Rob Sykora is not sure when he first heard of the Contemporary Music Center, but the sophomore imagined being accepted into the “school of rock” of study abroad programs before even entering college.
An Eastern voice major who also plays the drums, guitar and bass, Sykora is currently spending the spring semester at CMC on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, where he was excited to lead his second concert of the program on Feb. 11.
Sykora said that weekly performances are held on a stage set up in a barn on CMC’s campus.
“It’s kind of intimate,” he said. “But we don’t play small stuff cause it’s a small venue.”
For his concert, Sykora wrote an original piece, which he describes as “a melodic alternative rock song.” He also planned to play two covers.
Musical styles vary across the campus. “One guy here is really into hard rock,” Sykora said. “But there’s another guy who is a terrific banjo player, and he brings the bluegrass aspect to things.”
Sykora personally prefers alternative rock bands like Anberlin but, he said, “I’m still trying to figure out my style.”
Students hold their concerts for relatively small audiences, made up mostly of fellow students and directors, but Sykora said, “I have family on the island, so at some point I’m going to invite them to come.”
The main benefit of these performances, Sykora said, is the criticism the musicians receive. The director gives advice on the artists’ stage performances and music.
“I love getting criticized so I can learn, ‘Okay, this is what you don’t do,’ and get better,” he said.
Following his Feb. 11 concert, Sykora was advised to work on his vocals and focus his lyrics, but overall the performance was a success. “They said the band was pretty tight,” he said.
The semester-long program at CMC gives aspiring musical artists, songwriters and managers an accurate idea of the challenges they will face in the music industry.
“It’s simulating the real world,” Sykora said, describing how student managers are always in communication with each other to coordinate their musicians to play together in concerts.
Students each earn 16 credits, taking several classes in the morning before spending the rest of each day rehearsing, writing and recording their music.
Sykora’s student manager, Brian Hansen, is excited by the quality of the equipment that all students at CMC have access to.
“Doors (to the recording equipment) are never locked; they never limit us to have access to things,” said Hansen, a junior at Taylor University, who is taking the executive track at CMC. “I’ve never seen or used this quality of equipment.”
When Sykora entered the program, he was slightly hesitant, saying to himself, “Oh my goodness, am I going to be able to do this?” About a week into the semester, he stopped questioning it.
“I’m just in love with the place,” he said. “I wish it was a four-year program.”
CMC is selective, and Sykora explained that the application process included sending in several demos. In previous years, the program has hosted 30 students, but this year there are even fewer.
“I’m not a big crowd kind of person,” Sykora said, describing how much he enjoys living on a campus with only 21 students. He thrives on the intimacy of such a small student body and the serenity of the area where they are living for four months.
“It’s freezing as anything,” Sykora said of the island. “But it’s so calm, so nice.”
After a challenging fall semester, Sykora is grateful to get away for awhile. “Being at a completely different place –different state–is kind of refreshing,” he said.
Later in the semester, the group will break away from the tiny island and fly to Nashville, where CMC has connections with several people in the music industry. Though the trip lasts only a few days, Sykora said, “We get the opportunity to meet these people and dip our feet in the industry.”