Guitars strumming. Music blaring. Voices raised. People dancing.
Before March 2020, the music scene on Ball State’s campus was as lively as ever. Then, everything changed. Once the pandemic hit, shows were immediately canceled, and the noise that once filled Ball State’s campus became a nearly silent hum. Now, slowly but surely, the scene is rebuilding, the sound is returning and music is back once again.
Local venues like Be Here Now began booking shows, but live shows were increasingly uncommon due to COVID-19 restrictions. For up-and-coming bands, the profits they lost during the pandemic have been hard to recover. Similarly, while Be Here Now hosts live shows every weekend, many other small music venues have stopped running shows for over a year due to the effects of COVID-19.
Connor Boren, Ball State senior telecommunications major, said his passion has been in the music industry from a young age.
“When I was 10, I found a guitar in my dad’s closet, and he said I could have it if I learned how to play ‘Amazing Grace,’” Boren said. “Ever since then, I’ve dedicated my life to becoming the best musician I can be, across multiple instruments and genres.”
Boren is now the lead singer and guitarist in an on-campus metal band named Whydah. He plays along with fellow Ball State students Raegan Gordon, senior telecommunications major, and Hunter Burnett, senior construction management major, as well as Ivy Tech student Ty Bradshaw. Boren said he remembers how vibrant the music scene was when he first enrolled at Ball State compared to how the scene is now.
“I think it’s kind of sad, to be completely honest,” Boren said. “I remember my freshman and sophomore year, every weekend there would be a house show with different bands. Now, there are a lot of hip-hop groups and only two or three bands with instrumentals.”
Ball State graduate Isaiah Neal, who is in a local band called Leisure Hour with Gordon and former Ball State student Grace Dudas, echoed Boren’s thoughts about the music scene on campus. However, he added he’s optimistic about its future.
“There was a music scene in Muncie before COVID hit, but once that hit, it really dampened it,” Neal said. “Now, we see it building back up, as there are more house shows and shows at Be Here Now.”
Brittney Hosler, senior music media production major, is the leader of Cru Worship, a group that consists of 14 members. Cru Worship is part of an organization funded by Ball State, simply titled Cru.
Hosler said her major helps her learn more about the music scene on campus since Cru Worship doesn’t play at venues like Be Here Now.
“Being a music student helps me out a lot,” Hosler said. “It’s very diverse, and it’s very welcoming. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
Although her group is religious, Hosler said she believes anyone can listen to their music and enjoy it, as it’s not specifically for Christians. She said music can be used to bring people together and invoke real emotion.
“The cool thing you can do with music is be able to cross boundaries that you may not be able to with a conversation,” Hosler said. “I believe that we have been able to be a positive light because our songs are songs of hope and are intended to remind people of the purpose they have, no matter who they are.”
Nolan Biddle, senior advertising major with a minor in creative writing, is part of a hip-hop group Our Way of Life (O.W.L.) alongside Gordon and former Ball State students Henry Werking and Grant Ogburn as well as Kahuna Lono.
Biddle said his love of music started early. O.W.L.’s other members felt the same way, prompting them to form the group.
Although Biddle plays the drums, he is not the main drummer for O.W.L. Gordon is the group’s drummer and also plays the drums for Leisure Hour, O.W.L. and Whydah.
Boren said Gordon is one of the most driven people he has ever met, noting that she will practice the drums for four to five hours a day on top of being involved in three different groups.
“I really would like for this band to take off and have it be my career, but at the same time, I’m applying for jobs,” Boren said. “Raegan’s mindset is, ‘I’m going to be a musician.’ She will do anything to make that happen.”
Current Ball State students Brandon Carson, Evan Tusing and Alex Bevington, as well as Chris Stephen and Ian Chambers, make up local band Kitty Kondo. They all said they value community in the music scene and believe that helps strengthen the music as a whole.
“O.W.L. and Leisure Hour have kind of become our ground zero of bands we love to play with,” Carson said. “We have so many different sides to us, and it comes out in the music. That can be a very welcoming thing, that everyone who likes music is welcome at our shows. There is always something for someone to like.”
While each of these five groups formed at Ball State through classes, fraternities, religious gatherings or social media, they were also all formed out of love for music.
Grace Dudas, co-lead singer of Leisure Hour, said she has been given a lot in her life through music. She said she wants to give back to listeners what she has been given.
“We want to create a space for new people that music has created for us,” Dudas said. “Even if something connects [with] just one person on a specific level, we want them to feel like they’re a part of something.”
The members of Kitty Kondo said they think people can find something in their music because of how close they are.
“Our music started speaking for itself, and people caught on,” Carson said. “They can see our energy when we play, and that kind of has a role in it, too. They see us up there, jamming with each other and having a good time, and they want to have a good time, too.”
All five of these groups have begun to play live shows again or are working toward it. Through these five bands and many others, Ball State’s music scene is creating a community, despite the difficulties brought on by the pandemic.
Neal of Leisure Hour said he hopes his group’s listeners can be themselves.
Boren of Whydah said his group wants to inspire independence in people.
Hosler of Cru Worship said she aims to inspire both Christians and others.
Members of Kitty Kondo said they want their listeners to just have fun.
Biddle of O.W.L. said he encourages listeners to follow their passion.
“Enjoy life as you have it,” Biddle said. “If you love music, make music. If you love to cook, be a chef. Do what you’ve been put here to do, and enjoy it because it’s what you’ve got.”
Contact Kyle Smedley with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @smedley1932.