How many U of T bands can you name off the top of your head? If it isn’t many, you’re not alone.
This summer, Ryerson University’s The Eyeopener wrote a guide to navigating its school’s music scene. Featuring eight their groups and alluding to many more, the article opened our eyes to the fact that here at U of T, most students would be hard pressed to name a few bands, much less list the “best” ones. With the exception of the school’s music faculty, artists belonging to other departments just don’t make a lot of noise on campus. Certainly these student musicians are out there; the presence of the school’s annual Battle of the Bands competition in January calls attention to select acts, at least for a night. Once the curtains close, however, most of the groups are forgotten for another year.
Mitch Evans is a fourth-year Arts & Science student who has performed in a number of bands during his time at U of T. The way he sees it, the relative quietness of U of T’s music scene is largely the result of the collective busyness of everyone on campus. “I honestly never put much interest in trying to network with fellow U of T musicians, because I took the same assumption most people do: that if you’re at U of T, you are primarily focusing on your studies.”
Evans feels that ever since his time at the university began, his identity as a musician has been harder to maintain. The divide between curriculum and creativity at St. George’s non-music faculties forces student musicians to place textbooks before Telecasters. This is in comparison to schools like Ryerson, where students’ interests and area of study are often intertwined.
“The school doesn’t offer much support for musicians either,” Evans notes, questioning whether his own busy schedule is the only cause of his slipping musical identity. “[U of T] is known for having very little interest in their students on the micro level, so it would be beneficial for the school to try and become more involved with its students on a more personal level, such as caring about their creative outlets.”
That being said, a number of colleges and student commissions across campus host the occasional open-mic night or alternative music event; inviting students to share their talents and passions. One such organization is Hart House Stages, for example, is a concert series that hosts free events once a month in Hart House’s Arbor Room. These events feature talent from on and off campus in an effort to expose lesser-known artists to students.
Others, such as the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UCLit), host monthly Coffee House nights, where the UCLit rearranges their college’s Junior Common Room into a venue for student acts such as musical and spoken word performers.
Jonathan Liang is the Literary and Creative Arts Commissioner of the UCLit. Liang is proud that he and the student society can present a platform that allows students to express themselves creatively while in an inclusive space, but he too maintains that U of T has room for improvement in terms of music and the arts. “I think U of T should host more large-scale music events,” Liang tells The Varsity. “I remember seeing July Talk at Hart House two years ago and it was one of the best concerts I’ve attended.”
While his Coffee House events present the opportunity for student musicians to be heard, the reality of open mic events is that each artist only has a few minutes to perform. “Other than Battle of the Bands, we don’t quite have any events where musicians can be rewarded for what they do.”
Daniel Konikoff, another student musician balancing time between studies and rehearsals, isn’t so sure the presence of the occasional open mic and talent nights necessarily constitutes a music ‘scene’ or community. In Konikoff’s view, a music scene is “something that’s active and lively, where bands know each other and play semi-frequently. St. George doesn’t seem to have that. What St George has – at least to me – are music ‘opportunities’. ”
While venues certainly exist, Konikoff thinks that musical acts at U of T lack a sense of solidarity with one another — something that ties them together and creates a network where fellow musicians and fans can identify different tracks, styles, and groups. But what’s more discouraging than the need for better community among student musicians is the apathy which seems to hold among the bulk of their classmates. Konikoff finds that his peers often show genuine interest when he mentions his band, but getting them to take the next step towards listening to his music is a whole other story. “Even if it’s downtown, converting friends into fans is as tricky as playing the guitar well while it’s behind your back,” he says.
Ultimately, U of T presents its musically inclined students with opportunities, but not with communities. The same could be applied to the school in a macro sense too. Student groups and other organizations will inevitably bring some students together, but the vastness of U of T’s population, mixed with the busy schedules of many students makes it hard for a sense of community to flourish. Unfortunately, the building of a more connected musical community is something that would require more time than most student musicians can afford during their four year stay on campus.
Still, some like Annette Szeliga, President of Hart House Stages, aren’t ready to give up on these musicians. Stages’ next event is set to deviate from past shows by including an interactive session with an industry panel of musicians in order to explore how U of T and the city as a whole can grow to become a thriving musical community. “I think there is so much potential in [the] St. George [scene],” the president insists. Now if only they had an amplifier.