Behind the scenes: student groups in Dartmouth

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Jayanth Uppaluri ’24 explores exactly what goes into setting up a brotherhood band performance, from rehearsals to set-up.

| 05/08/22 01:00

Source: Courtesy of Sam Laskin

When a fraternity announces that a group of students are playing, you will usually see a crowd of people trying to enter the room. Inside, you’ll find a sea of ​​students huddled together as an audience, with fellow students tearing, singing, and grooving to their own live music. With such an entertaining product, most students overlook the two essential questions: how does this whole scene work and what happens in each performance? As someone who played in all four bands on campus this summer – Exit 13, Gibberish, Tightrope and The Stripers – I am well equipped to answer.

For starters, there is no central database of groups or fraternities to consult for booking. In my experience, if a fraternity wants a band to perform at an event, they usually request through a personal connection. Likewise, if a group wants to perform in a particular fraternity, they will use their personal connections. There are pros and cons to this system; the informal nature of these interactions makes it easier to find groups and request rooms, but also makes it harder to haggle over payments and schedules.

Before a band even starts rehearsing, they have to choose a setlist. A band must balance several factors when choosing songs to play, such as the popularity of the songs, the difficulty of the repertoire, and the genre they want to be known for. These considerations are important in determining the band’s reputation, which affects future performances, so bands take extra care in choosing songs that will appeal to all audiences while giving them a unique sound. When I play with a band like The Stripers, which has two talented guitarists who act as lead singers, we choose songs that showcase their talents. On the other hand, a band like Tightrope, which has a skilled horn section, will need repertoire that showcases their skills.

Repetition is an obvious part of the creative process, but it’s still worth mentioning. Even if the individual musicians are experienced, it takes constant practice in order to maintain the cohesion that separates good bands from great ones. Most bands rehearse in the Hop for two to four hours a week, and that doesn’t include the time individual musicians rehearse beforehand. These reps are focused, but we also know how to have fun. Some of my best memories of this summer came during the breaks from these practices, where we talk about our weeks or just start jamming spontaneously.

When audiences arrive at a performance, the amps are already set up and the sound is clear and balanced. However, with the rare exception of Dartmouth-sponsored performances, there are no stagehands to help with equipment and a soundcheck; we have to do it ourselves. This summer I did edits with limited equipment that “only” take about an hour and a half. Yet my performance with The Stripers on July 29 required the installation of a full PA system with microphones on each instrument, a gargantuan process that took almost four hours!

Location also determines the need and cost of rentals. Since most bands don’t have the luxury of having their own PA system and quality amplification, they often depend on PA system and equipment from a fraternity like Bones Gate or Zeta Psi. Other fraternities do not have performance equipment, and therefore students must rent from Hanover Strings, which requires additional preparation time and costs.

Even with all the prep time, performances can still throw curveballs. When I performed with The Stripers on July 29, our lead singer forgot how to sing the third verse of a song. We had obviously never practiced this scenario, but we listened to each other and made quick changes, improvising a whole new section of the song while our lead singer improvised a speech to the crowd. I can’t say I’m entirely sure of what he said, but the crowd absolutely loved it.

Overall, for every hour-long performance, a band can expect to spend over six hours practicing, setting up, and troubleshooting. None of us are professional musicians, and we all have to balance our schoolwork and other extracurricular activities in addition to our performance. However, it’s all worth it when you see the crowd of your mates, some you know and some you’ve never seen, wildly applauding the product you just released. It’s a feeling that stays with you long after the concert is over.

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