Play and Record: Student Musicians Lay Tracks in Repurposed Studio Space

Story posted March 29, 2010

If music is indeed meant for the body and soul, its origins in Sargent Gym will surely resonate.

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The Student Recording Studio in Sargent Gym features state-of-the-art recording equipment.

As though it were a lingering echo of the rock and roll blaring from the speakers of the former weight room, music is now taking shape within the padded confines of former football coaches' offices-turned-professional-grade recording studio in space next to what was the Watson Fitness Center.

Drummer Peter McLaughlin '10 says his band, The Milkman's Union, recorded their first album, "Roads In," in busy Studzinski Recital Hall, where they often had to work around other performances or late at night.

"But here, it's a dedicated space," says McLaughlin, standing in the new Student Recording Studio, where he and his bandmates are at work on their follow-up album.

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(L. to r.) Student musician Peter McLaughlin '10; Peter Simmons '78, executive director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival and president of the Delta Sigma corporation; Adjunct Lecturer and Studzinski Recital Hall Technical Director Chris Watkinson.

"It's exciting — just to have this space, this technology, this wonderful facility at our fingertips whenever we want it."

A dozen students bands have been taking advantage of the practice space as they prepare for the Battle of the Bands competition in Morrell Lounge, Smith Union April 8.

The Milkman's Union Delivers Rock
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(L. to r.) Peter McLaughlin '10, Henry Jamison '10, Sean Weathersby '10, Akiva Zamcheck.

By Emily Neilson '11

The student rock band, The Milkman's Union, formed in 2005 under the leadership of guitarist and vocalist Henry Jamison '10, who says the initial union of drummer Peter McLaughlin '10, bassist Sean Weathersby '10, guitarist Akiva Zamcheck '11 and himself was an informal one.

"At that point, we had no reason for being in a band except that it's something that boys do, like playing baseball," Jamison says.

The Milkman's Union's sound is an amalgam of various influences. Jazz sways McLaughlin's playing, Zamcheck is classically trained, and Jamison finds inspiration in several classical composers and, he says, in some Ingmar Bergman movies.

For more than a year, the band worked with Studzinksi Recital Hall Technical Director and Adjunct Lecturer Christopher Watkinson on every aspect of studio production, and feels an encouraging sense of accomplishment over the completion of their first album, "Roads In," which was released in October 2009.

"Our inspiration now comes from the momentum we're feeling after years of slowly building up to the modest point where we are now," says Jamison, who says the band plans to stick together even after they all graduate in May.

The Milkman's Union is making use of the new Student Recording Studio as it works on its follow-up album, which is expected to be released by late summer.

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Adjunct Lecturer Chris Watkinson, who, in addition to serving as Studzinksi Recital Hall's technical director, teaches Introduction to Audio Recording Techniques (MUS 105c), guided the project as Student Activities worked to transform what was initially a rock band practice space to one that includes a central control room featuring what he calls "the world's most professional-caliber and cutting-edge recording equipment."

"The goal of MUS 105c and this studio is to prepare student musicians and engineers to be as competitive and knowledgeable about the music industry and recording process as possible," says Watkinson, whose students use the space for mixing labs.

"In today's market, musicians need not only to be proficient at their instrument, but also to be able to communicate their performance accurately and effectively to recorded media. Gaining experience in this new space will be a huge first step in this process for the recreational or aspiring professional musicians, and recording engineers."

Making It Happen

Peter Simmons '78, executive director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival and president of the Delta Sigma corporation, the fraternity that provided one of two lead gifts for the project, notes that student musicians once were relegated to practicing in the old squash courts in Morrell Gym.

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He says the idea for a dedicated space began to gain traction during renovation of the first-year dorms.

"The college began asking students what they were looking for that they didn't have on campus," says Simmons.

"The students started saying, 'How about a practice space that's accessible and easier to use, and we could use a recording studio, too.'"

Simmons says when the Delta Sigma house was sold to the College, two funds were created, one of which funds a visual arts major scholarship; the other is set aside for student activities.

Plans to allocate the latter to the project were galvanized, Simmons says, when fellow Sigma Delta member Jim Roux '81, himself a leader of several bands while at Bowdoin, died in the September 11 attacks.

Roux had been aboard the plane that struck the second World Trade Center tower.

"Since 2001, we had saved most of the money with the intention of making this happen," says Simmons.

Trustee Michael and Laura Lazarus, Bowdoin parents, contributed the second lead gift.

Transformational Repurposing

"One of the great things about Bowdoin is that we are creative about our reuse of space," says Allen Delong, director of student life and the Smith Union.

Recital Hall Slideshow
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Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Music Cristle Collins Judd describes how music, art, learning and athletics interconnect in Bowdoin's transformed cultural spaces — including the newly completed Studzinski Recital Hall and Kanbar Auditorium.

(View using Quicktime)

"Turning the football offices into music practice space and a recording studio is one in a long line of examples," he says, pointing out that the former Hyde Cage became the David Saul Smith Union, and more recently, that the Curtis Pool was transformed into the state-of-the-art Studzinski Recital Hall.

These days the music in Sargent Gym is a bit more muffled, but behind sound-proof doors, student musicians are mixing it up.

No longer forced to squeeze equipment through small squash court doors or record in the wee hours, they are making music and recording it for the world to enjoy.

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