Studying the environment inside and outside the classroom.

 

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Avery Renshaw measures a tree height for research in one of her weekly test studies for class. (Photo by: John Hack/TU student)

Below is a short video link detailing an average day in the life of Avery Renshaw. Avery is a senior at Towson who’s getting ready to graduate soon! She’s majoring in environmental science and biology and talks about her passion for the environment: A passion that has stretched long before she arrived at Towson her freshman year. Read more about Avery here.

 

 

 

 

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WTMD Hosts “First Thursday Festival”

Photo By Will Cocks Photography. Photo Used Under Attribution 2.0 generic.

This past Thursday, WTMD, a local and community-supported radio station based in Towson, hosted it’s monthly “First Thursday Festival” event at the Canton Waterfront Park. This music festival is an event that occurs every 1st Thursday of the month, from May til September.

At this music festival, many artists from the independent, folk rock, blues, and jazz based-scene converge and perform from the local community listeners. In fact, one of the neat things about this event that I noticed was people from all age groups showed up! The concert’s first act started a little after 5:30 pm with the last band coming on around 9:00 pm. The festival had two stages so that all the artists had enough time to perform for everyone before the night grew too old.

This month, there were 6 bands that came to perform on stage. Those 6 artists were Loma, The Nighthawks, Ursula Ricks Project, Tom Principato Band, Low Cut Connie, and Belly. These bands all had their own unique sound and vibe to contribute to the festival. But the artist I enjoyed listening to the most was Belly.

 

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Photo by: Jordan August Photography

I liked them them most because I really like the sound of the lead guitarist and I thought the lead vocalist was really good live. I also liked them because they seems to have a sort of ‘So Cal’ rock vibe to them, if you will,  but with a modern twist that made their performance feel a little more noticeable compared to some of the other bands that came out.

Another band that I came to enjoy was Low Cut Connie. At first, I was a bit skeptical of the band, as well of their ongoing performance, as one of their opening songs sounded like a rip-off of Prince’s “1999”. But over the next few songs, I began to appreciate the group’s collective sound and the vocalist’s unique signing style.

If I am speaking honestly, I think the first thing that pulled me in about Low Cut Connie was the sound of the drummer’s snare drum. It reminded me of a beat that would be used to record a 1980’s summer-themed pop song. The weird thing about me enjoying this artist was that I’m not particularly fascinated by that type of sound. For some reason, however, I am typing about feelings I have otherwise.

Outside of the concerts that were going on, there was many other activities to enjoy if you attended the First Thursday Festival. They had a food court located towards the back of the venue that offered thing like pulled pork and chicken sandwiches. But they also had your typical “ballpark” food, like pretzels, hotdogs, french fries and cheeseburgers. I’m happy to report that at one of the stations, they even offered cookie dough!

Another neat aspect about this event was that, since Canton Waterfront Park is next to, well…water, some people got to arrive to the festival via boat. Apparently, you needed a permit to be able to park your boat at the waterfront, but still, what a cool and unique way to travel to get to an event like that!

Finally, there was a “Kid’s Zone” for some of the younger audience members to enjoy themselves and to get away from the older audience crowd, which was a lot more crowed and merchandising tents where you cold buy WTMD and First Thursday Festival t-shirts, hats, and all other types of souvenirs. Overall, I thought this to be a really neat experience to attend. It’s events like these that are beneficial because they support local bushiness and help engage the local community together over something universally unifying like music.

 

Local Artist Ward Returns Home to Rock

Photo by Justin Higuchi. Photo used under Attribution 2.0 generic .

 

Lauren Ruth Ward is a musical artist with local roots who came to perform this past Saturday at Baltimore’s ‘Ottobar’, a live-music bar that has become a popular place to hear live music.

Ward has actually been performing and touring for a couple of years now, but her motivation to actually want to become a musical artist started in Baltimore. In fact, she has lived all over Baltimore. In the past, she lived in Essex, Dundalk, and Perry Hall before moving to Los Angeles in 2015 to record her music.

Her music story started when she was 13 years when she asked her mom for a guitar. A year later, she would begin to write her own songs. Even though she appreciated music, she really only played and sung “as a hobby” and at “a few high school talent shows“. She claims that she found out she was meant to perform via a wireless microphone; she would have this tendency to jump around, and even into the crowd!

Her musical inspirations were drawn from both parents. Her mom was into disco and R&B while an appreciation for Motown and classic rock apparently came from her dad and step-mom.

Weirdly enough, Ward also had inspirations to become a hairstylist full-time. In a recent article profiling her in ‘The Baltimore Sun’, she said, “I just wanted to be a hairstylist so badly…that’s a calling, when you love something that you’re good at,”. Ward added, “I don’t believe in only doing one thing in this life.”

It wasn’t until 2014 when Ward began to seriously consider a serious change-up in her life for music. She felt that the complacency in her life with a secure job, a fiancee, and more than livable wage while also gaining a name in the Baltimore suburbs wasn’t enough. She wanted to go for something more in her life.

So, she moved to LA in 2015 with the goal of becoming a bigger musical artist. Here, she was able to make a living by taking her hairdressing talents to a new job and performing side gigs at downtown bars. It was here where she received pretty good reviews from ‘The Los Angeles Times’ and began to attract notoriety.

A lot of times, her early opportunists to perform came to fruition by being at the right place at the right time. “I’d say my big break was any time a booker who didn’t know who I was put me on a show.” Ward added, “They thought I was going to be something, and when something like that happens, you start to believe in yourself.”

