Ra Ra Riot performs at Syracuse University's famed Setnor Auditorium at the conclusion of the band's week-long residency at their alma mater. (Photo: Michael Barletta/MediaWorks)
(Disclosure: Ulf Oesterle, the author of this article, is an assistant professor at the Bandier Program at Syracuse University.)
It's one thing to play a hometown gig. It's quite another to play a hometown gig and teach the music and music-business classes you took as an undergrad just six years ago.
That's exactly the situation Ra Ra Riot were in earlier this month, when they returned to Syracuse, New York -- the chilly upstate city where the band formed as Syracuse University students in 2006 -- to do a week-long residency, teaching classes and capping it off with a sold-out, student-promoted concert.
The timing of the residency couldn't have provided a better opportunity for students to witness the set-up for an album release, as the title track of the group's forthcoming LP Beta Love -- due on Barsuk on January 22 of next year -- was debuted on NPR during early in their residency. Throughout the week, it was business as usual for RRR manager Josh Roth (who has been with the band since its inception), managing press, band schedules and rehearsals in Syracuse in the presence of current students. Roth and violinist Rebecca Zeller taught a class they once took to discuss the evolution of the band from a touring perspective; Zeller and cellist Clarice Jensen crafted another industry-focused class on applying classical skills in the contemporary music landscape.
Ra Ra Riot manager Josh Roth (center) with the band's Becca Zeller (right) and assistant professor Ulf Oesterle (left) speaking to the Music Industry I class. (Photo: David Rezak)
Singer Wes Miles directed courses on songwriting and guitarist Milo Bonacci, bassist Mathieu Santos and Zeller joined Miles for composing workshops. Bonacci held a master class on guitar and Kenny Bernard did the same for drums. Taking advantage of the entire team in Syracuse, sound engineer Andrew Maury led two classes on his craft in the recording studio. The group completed its schoolwork as guest speakers for the Bandier Program's Soyars Leadership Lecture Series, with more than 100 students looking on. In the end, the band members participated in eight classes and spoke to hundreds of students during their stay.
The view of Setnor Auditorium during Ra Ra Riot's performance. (Photo: Michael Barletta/MediaWorks)
The residency was highlighted by a performance in the Setnor Auditorium in historic Crouse College, a 660-capacity classical music venue on the university campus that hasn't hosted a rock show in several decades. For many students, the concert was more than a night out: Upperclassmen enrolled in the Music Enterprise Laboratory classes, comprised of Marshall Street Records and Syracuse University Recordings, handled all of the marketing and most of the production staffing for the concert, as they do for many local shows. Onstage, the headliners -- who premiered four new songs -- were joined by members of the Wired Strings to add texture to the songs and perhaps to give a nod to the classical pedigree of the space; Zeller had performed on the same stage as a student. The venue's classic architecture and the backdrop of the Holtkamp Organ contrasted strikingly with the modern lighting and amplified sound.
From left: Ra Ra Riot's Mathieu Santos, Rebecca Zeller, Milo Bonacci and Wes Miles, sound engineer Andrew Maury, manager Josh Roth, student Mika Posecion, Bandier Program director David Rezak, student Meah Pollock. (Photo: Nikki Jett-El)
David Rezak, director of Syracuse University's Bandier Program (named after Sony/ATV chairman/CEO and SU grad Martin Bandier), had been pursuing Ra Ra Riot for three years to do the residency, and this month provided the only workable gap in their schedule.
"We more than achieved our learning goals through the eight residency classes," Rezak said. "The members of Ra Ra Riot, as well as manager Josh Roth and sound engineer Andrew Maury, had so much to share with the students after six years of touring, recording and brand-polishing."
"Once we got over the initial butterflies, we all had a blast in our individual classes, and were really impressed by the students' response," the band's Zeller said. "Coming back and playing Setnor Auditorium was pretty special for me, especially because that's where all my orchestra concerts and recitals were held. While in school we never had any contemporary bands in Setnor, so being the first to fill that role in over 30 years was pretty special.
"I think we all have new post-band plans of becoming professors."