For the love of music
Student musicians volunteer to entertain campus community

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


P.J. MacAlpine plays the flute as the UC Jazz Ensemble performs on lower Sproul Plaza. At right is the group's instructor, Kevin Porter. Noah Berger photo.

25 October 00 | Be it a cappella crooning under Sather Gate, brassy beats from Memorial Stadium or jazzy improvisations on lower Sproul Plaza, the harmonious strains of Berkeley's student music groups strike a familiar chord.

Few are aware though, of what these young melody makers go through to keep the music alive.

Student Musical Activities' 500 members volunteer their time, and often their own money, to entertain others.

"Everything, from the selection and arrangement of music, choreography, costumes and uniforms to bookings, recording contracts and public relations is done by the students," said Stephanie Miller-Lamb, associate director of Student Musical Activities and one of six full-time staff who assists the organization's 23 bands and singing groups.

One of the students' most crucial tasks is raising money. The groups that comprise Student Musical Activities - the UC Marching Band, Choral Ensembles and Jazz Ensembles - rely solely on donations, paid gigs and their own pocket money to support themselves. For example, marching band members who perform at away games must pay for their own transportation, food and lodging, said Miller-Lamb.

Aside from salaries for full-time staff - and some technical and administrative support from Cal Performances - the student groups receive no financial assistance from the university.

And it takes tens of thousands of dollars, said Miller-Lamb, to put on the hundreds of performances produced each year. Costs include paying royalties for copyrighted music or the purchase of a tuba, at more than $8,000 apiece.

"These groups are cash poor but enthusiasm rich," said Miller-Lamb. "It is amazing what these kids can do with so little."

Despite financial woes and rigorous academic responsibilities, "the dedication of these vocalists and musicians is astounding," said Miller-Lamb. "They devote hours to rehearsing and performing each week."

"I love the music. That's why we all do it," says trombone player Charlie Wilson. A junior majoring in philosophy, Wilson is a marching band member as well as the sound and equipment manager and performer for the jazz ensembles.

"Though it keeps me very busy, being involved in music groups is immensely rewarding. It gives me experience in organizing and planning performances, a chance to make new friends and the opportunity to entertain people."

The groups are hired for campus ceremonies, reunions, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, fund raisers and VIP receptions, as well as for corporate functions and nightclub appearances at venues like Yoshi's in Oakland.

"We've gone from a restaurant to a concert stage within a matter of hours," said Bevan Manson, director of UC Jazz Ensembles, which every year hosts one of the country's biggest collegiate jazz festivals.

The groups also record their musisc and sell CDs, which are especially popular with Berkeley sports fans and alumni.

But for every paying gig, many others are provided at no charge, in the name of Cal spirit and pride, for athletic events, Cal Day, Charter Day and weekly campus appearances.

The music groups also reach out to the community, giving free performances at K-12 schools, many of which have suffered severe cutbacks in arts funding. Young students are also brought to campus - among them 1,000 high schoolers who will perform with the marching band at the Nov. 4 football game against Oregon State.

Much of the hard work these students do - rehearsing, planning, brainstorming - takes place in the cramped basement of Chavez Center, home to Student Musical Activities. But despite their cave-like environs, creativity abounds here, producing vocal and instrumental revelry that entertains thousands and, for many, embodies the spirit of Cal.

Student Musical Activities' schedule of performances



Home | Search | Archive | About | Contact | More News

Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.

Comments? E-mail