Whether in large showcases at Gaston Hall or intimate open-mic nights at Uncommon Grounds, sounds of music reverberate across Georgetown University. Guitars strum harmoniously while voices echo with soul. Hoyas partake in the music scene on the Hilltop through electives in choir, orchestra, jazz ensembles and even electronic music.
Student organizations on campus are also popular ways for students to get involved in music, including a cappella groups like Superfood, Saxatones, Chimes, Phantoms and GraceNotes.
These music groups on campus have positively shaped students’ time on campus, according to Hanna Chan (COL ’19), a member of GraceNotes.
“It has undoubtedly made my time better – I wouldn’t have any sense of time management or a break from the normal grind of school without rehearsals and opportunities to make music!” Chan wrote in an email.
Many of the organizations collaborate with one another to coordinate joint events, leading to more opportunities to interact with those who have similar interests and aspirations.
These organizations have gathered to perform at the annual D.C. A Cappella Festival, co-hosted by the Phantoms, Georgetown’s first co-ed a cappella group, and the GraceNotes, the university’s first all-female a cappella group.
While Chan has been involved in GraceNotes, she also finds other ways to engage in Georgetown’s music community, like an art share hosted by Art Beyond the Margins in spring 2017 and the Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Dinner this year.
Art Beyond the Margins aims to vocalize all kinds of artists, including poets, musicians and painters, of marginalized identities. Through its arts shares, the organization calls attention to the importance of recognizing the intersections of race and sexuality in producing art. This event was especially important to Chan for maintaining an inclusive campus.
“There had never been a space for artists of color before and that was so beautiful. I love performing, but watching peers in my community perform in such an affirming space made me even happier,” Chan wrote.
Despite these initiatives for more diversity in the music industry, Chan continues to struggle with reconciling her identity in a male-dominant pathway to success. Male songwriters and producers outnumber their female counterparts, according to a study in 2018 led by professor Stacy L. Smith at USC Annenberg.
“It’s been tough being a headstrong, but also sensitive queer, female vocalist of color. Music’s incredibly gendered and it’s intimidating when all the boys play instruments and gas each other up,” Chan wrote.
Having a distinct identity places a significant burden on musicians to claim their worth as artists, according to Chan.
“I have felt the pressure a lot to speak my truth in music because that’s exactly what being different from a lot of the other dominant musicians requires, I guess – I’m supposed to make something different, or else I don’t have a place there,” Chan wrote.
In addition to the stress faced by musicians like Chan, the Hilltop also lacks the resources to find performing areas on campus, as it can often be difficult for students to reserve a venue, according to Julian Tamers (COL ’21) in a previous article from The Hoya (“Tune In: Hoya Musicians Who Rock the Hilltop,” The Hoya, October 5, 2018, B2).
Rather than performing live, creating music online alleviates the anxieties on stage and offers the opportunity to internalize one’s art, according to Chan. Chan produces her own music on SoundCloud, including her “Birthday Party” EP released last August and her song, “My Own” released May 10.
“I’ve found a lot of solace in holing myself up in a recording studio and making things more privately,” Chan wrote. “I think digital recordings and that side of music as a whole separate art gives me a little space of my own to carve out and saves my little sensitive soul from cracking under the pressure in person.”
Like Chan, Joe Sonza (COL ’19) creates his own music and recently released his second EP “SONZA 2,” which he performed in the Healey Family Student Center on April 27.
Despite difficulties in maintaining focus and determination as a musician, a close network of companions and supporters helps conquer any challenges, according to Sonza.
“I overcame and am still overcoming by looking to friends and community for support and encouragement and pushing hard and keeping the work ethic up,” Sonza wrote in an email.
Although she will attend law school after graduation, Chan insists that she will continue making songs on her own and develop her passion even further. Her experience on the Hilltop has contributed to her growth as an artist, according to Chan.
“Georgetown resources and musicians have made me a better singer, musician, and creative. I had the space to develop a vision here and the last year of releases of solo music are only the beginning!” Chan wrote.