Members of Calvin bands balance school and music


Photo by Anna Delph

Bands. Every college has them. Rock bands, indie bands, singer-songwriters.

Playing gigs at various campus locations and around town or absentmindedly strumming a guitar outside, cheered on by crowds of fans; these are the people high school musicians aspire to be. But are the rumors true? Is being in a band all that it’s cracked up to be?

“I’m not sure what people fantasize it to be,” said senior singer-songwriter Jenny LaJoye. “It is awesome, but maybe not for the reasons people think.”

Junior Andrew Banning, a member of the former band Summer Dust, had a similar experience.

“When I was in a band during my first two years at Calvin, it was cool, but not because people perceived it as cool,” he said. “I was just having fun playing music with my friends.”

“At first, it’s really great. You feel like you’re going places but very quickly it turns into work,” said Sheri Hughey, a missionary in France who sang in two rock bands to put herself through college.

Though it includes challenges, being in a band in college comes with some fulfilling rewards.

For LaJoye, one of the biggest rewards is getting to meet all kinds of people that she wouldn’t otherwise have to chance to meet and receiving encouragement from them.

“Receiving the kind of support I’ve often received from people always feels undeserved, but it makes a lot of this worth it,” said LaJoye.

“When it comes to actually being on stage and performing music, it’s still one of the greatest feelings. Hearing the crowd getting ‘into’ or at least getting energized by your playing is great,” said senior Brandon Raterink.

Performing is one aspect of it, but behind-the-scenes work is just as important as what happens onstage.

“More often than not, it’s a lot of work practicing, learning songs and trying to coordinate schedules to practice with your other members,” said Raterink.

Vocalist and guitarist of the band Now Passing, first-year student Matt Sweda is especially partial to this aspect of the music business.

“Having a whole spread of people bringing an idea together that no one’s ever done before, the whole creation process, it’s addicting,” said Sweda.

According to pianist and vocalist of Now Passing, senior Kelvyn Koning, bands spend a large amount of time together practicing, recording when they can and growing closer.

“Music is very bonding — it’s a shared thing we do together. It’s time spent together intentionally,” said Koning.

For many of these musicians, music is something they do to relax.

“It’s one of the best stress reliefs I have,” said Sweda. “There’s something [great] about a group of people getting together and playing music.”

“Every time I pull out the guitar I de-stress,” said first-year student Peter Wagenmaker. “Things are put back into perspective and I can re-prioritize all I’ve got on my plate.”

One of the main resources that Calvin has for emerging bands is the Cave Cafe, a place where Calvin bands can play and give their music some exposure.

“The Cave Cafe has also been instrumental (pun intended) to fostering [the band] scene,” said senior Jared Haverdink. “Without the open mics in my freshman and sophomore year I don’t think I would have continued doing musical projects.”

According to singer-songwriter junior James Li, the Cave is a good place to start: “It’s really low stress. You can’t fail the Cave. That is our biggest resource,” said Li.

One of the main difficulties for student musicians, though, is trying to balance school and music.

“It’s really chaotic,” said Sweda.

“It’s hard to fit in academics and music at the same time because they are both so time consuming,” said Li.“It’s also really hard to see where your goals line up.”

“I consider being a singer-songwriter my full-time job, on top of being a student, which is also a full-time job,” explained LaJoye.

“One job always suffers. During the school year, my schoolwork suffers sometimes because I decided to write a song instead, or I had too many rehearsals and performances that week, or I was up too late in the studio. It can be a bit of a scheduling nightmare, but I can’t really give up either job.”

Another struggle musicians have faced at Calvin is a lack of resources.

“It was so difficult to have a band freshman and sophomore year because there was just nowhere to practice,” said Li.

“We struggled to find places, let alone times, to play our music together, and often had to go to great lengths to make it happen,” added Banning.

In response to this need, Calvin is creating a new music space specifically for bands to practice in.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Li.

“The Music Space project that we’re working on at Calvin would have been a huge resource if it existed back [when I was in a band], and, in fact, it will be a big asset for musicians and bands at Calvin once it’s in operation,” said Banning.

“The most exciting thing about Calvin’s music scene right now is probably that we almost have one,” said senior Jared Haverdink. “My freshman and sophomore year, other than CARE, I didn’t really know of any bands.”

“It’s tough to find people who approach music the same way I do. Because it just takes time and vulnerability to get to know people and find who else has similar passions and complementary talents,” added Wagenmaker.

A lot of bands, for these reasons or others, don’t make it after college.

“I always suspected that as a band it was very limited to a college thing,” said Sweda.

“[Our band] didn’t end up working out, because we all approached it with different goals in mind,” said Banning.

“After three years straight, our band fell apart, and I found different employment, more in line with my studies, to finish school,” said Hughey. “I thought it could continue, but I didn’t have time to ‘create,’ only time to rehearse. I also had another part-time job while going to college full-time.”

“Freshman year I started a band that lasted for a few months. It didn’t really work out, which is fine,” said Li. “I decided to just keep on writing, and I think my writing has been getting better.”

But just because bands fall apart doesn’t mean that the people stop doing music. Many of these students have gone through many projects and have never stopped being involved in music in one way or another.

Though there are ups and downs to the music business, it is ultimately something that they just keep on doing.

“I wouldn’t trade [music] for anything,” said senior Laura Sterenberg.

“It’s a lot of maintenance but it’s worth it,” added Sweda.

To Wagenmaker and LaJoye, it will always be part of their lives.

“I know I will be making music the rest of my life, regardless of where I end up,” said Wagenmaker

“It’s my future,” explained LaJoye. “It’s not only a source of income, but it’s my craft and my art and the thing in which I am always looking to improve.”

Music can be a difficult field to do well in. It takes a lot of “perseverance, sacrifice and flexibility to make a go of it,” according to Hughey.

“Anyone can be in a band if he or she approaches it with the right set of values: musical fellowship and collaboration,” said Banning.

If you’re thinking about venturing into the unknown void of music, here’s some advice from Li:

“Play in Grand Rapids, in the city, in East Town. Get connected to the community, play house shows. Don’t limit yourself to Calvin because if you really do want to make it, the people who will listen to your music aren’t just going to be your friends and are not just going to be from Calvin,” he said.

And if you’re doing it for the fame, rest assured that some students, like sophomore Michael Lentz, still think it’s cool.

“Being in a band is definitely cool,” said Lentz, “because it means you’ve got a skill that you can practice and use.”