “I’m glad you’re studying rock and roll instead of this theology stuff. That won’t do you any good until you’re at least 30.” Despite the high-collar pursuits of a scholarly life, professor of economics. Ivan Pongracic is a well-known surf-rock guitarist. He, along with Dr. James Brandon and John Miller, team-taught a course focused on the lyrics of the heavy-metal band Iron Maiden for the Collegiate Scholars program.Though theology and classical music clearly play a traditional role in the liberal arts, rock and roll has its place in education as well.
Each year, six or more bands perform at the Battle of the Bands and the CHP Showdown. They always struggle with the same issue: there is nowhere to rock out. The question is never “Where do you want to rehearse?” it is always “Can we rehearse at all?”
Junior Dean Sinclair, who has played drums for 10 different student bands, expressed his own frustrations with the lack of rehearsal space.“When Student Activities Board hosts an event, we want to play and we don’t have the resources necessarily. I can always play alone in the drum room, but if you want to jam with guys outside of the department, it’s hard to collaborate,” he said.
Student Bands perform at the SAB-sponsored Welcome Party, CHP Showdown, and CentralHallaPalooza, as well as the Phi Mu Alpha-sponsored Battle of the Bands and Coffee House events. SAB wants student bands to perform this sort of music at college events, but they do not offer bands the support they need to rehearse properly, which would not require much. Student bands need only a space with electrical outlets, a sound system, and a drum set. There is no need for grand pianos, just a place with an unlocked door where bands can collaborate to create artful, deeply felt music without any issues.
The college has two notable properties, the Donnybrook and the Boardwalk, that sit vacant as they wait to be demolished by the college. The Donnybrook served as rehearsal space for many bands over the years, and the living room of the Boardwalk has tall ceilings which handle amplified sound beautifully. Before the college sends a backhoe to tear down the buildings, they could act as valuable rehearsal space for the time being as the College searches for a more permanent solution.
Hillsdale College boasts a unique culture of student rock bands which enhance student life. Although student bands perform for free, they often draw larger crowds than the professional acts hired by the SAB. Despite rigorous academic commitments, students bands still yearn to help students rock out. Hillsdale College should recognize these bands as a cultural institution, and give them the rehearsal space they need and deserve.
Mr. Naida is a junior studying English and French.