Author: Claire Belisle

Music on Trial: A grand paradox of old and new music brings balance

Iam lucky to have a handful of friends I can go to for new music suggestions and on whom I can count to make me feel too mainstream and under-informed when it comes to what “good” music is.

I am lucky to have friends who are orchestra nerds, who seem to know every movement of every symphony, string quartet and concerto ever written. I am lucky to have friends who make fun of me for how little I know about jazz, but will patiently help me learn. I am somewhere between these passionate sides, and my music taste has developed to be a little bit of each of my friends’ and peers’ tastes combined with mine to be a set of CDs and playlists I am incredibly enthusiastic about.

In middle school a.k.a. the glory days of rampant insecurity, I was intimidated during the school week that I did not know the pop music my peers did, and then I was intimidated on Saturdays when I did not know as much classical music as my youth orchestra peers did. I was caught in the middle and, honestly, just trying to figure out what music to put on my hot pink iPod Nano.

Once I got over the fact that I thought I “should” have a certain taste in music, the adventure of finding and listening to music became way less overwhelming and way more fun. To me, listening to all of the classical music I “should” know is incredibly daunting. When I have to choose which violin concerto to play next, I cannot spend more than two hours deciding because, woah, violin concertos can get pretty annoying after a while. This is the same with any music; Deadmau5’s “Ghosts and Stuff” will always hold a special place in my heart #highschool but I’m not the kind of person who can listen to only Deadmau5 endlessly.

I actually love the balance of classical and current music for the same reason I love working on science homework in the music library and music homework in Regents; I don’t want to fully commit to just one side and style, because I don’t want to have only one side to my interests and knowledge.

I care a lot less now about fitting into someone else’s taste in music; I might seem unenthusiastic and noncommittal to a type of music or style, but that doesn’t mean I have bad taste in music I might have bad taste by your standards. It just means I’m enthusiastic about my own weird mix.

So here is a list of my favorites that have very litte in common except for the fact that I like them.

  • Modest Mussorgsky: “A Night on Bald Mountain” [1867]
  • Bae Tigre: “Now or Never” [2014]
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 [1824] Anyone who tells you should listen to the whole thing in one sitting while doing nothing else is right. I never believed people when they told me until I actually did it once and never turned back.
  • Aaron Copland: “Fanfare for the Common Man” [1942] Trying to pretend your life is a movie and looking for that epic soundtrack? Look no further.
  • Walter Mitty and His Makeshift Orchestra: “Punk With An ‘X'” [2009]
  • Walk the Moon: “Shut Up and Dance” [2014] Because I have no shame in liking mainstream popular music, and this is a catchy song perfect for a road trip playlist.
  • Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 [written between 1888-1894]
  • Culture Cry Wolf: “Come Come” [2010]
  • Foxy Shazam: “Oh Lord” [2010]

With that, I encourage you to listen to whatever music you like – because whether you think you have good or bad taste in music is irrelevant, as long as you like what you listen to and it’s not Nickelback. If you haven’t yet had a dance party with your roommate to Atmosphere’s Sunshine [2007] celebrating this beautiful spring weather yet, you’re doing spring wrong.

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Leadership talk pushes boundaries

On Thursday, Feb. 26, Jane Barrash ’78 visited St. Olaf to share her ideas about leadership and a paradigm shift that she believes needs to take place to produce more effective leadership.

Barrash is the executive director of the Continuum Center, where she shares her holistic curriculum with many leaders, athletes and students all around the country. She shared with the students her firm belief that we live in a “magical, unpredictable universe” and we need to shift our framework of leadership and way of thinking to one more supportive of mental health, creativity, productivity and quality of life.

During her visit to campus, Barrash visited classes, talked to the men’s rugby team and gave a presentation entitled “Philosophy and Psychology of Leadership.” Presented by the Student Leadership Institute and the Piper Center, this wellness-swiped event took place in Viking Theater and attracted a variety of students interested in hearing Barrash’s ideas.

At the beginning of the talk, audience members wrote down what qualities they thought made a good leader. After Barrash’s presentation, these ideas were revisited as students were then encouraged to turn over their cards and write whether their ideas about what a leader should be had changed. During her lecture, Barrash emphasized the importance of looking at evidence and keeping an open mind to a new way of thinking in order to “revisit our operating assumptions.”

