Music @ Val: A Look into Amherst’s On-Campus Music Scene

Music @ Val: A Look into Amherst’s On-Campus Music Scene

On almost any Friday night last semester, students grabbing dinner could stumble across a wonderful live performance from some of the college’s best student musicians. On the balcony of Valentine Dining Hall (i.e. the “Valcony”), a small stage was set up, with students scattered around the tables, six-feet apart, enjoying food and live music. 

This was Music @ Val — one of the highlights of the fall semester. After a long, grueling week and months without live music, the vivacious performances revitalized me. The sense of freedom provided an escape from the muffling blanket of mundanity brought on by on-campus Covid restrictions.

The variety of performers revealed to me the college’s music scene, with musicians from all over campus coming together to share in a night of creativity and community.

I spoke to the most prolific performers from Music @ Val: Adrian Friedman ’24, Daniel Flores-García ’24, Matthew Mueller ’24 and Quentin Jeyaretnam ’23, who often jammed together long into the night.

I then talked to Gabby Moore ’23 — the founder, organizer and occasional performer of Music @ Val — about her experiences organizing the event, her plans for the program’s future and what she enjoyed about Friday nights on the Valcony.

Edited for clarity and length.

Milo Leahy-Miller (MLM): What are your intended majors and your instruments?

Quentin Jeyaretnam (QJ): I’m an economics major, and I play the bass.

Daniel Flores-García (DFG): I’m thinking my major is going to be computer science, and I play guitar.

Matthew Mueller (MM): I don’t know my major yet, but I play piano and trumpet.

Adrian Friedman (AF): My intended major right now is physics, but that is very subject to change. And I play drums, mainly.

MLM: Name one of your favorite artists.

QJ: Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Jaco Pastorius, the bass player. I try to sound like him. I don’t think I’ve succeeded yet.

DFG: Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Charly García. He sings in Spanish, and he’s from the ’70s and ’80s.

MM: Butcher Brown.

AF: Top of the list is probably Anderson .Paak right now at least. There’s a bunch of other ones. Vulfpeck, Steely Dan — stuff like that.

MLM: How did you all meet each other?

QJ: Matthew and I were paired up when he was an admitted student, and I was supposed to just talk to him. And that’s how we met. And [we] just chatted about music.

DFG: I’m pretty sure you [Matthew] and I met at a jazz Zoom meeting.

MM: Yeah, I knew you were a musician because I said, “Are there jazz musicians?” in the Zeemee [online app] and you responded and said, “Yeah.” And I knew Adrian was a drummer because he posted a picture of himself playing drums on Instagram.

DFG: I think you introduced him to me Matthew? And Quentin, I’m pretty sure we met in the jazz ensemble after rehearsal. 

AF: It was mostly through the Jazz Ensemble last semester. And then obviously, through the Friday night jams. But, I don’t really remember how it happened, but anyway, we all knew each other through the jazz band.

MLM: When was the first time you jammed together?

DFG: You [Matthew] and me, the first time was that time behind North right?

MM: Yeah, at the beginning of the semester. Then we all jammed together, like, the day before the first night at Val. And that was our only rehearsal!

DFG: Yeah, we just started making noise on top of the balcony.

MLM: What prompted you all to jam together in the first place?

QJ: I think we all have a similar approach to music. We see it very much like an open-ended thing, like a conversation. So we often just jam on a chord for like, 10 to 15 minutes.

DFG: And I guess we all have this incentive or hunger to jam.

MM: We all listen to the same music too. I sort of feel as soon as I knew that all of you listened to Vulfpeck, I was able to stereotype you and was like: “okay, they’re these types of musicians.”

MLM: Out of the pieces you’ve performed, what was your favorite?

QJ: I loved “Street Fighter.” When Adrian starts with that drum beat, it just hits.

DFG: I think it was either “Didn’t Cha Know” because of Kiiren [Aamar Jackson]’s rapping. And I thought that was really very dynamic and thought it was all building up to Kiiren rapping. And also Watermelon Man because of that weird vocal thing we had.

MM: I like when we first played “Chameleon,” and Quentin pulled out that bass effect.

