Colgate has many unique features that distinguish it from other institutions, including such campus staples as the Cruiser, the brutal walk up the Persson Steps in the dead of winter and, of course, the Jug. One of the most exceptional qualities, however, is that the most popular live band on campus is one composed of professors. While student bands may go unnoticed in favor of Dangerboy, Colgate’s student body is the source of several exceptionally talented groups.
Any given weekend in Hamilton, students are likely to find Sonic Symposium playing their hybrid of jazz, funk and hip-hop to a crowd of enthusiastic fans.
Formed in spring of 2006, the group currently features a nine-man line-up, with senior Ben Sanofsky on keyboards, senior Chris Jospe on percussion, seniors Ed Kalish and Zachary McCollum on guitar, junior Alex Ogunji on saxophone, senior Adam Coccari on vocals, sophomore Eli Raffeld on drums, senior Will Warren and junior Brendan Young (who is currently abroad) on bass. Songwriting is usually a collaborative effort.
“We had to work to get songs into form from loose jams,” said Sanofsky, of his band’s work.
The band has a repertoire of about 30 original songs, and they rarely perform covers. With so many members contributing to the band, many different influences and styles contribute to Sonic Symposium’s sound.
“We have a lot of different styles. We try to get all the original voices in,” said Raffeld.
Sonic Symposium has gained enough recognition on campus to rival the perennial popularity of Dangerboy. Their first recorded album has recently been made available for purchase on the iTunes Music Store, and the band will be competing in the Earlville Youth Showcase of Singer-Songwriters at the Palace Theater on November 30 at 8:00 PM. The band is currently recording their second album with the help of senior Chris Beaver, which should be available early next semester.
“We’re focused on creating an original sound,” said Ogunji.
While Sonic Symposium is enjoying relative success now, it was not so easy to build up their reputation. With a noticeable dearth of practice and performance space on campus, Sonic and other bands have had to struggle to find space to make music.
“I think the school should honor music and performance more,” said Sanofsky.
With six seniors graduating in the spring, the future of Sonic is up in the air. While all the members would like to continue with the band, none are sure how likely that scenario is.
“The dynamic of the band will never be the same after this year,” said Jospe.
Transition is also besetting self-proclaimed “party band” Jon Stark and the Rebels. With guitarist junior Peter Henningsen currently abroad and bassist junior Derek Hinckley and vocalist/keyboardist junior Jonathan Miller-Meeks taking their studies overseas next semester, just guitarist sophomore Michael Kodesch and drummer junior Matt Barton will be left on campus. Instead of continuing on with replacement musicians, the band will go on hiatus until next fall.
For now, Jon Stark and the Rebels is enjoying playing at various parties on campus, often playing covers by ’90s alternative rock bands such as Green Day, Weezer and Rage Against the Machine.
“We play pretty much anything that we think sounds cool and we think people will like,” said Barton.
The band has also started writing original pieces, which have been influenced from everyone from the Rolling Stones to the Polyphonic Spree.
Since their formation during the 2005-2006 school year, the band has played predominately at fraternities, also making appearances at the Jug and Colgate Activities Board’s Battle of the Bands. However, booking gigs has been a major challenge for the group.
“It’s really hard to establish ourselves because there are a couple of established bands and they get most of the headlines, so it’s hard to break through that and get any sort of publicity,” said Hinckley.
Jon Stark and the Rebels echoed Sonic Symposium’s sentiments about the lack of a musical presence on campus.
“There really isn’t much of a music scene. It’s mostly bands’ friends that come out and support them,” said Hinckley.
“There’s a lot of interest on the artists’ side, but there’s not the population to support it,” added Miller-Meeks.
Additionally, the lack of resources on campus for burgeoning bands has added to the Jon Stark and the Rebels’ struggles. After the practice space located in the basement of Drake Hall was shut down three semesters ago, bands were sent scrambling all over Hamilton looking for places to plug in.
“Competition between bands increases drastically when there’s limited places to practice and limited venues to play. It’s not good for the bands or the people who want to hear the bands,” said Miller-Meeks.
With just a few weeks left together, the band plans to play one more show at the Jug before the semester is over. After that, Jon Stark and the Rebels will be on hold until Fall 2008.
“Our senior year is going to be the year where we’ll be able to put the most effort and time into the band. We’ll have both guitars, and probably a house off-campus to throw events promoting the group. We’re looking forward to everyone coming back so we can attack the music scene and really try and change it for what we can,” said Barton.
Newest to the campus lineup is Earthman Embassy, the underclassmen rock band that may be the future of the Colgate music scene. Founding members sophomores Ben Taylor, who plays guitar and sings, and George Zeitler, who plays keyboard and sings, started to play together last year, beginning with a performance at the Barge’s Open Mic Night. The duo joined up with sophomore bassist/vocalist Mike Petersen and first-year drummer Tommy Crocker this semester, and performed their first show as a group at the Creative Arts House’s Halloween party.
Taylor and Zeitler write most of the band’s music, which they describe as influenced by Radiohead, the Beatles, and blues guitarists such as Eric Clapton. While their shows do feature a few covers, the set lists are almost all original music.
“We really just play plain old fun rock stuff,” said Zeitler.
Breaking into Colgate’s quiet music scene has posed many of the same problems to Earthman Embassy that other bands have faced. The band has had to put a lot of effort in to getting noticed and booked on campus.
“People aren’t really seeking out bands, it’s really the other way around,” said Zeitler.
With the advantage of time on their side, Earthman Embassy hopes to build a presence in Hamilton, and perhaps one day expand outside of Madison County. Their next step towards that goal is opening for Tally Hall on February 1st at Donovan’s Pub.
“We’d like to play in New York City, or for that matter Syracuse or anywhere outside of Hamilton,” said Taylor.