Barrash “followed an unconventional path” from Chicago to St. Olaf, where she said she did not fit the common Lutheran and Scandinavian profile. She had her own perspectives to bring to this campus, and learned to embrace a different style of life on campus than she was used to in Chicago. Barrash said she was forever grateful for the philosophy class she took at St. Olaf that helped her further broaden her perspectives and ideas about the world. Graduating with a degree in political science and philosophy, Barrash said she had a hard time finding a job right after college, but that she used the time to learn about herself, manage her fear and think about the world in a new way.

Barrash asked the audience to challenge conventional assumptions, pointing to our traditional education system to make her point. She said, “I am convinced that conventional education only teaches a thin band about who we are and how the world works,” and emphasized that more attention should be given to developing and working with the right side of our brains. She proposed that breathing exercises and better connections between people will solve many of the world’s problems.

“I believe in diversity and I think a lot of growth and health and healing come from connections,” Barrash said.

Barrash’s main point is that we should be moving from a materialist paradigm which gives great power to logistics, control and predictability to a quantum paradigm where all humans are interconnected in the universe and using their brains and bodies together as creative tools, rather than only the left side of their brains as “human computers.”

Instead of taking the world apart piece by piece and labeling its parts as part of the current materialistic paradigm would do, Barrash suggests that a quantum approach would take a more interconnected approach where there is not “one” reality, but each person has his or her own reality that is interconnected to other humans and the world itself.

In a short small-group discussion, Barrash challenged the audience members to discuss whether they thought human consciousness could determine reality, or as she put it, “whether you think consciousness is a causal reality.”

To explore this idea, Barrash posed this scenario: if you see one cockroach crawling away from a closed cardboard box, could your mind and consciousness change whether or not the box was full of cockroaches? Barrash argued that a positive attitude and letting go of fear could cause there to be no more cockroaches in the box.

However, it was a bit more challenging for all audience members to understand her idea on this scenario. Tiller Martin ’17 said, “I agree with her that we need to take a holistic approach in leadership, but I don’t think we have the power to destroy cockroaches just by willing cockroaches to be gone.”

Barrash said that in the current paradigm of leadership and conventional systems, “we’re falling apart,” but that ultimately humans are “wired for optimism, compassion and connection.” Therefore, she emphasized her new quantum paradigm as an opportunity for leaders to “fly from the mountain tops, not run like rats in a race” by questioning the status quo instead of blindly following it and by looking for other options to solve problems.

Barrash noted that thinking and leading unconventionally is challenging, and there is not overwhelming support to follow this new paradigm, but said she teaches people from all backgrounds because she wants “people to focus on creating dreams rather than drama.”

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Jeremy Messersmith astonishes with talent, humility

Jeremy Messersmith, an indie pop singer/songwriter from Minneapolis, visited St. Olaf on Sunday, Nov. 16 to lead a songwriting workshop and perform a concert. Loved by many hometown fans, Messersmith’s music has steadily gained popularity over the years, and a few months ago Messersmith and his band performed on The Late Show with David Letterman. Messersmith’s latest album, Heart Murmurs, was his first album with Glassnote Records. It has received the most attention of all of his music so far, and its popularity sent him on tour through the United States as well as Europe.

Messersmith has performed many large concerts and festivals all around the country, including Rock the Garden, Bonnaroo, South by Southwest and others. Despite his growing worldwide fame, Messersmith remains as humble as ever, and on Nov. 16 he brought his music to the Pause.

St. Olaf’s Music Entertainment Committee MEC, coordinated by Rose Dennis ’15, worked to bring Messersmith to campus for an entertaining late-fall show that would contrast with the Hoodie Allen concert earlier this semester. Reaching out to a wide range of students’ musical tastes by providing a different style of music, MEC hosted this show with great success.

Co-hosting Messersmith’s visit, DNNR PRTY hosted a songwriting workshop at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon. Messersmith led this informal workshop that lasted about an hour. Approximately 30 student musicians sat in the Lair and listened as Messersmith played a few songs, talked about his songwriting ideas and tips, answered questions and listened to a few students’ songs.

With his quirky jokes and earnest responses, Messersmith entertained and taught everyone without the slightest hint of superiority. He emphasized the importance of having a genuine idea that you believe in, and encouraged songwriters to ask themselves the question, “What do I have to say that is worth other people’s time?”

Although he didn’t have answers for all of the students’ questions, he inspired lively discussion about songwriting by sharing his experiences and approaches to the songwriting process. Messersmith described the process of his songwriting and music making in the afternoon, and proved that he lives by his own advice that evening at his concert.

