By William Kissane, Staff Writer & Cartoonist
Warren Wilson College has been home to a surprising variety of talented musicians over the years, especially for a school with no music major. It’s hard to identify exactly what about the school’s environment attracts and sustains so many musicians. I was overwhelmed by the number of naturally talented musicians I met in my first few weeks at Wilson last fall.
I grew up in the legendary music hub of Athens, GA surrounded by famous names like Widespread Panic, R.E.M., Of Montreal, The Whigs, Randall Bramlett, Reptar, Drive By Truckers, Neutral Milk Hotel, and many more who call Athens their home. The town is centered around the University of Georgia, which has always played a central role in the music scene. The Athens community is very supportive of local musicians, but for students who struggle to find practice space, there are resources outside the University.
Although Asheville is close by, Wilson’s campus isn’t quite close enough to take advantage of the same sorts of resources as the University of Georgia. It has become increasingly obvious to me that the campus needs a place for organized groups to gather and practice.
“We’ve had some incredibly creative students within the music department over the years,” Steven Williams, a professor of music at Wilson, said, “The talent is there and when we see driven musicians [coming through the department] it’s exciting. We’ve had a few quality groups form here on campus that go on to do big things in the world of music.”
Williams has been teaching at Wilson since 1981. He currently directs the Chapel Choir and the College Choir, is the Music Director for the Theatre Department, and teaches several courses within the music department (Beginning Music Theory, Music Appreciation, and Opera as Drama). He‘s one of several department chairs who have attempted to create an accessible practice space for student musicians. Warren Gaughan, professor of music and supervisor of the Music Crew, has also worked to introduce an available practice space for students in the past, but, like Williams, he met with the unanticipated issues of vandalism and theft.
“It seems like we ought to be able to do it,” Gaughan said, “I tried for years to get a place on campus where people could practice and we finally got it. I’ve been disappointed quite honestly in the troubles we’ve had after I finally got it set up.”
Gaughan arrived at Wilson in 1974 and, in addition to directing the Jazz Ensemble, teaches Jazz Appreciation, Theory/Improvisation, Applied Music Theory, and several piano courses. He first looked into creating a practice space for students when he was the department chair several years ago, and the practice area in lower Gladfelter was eliminated in order to accommodate the needs of the post office.
“It left no place for students to jam or practice,” Gaughan said, “We set up the room with the best of intentions to accommodate students wanting a place to make music; we didn’t expect to have to make huge efforts to police the room.”
The small room located outside Kittredge Music Hall has been the subject of several organized attempts in the past ten years that fell through when students stole equipment from the room, damaged equipment in the room, and, in one incident, even broke the lock to get inside the room. Williams and Gaughan thought installing a combination-code locking system to the room’s door would resolve the issue, but they had no way of preventing students from giving the code out to others.
“The main problem we’ve had with the room has come from students giving out the punch code,” Williams said, “If there was a way we could better supervise [the room], I think that would be terrific.”
Currently, the room is hardly used and is no longer maintained by the Music Crew. Originally, the room was meant for drummers to set up and practice in, and efforts were made to actually semi-soundproof it at one point. As a drummer myself, I know how difficult it is to bring a set to campus, let alone find a place or time to set one up.
While traditional Appalachian music plays a dominant role at Wilson, the independent music scene has yet to really take off. The shortage of independent pursuit is obvious, and it’s clear that students would benefit from this resource.
“It only takes one to get the ball rolling,” Williams said, “Obviously it would be an advantage to student musicians to have this practice space.”
To encourage the development of Wilson’s independent music scene, Joia Hansen of the Music Crew and I will be working together with the music department this semester to figure out solutions for past issues. We will also work to raise money towards restoring the space, the eventual goal being to provide a drum set, a PA system with microphones, and, eventually, an amp or two for students to use.
“There is no stereotype of a typical Wilson student who takes our music classes,” Gaughan said, “As a teacher, the best part is that students are open to exploring music, without prejudging the style or genre. Because of that, Wilson students grow, thrive, and find a music they resonate with.”