Student-run bands thrive on and off campus

 The Letdowns play the song “Wonderwall” by Oasis at the Battle of the Bands during lunch on Feb. 23.

The Letdowns play the song “Wonderwall” by Oasis at the Battle of the Bands during lunch on Feb. 23.

The first image that comes to mind when one thinks of a BHS band is the BHS Band: lines of brass, woodwinds, and percussion players marching down Burlingame Avenue during the Play-a-thon, or playing in the harsh glow of a Friday night football game. Like other components of the arts program, music is a medium for expression; it is a way to communicate to the world one’s hopes, fears, and reality. This passion is manifested in the creation of student-formed bands.

After the Battle of the Bands earlier this month, it became clear that music has made an impact on the BHS community. While only two bands performed (The Letdowns and The Balance of Power), it opened the eyes of many to the abundance of musical projects that happen outside of the band room.

The formation of student-run bands happens due to a combination of a love of music and a desire to share this adoration with others in a social setting. But most of all, it starts with a vision.

“If it’s a cover band, you kind of just find songs you want to play, but I write all our songs,” senior Ronan McCaa said. “It depends on what you want out of it. I wanted to write and play our own songs, be like a band. I had this mythic idea of a rock band, and what that should be.”

While he performed at the Battle of the Bands as the lead singer and guitarist in The Letdowns, McCaa’s primary group is called The Apartments. With members from multiple schools in the Bay Area, The Apartments are a good example of how music brings a community together.

For freshman Ben Sherstinsky, an outside musical program was the catalyst for the creation of his band, Charge. Last year, Sherstinsky attended a summertime music camp in San Mateo called School of Rock.

“I really liked that atmosphere of being in a band, and playing with other people, and listening to other instruments,” Sherstinsky said.

Likewise, sophomore drummer Sophia Stroud formed her jazz trio, The Strawberry Jam, after the members became a part of the mentorship program at San Francisco Jazz Center. She described it as an elite program for high school students that allows her to observe and learn from the main affiliated band.

“There’s a basic amount of songs that all jazz musicians know, so we don’t have to rehearse that often because we all know these songs, and we just play them over and over again,” said Stroud. She went on to list a few, such as “Body and Soul,” and “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

Stroud also mentioned how she had written original drum solos and vocal parts. Her first step in the songwriting process is poetry.

“Then I figure out a beat for it, and then a melody,” Stroud said.

Other students also described their music-writing procedures.

“I’ll think of a situation, and then I’ll make a movie scene in my head, and then I’ll write a song either about that movie scene or the characters in that movie scene,” McCaa said. “I just wrote a song a week ago about a guy and a girl driving on the road at night, and then the pop song would be playing under that.”

To Sherstinsky, the process begins with musical appreciation.  

“What bands do you like? Get influence from them,” Sherstinsky said. “See what you really like, and try to incorporate it. Explore many different styles, and see what you like. I really like Spanish flamenco guitar, and I did it for my guitar part for “Salmonella” [an original song]. I incorporated some flamenco in during the calm part of the song.”

His band, Charge, draws influence from progressive rock bands like Rush, and a little metal a là Black Sabbath.

For several of these musicians, the future is bright and uncertain.

“I want to get us on the map because we’re known by a couple of major musicians, but I want to get known by more,” Stroud said.

McCaa explained how The Apartments would probably split because the band members are seniors, yet still he remains hopeful about continuing his involvement in music.

“Ideally we’d become huge pop stars, and, you know, save the world or whatever. That’d be great. But it’s not going to happen,” McCaa said. “I mean it might. I don’t know.”

The Apartments will perform at The Honey Hive in San Francisco on March 25. Check out the Charge Facebook page to find information on their upcoming events and gigs. The Strawberry Jam regularly plays at the Old Skool Cafe in San Francisco, so check the supper club’s website for updates on future gigs.

Posted on April 10, 2017 .