At 6:30 p.m., the doors opened. Maria and the Coins opened for Jeremy Messersmith at 7:00 p.m., receiving Messersmith’s praise during his set that began around 7:45 p.m. Combining tabling outside the Caf and at-the-door ticket sales, MEC sold about 300 tickets for one dollar each.

When asked about why the show was hostedon a Sunday, Dennis said that the committee thought a Sunday evening show would be a good stress reliever before the beginning of the week. Students did enjoy the concert, and it provided a fun start to the last full week before Thanksgiving break.

During his set, Messersmith charmed the audience with his simple acoustic guitar and songs from a variety of his albums, as well as some songs that he has not recorded. Between songs, Messersmith answered questions submitted by audience members before the show. As he read submissions ranging from song requests to personal questions to Star Wars references, Messersmith remained his genuine and entertaining self the entire evening.

“He is hilarious,” said Amy Erlandson ’17, echoing the sentiments of many students at the concert, regarding Messersmith’s personality.

“His music was quirky and relateable,” Pearl Faldet ’17 said.

Messersmith closed his performance with two crowd favorites, “Violet” and “Someday, Someone.” “Violet” is from his 2010 album The Reluctant Graveyard, and features a three-part vocal bridge that Messersmith taught the audience before singing the song. Messersmith divided the audience into three groups, rehearsed that section, and then played the song. Afterward, he was surprised by how well the Oles sang.

“That’s probably the best that’s ever sounded,” Messersmith said.

After the concert, Messersmith stayed to chat with his fans, and when asked about what he thought of St. Olaf, his response was quick.

“I thought your cafeteria was full of splendor,” Messersmith said. “It was amazing and I wish that I had one.”


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Everything you need to know about Yik Yak

Between checking email, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, students at St. Olaf and around the country have added another social media app to their web of connectivity. Most frequently described simply as an “anonymous Twitter,” Yik Yak displays unsigned posts from other users in a close geographical area.

According to its own Web site,, the app allows users to “get a live feed of what people are saying around you.” The Apple Store’s description reads, “Yik Yak acts like a local bulletin board for your area by showing the most recent posts from other users around you. It allows anyone to connect and share information with others without having to know them.” You must be at least 17 years old to download this app or be able to tap your screen saying that you are of age.

Unlike other familiar social media apps, Yik Yak brings an appealing new twist to the constant communication and affirmation millennials so eagerly seek because all the posts are anonymous. The creators, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, describe Yik Yak as a forum for people living in close vicinity to share thoughts, observations or funny quotes. Since there are no followers, friends or even usernames, votes on posts are based solely on content and not judgment of a specific person.

However, this anonymity can also bring out the worst in people, causing cyber-bullying problems in middle and high schools. As this app quickly gained popularity since it was launched in November of 2013, employees have worked diligently to combat negative repercussions of its use. Teaming with the Vermont-based company Maponics, the Yik Yak app team was able to locate school zones and set up geofences to block Yik Yak from middle and high schools, but the system is not perfect yet. There are many news reports of threats, cyber-bullying and other worrisome content posted from middle and high schools all around the country.

The creators acknowledged that just as all social media struggles with its unintended uses, Yik Yak will continue to face and try to combat harmful use. Intending their app to be used for college-age students to connect, Droll and Buffington hadn’t anticipated high school students using and abusing the app, but Droll said that “any technology can be misused.” On the St. Olaf campus, students complain about “the negative things people say,” “unoriginal content” and “people complaining about stuff they don’t even know about” on the app.

In addition to the widespread iPhone and Android app, Yik Yak also has a Web site, Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter profiles that share quotes from popular “Yaks” or pictures of the mascot interacting with students at various college campuses throughout the country.

Some favorite topics of the St. Olaf Yik Yak feed include food especially Chipotle, the trials of registration, funny moments with strangers/profs/parents/prospies/friends, Netflix, relationships and stories of Friday night adventures.

The entertaining posts, the game of trying to get votes and the appeal of judging content that has no link to a username create the interesting social media experience of Yik Yak. If you haven’t given it a try yet, perhaps it is time for you to “join the herd!”

How to Yak:

1 Write a post known as a “Yak” up to 200 characters long about something you think is worth sharing.

2 Vote on posts. Other users aka “Yakkers” vote on Yaks they see in their news feeds by clicking an arrow to either “upvote” or “downvote” the post. If a Yak gets a score of -5 that is, five downvotes, it is deleted from the feed.