AF: My favorite was probably “Red Clay.” Just because the drumbeat on that one’s really fun.

DFG: And “Moby Dick” too.

MLM: What do you like most about Music @ Val?

DFG: Okay, for me, it was very much an outlet, because it’s Covid times. We’re in front of a monitor all week. And then Friday arrives, and like, the performances were a once-in-a-lifetime in-person activity for Covid times. And yeah, it was so cool for the Valcony to be a hangout spot for a lot of people who are just as passionate about music as you are.

QJ: I completely agree. Adding on to that, I like the fact that you also play with a bunch of other musicians. So every time someone new joins, it’s like a whole different energy that comes through.

AF: Especially in contrast to a jazz band or the Jazz Ensemble that we’re all in. Because, when we go to the Valcony performance, we have no idea what we’re going to play.

MM: Yeah, I feel like we create stuff when we play, and that feels good.

DFG: No sheet music.

MLM: How would you describe a typical Music @ Val night?

MM: It’s sort of a lot because we always end up planning out songs really close to the performance time. I always procrastinate until right before. Actually, before we play a song, I listen to it on Spotify during the performance. So it’s hectic.

QJ: We kind of just call songs. It’s just fun to randomly start playing leads and basslines and everything.

MLM: What do you hope is different this semester?

MM: I really hope that this semester, we’ll get more of a chance to feel freer while playing and not feel like there’s pressure during the performance. 

DFG: Yeah, like what Matthew just said. Or maybe actually rehearsing.

MM: The jams are the rehearsing.

QJ: But that’s also part of the fun.

MLM: Is there anything else you want to say?

DFG: Thank you Gabby.

QJ: And come see us play! I think it’d be great if more people come out too, especially juniors and seniors who weren’t on campus.

MM: We promise we’ll rehearse — well, we’ll sound better this time.

DFG: Yeah, and we promise we’ll actually end the song at the same time.

MLM: And can I get you all to come up with a name for the kind of collective you’ve got right now?

DFG: Quentet!

Gabby Moore ’23

MLM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Gabby Moore (GM): My name is Gabby Moore. I am a sophomore. I’m majoring in math and philosophy.

MLM: Do you play any instruments?

GM: I play a handful of instruments, but my primary is piano.

MLM: What gave you the idea for Music @ Val?

GM: Honestly, I hadn’t realized how big that space was up there. My friends and I lived in Val last semester and, within the first few days, we would bring speakers out there and all just kind of hang out, spread out and listen to music. And, basically, we were just sitting around, and I said, “why are we listening on a speaker when there’s enough space that we could actually like, play out here.” And most of my friends were musicians or artists or something, and so we all just kind of wanted an opportunity to play. 

MLM: How did you go about setting everything up and getting permission?

GM: One of my roommates was in the Senate, so he reached out to some people in student affairs. And we basically just emailed a whole bunch of different people, and they kind of just offered their help.

MLM: What do you like about Music @ Val?

GM: Uhm, everything? Is that a fair answer? I think it was honestly just how many new people I met. Because I thought that I knew a lot of the musicians on campus because of the music department, but it was really cool to see all the different people that kind of came out of the woodwork. I think I just really like how much bigger the music community feels now.

MLM: What was one of the most memorable performances or nights you remember?

GM: I think Christian [Pattavina ’24], the freshmen, the classical pianist, he just took my breath away every single time he played. Him and Rebecca [Awuah ’23], from the Zumbyes. She sang a handful of songs. But, for Christian, it was just, like, mind-blowing to see someone play that quickly.

MLM: What about Music @ Val do you want to improve or change this semester?

GM: I definitely want to make it where it’s maybe a little bit less of an open mic and more like musicians working and writing together. Like make it a more collaborative process, you know, or along the lines of a club or organization where we could actually work together rather than just jam once a week. I feel like there’s not a big environment for songwriting or composing outside of the classical or jazz realms here, and I’m kind of just hoping that maybe this can allow musicians that are not in those fields to connect and work with each other.

MLM: And is there anything else you’d like to say?

GM: Come to Music @ Val! It’s starting again as soon as the weather warms up!