From the home screen of Yik Yak, users can choose to sort through posts based on time stamp under the “New” tab or popularity under the “Hot” tab. Yaks with the highest votes appear at the top of the “Hot” tab until they have been posted for 15 hours, at which point they disappear.

3 In addition to writing Yaks and reading those from users in your vicinity, the “Peek” feature of the app allows users to read what students are talking about at colleges all around the country.

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Ole Biz fosters connections: Future businesspeople learn from the best

On Tuesday, Oct. 28, over 100 eager St. Olaf students clad in their best suits, ties, skirts and blazers rode two full buses down to the Minneapolis Club for the third annual Ole Biz networking event.

According to the Piper Center, the “goal of Ole Biz was to expose students to alumni in various business-related fields and facilitate sharing experiences and aspirations between the two.”

Ole Biz is part of the “Ole Suite,” along with Ole Med and Ole Law. Ole Suite, created by Lynn Anderson ’75 and Tom Nelson ’69, aims to connect current students with St. Olaf alumni who are successfully established in careers that students wish to pursue.

Ann Houser ’83 and Kari Bjorhus ’80, both of whom are also parents of St. Olaf alumni, co-hosted the event, guiding the alumni and students from networking sessions to brief “pop-up speakers,” and finally ending the evening in a networking session. Different sections of the room were designated for specific business interests such as retail, technology, finance, health care, manufacturing and nonprofit business.

Six “pop-up speakers” each shared a two-minute summary of their career journeys and the twists that their professional lives have taken. These speakers provided interesting, thought-provoking and surprising takes on vocation and career development from a wide range of perspectives. Many speakers emphasized the incredible St. Olaf community that extends farther beyond the Hill than many students realize. This was a common thread throughout Ole Biz. Chris Winge ’17 said he was surprised to realize that “the network is huge and goes into every aspect of business.”

Bud Grimes ’78, owner of Grimes Marketing Solutions, was among the many alumni attending the event who emphasized the importance of networking.

“I started with 10 business cards, and I still have six of them,” Grimes said. He added that most of his jobs were presented to him through his connections.

Students and alumni were able to connect in a supportive and encouraging environment in which alumni were sincerely interested in connecting with students, and students eagerly listened to the advice and experiences of the alumni.

Even though attendees came from many different backgrounds and stages in the job search, young students with little networking experience, St. Olaf seniors searching for employment and successful business professionals were able to converse in an open, welcoming and unintimidating setting. The common bond of a St. Olaf liberal arts education connected everyone, regardless of major, interests or age.

“I enjoyed being able to candidly talk with alumni in business and receive their advice and wisdom. It was clear to see that the sense of community Oles develop continues after college,” said Evan Lebo ’17, an economics major with an emphasis in finance and concentrations in management studies and statistics.

Many students left the event excitedly sharing stories of the people they had met, advice they had received and lots of positive feedback about the evening. Sydney Grossman ’18 said she was pleasantly surprised at “how open the alumni were,” noting that her favorite part of the evening was hearing the pop-up speakers.

Adam Alexander ’16 said that the best advice he received from an alumnus at Ole Biz was not to take his time at St. Olaf forgranted, because the campus is one at which “you’re surrounded by brilliance.”

The Piper Center prepared students well for the event. Preparation sessions presented by peer coaches talked about attire, appropriate questions, networking techniques, what to expect at Ole Biz and how to properly and professionally follow up via LinkedIn and e-mail. Right before the event, each student was given a nametag and ten business cards to give to alumni with whom they had connected.

Erik van Mechelen ’10, currently a game designer at Edge Gaming, equated a “fork in the road” to a fork in Stav Hall during his pop-up speech. Using an analogy all Oles could relate to, van Mechelen emphasized that a “a fork in the road” might actually be more like a fork in Stav Hall, in which life might present at least four prongs or opportunities for your career instead of just two. Many alumni echoed his advice to look at all of the availible options and career paths.

The evening was filled with the forging of new connections, new skills, excitement for future careers and all of the opportunities that networking can provide. Lebo added that he would recommend this event, even to students not interested in business.

“It’s a great chance to hear the diverse journeys that led alumni to where they are now, and it is also an awesome opportunity to practice networking,” he said.

Photo Courtesy of Katie Lauer

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