As her popularity and musical success has gotten bigger, her ability to cut and stye hair has gotten shorter. Luckily, she figured out a solution to this by nailing a mirror to a tree and setting up a chair next to it, which is near her house.

Since she has left for LA, Ward has had some big changes come into her life. First, she is now engaged to indie artist LP and in September of 2017, released her first album, “Well, Hell”. Perhaps now, the complacency Ward claimed to feel in her old life has been satisfied by new opportunists and adventures to better understand herself as an artist and an individual. Lauren Ruth Ward at Echo Park Rising

 

 

 

New Soccer Coach Brings Passion to New Opportunity

It’s a Tuesday morning, a little after 10 o’clock. Katherine Vettori has just arrived at the top level of the Towson Center where her office is. In one hand she is carrying a cell phone and a lanyard, which has multiple sets of keys on it.  In her other hand, she’s carrying a Louis Vuitton hand bag, which is holding a reusable Starbucks tumbler, a purse, and notebooks.

  She shows up to work wearing casual clothing; yoga pants, running shoes and a black athletic rain jacket that has the Towson logo on the front of it. Vettori unlocks her office door with one of the many keys on her lanyard.

  Vettori was hired this past winter as Towson’s new women’s soccer coach. She brings a lot of knowledge and experience from both coaching and playing. Hailing from Norman, Okla., she attended Duke where she received her undergrad and also played for the school’s soccer team. This was an experience she would really come to cherish.

   “My college experience was fabulous,” Vettori said, “I loved every single second of it.” At this time, she joined a squad that wasn’t expected to do so well. To their surprise, one of those years they succeeded more than anyone expected, till eventually falling to North Carolina in the National Championship; a Tar-Heel squad that included all-star players Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.

  As for how she became a college coach, Vettori claims that it all started by accident. While playing in an Olympic festival tournament, one of the coaches who she was playing for at the event offered her a job. “One of my coaches called me up my senior year,” she said. The coach said he was in need of an assistant at the University of Pennsylvania and offered Vettori the position, as well as opportunity to pick up her master’s degree at the same school.

 When asked how her collegiate experience translates to how she sees herself coaching, Vettori said, “I think the older you get, the more you realize you have to learn.” She also added “I think the biggest thing that translates is my passion for the game.” A passion that has seen her coaching players ranging anywhere from 8 and 9-year olds to college students in their early 20’s.

  As the new head coach, Vettori also shared some of the goals her squad is aiming for in the coming years. “We’ve been given some fantastic resources over here. I think the administration understands that the expectations aren’t going to be overnight.” She continues to discuss more specifically what she wants from theses goals. She believes that in the coming years, Towson could be a contender for conference championships, despite acknowledging the challenges the team faces from other in-conference schools.

  As for what attracted Coach Vettori to Towson, she noted that proximity and local ties played a factor. She also talked about how she became impressed by how much the university, both academically and athletically, has grown over time. “It’s a beautiful campus. It’s a neat place to be.  It’s a great education and it can draw some really talented student athletes.”

  As for what it means for her to have the title as ‘women’s soccer coach’, she’s quick to take the spotlight away from herself, noting additional help from staff as an essential piece to the puzzle. “[Assistant coaches]Brad, Matt, and Kyle have a lot of experience and I kind of look at this collaborative effort to get to our end goals.”

   Despite the amount of time preparing on the field and in the office however, Coach Vettori acknowledged that one of the most important responsibilities is the relationships she’s formed with her players away from soccer and the facet of being the coach off the field too. “The on-the-field stuff takes the least amount of time.” She even refers to herself as the “parent away from home”. “If a kids in the E.R., I’m there. Just helping them navigate through life. To me, the biggest part about this is the relationships that last a lifetime and that’s what this is about.”

 Perhaps, it is those relationship that Coach Vettori will draw on as she builds a foundations with both the school and the squad while also helping build a program, starting in August. 

 

‘Soft Cat’: A Fresh Voice In Baltimore Folk Rock

Sometimes, people get a little upset when they heard  the the word “folk rock” pop up, especially when it can be used so loosely. They may either think of artists today who try to base their music off of artists such as Bob Dylan during his work in the mid 60’s through his early 70’s  or through a current band like ‘Mumford & Sons’ who pretty much have the same mandolin, banjo, bass and acoustic setup, paired with a background instrument like a keyboard to help in assisting pitch the tone of a sound that seems constant through an album.

If this is how you may feel, but you STILL feel like you could get into folk-based group music, I would recommend the band ‘Soft Cat’. This is a band that formed in 2009. On their band camp page, ‘Soft Cat’ is described as a “chamber-folk ensemble” with, “a rotating cast of collaborative musicians from Baltimore, MD“.

 

*It is important to note that, although I do have a lot to wrote about this particular artist, I was only about to find and listen to their 2015 album, “All Energy Will Rise”.

At this point you may be asking yourself, “What is so special about something like this?” Well, one things that can stick out to prospective listeners is that, according to their bandcamp page, they have LITERALLY 13 musicians  with varying instruments in their band. So lack of diversity in instrumental sound is not something I’d consider a problem when listening to ‘Soft Cat’.

Many of these instruments featured in ‘Soft Cat’ are ones that most would come to expect in any folk band, such as a classical guitar, violin, and a bass. But, the numerous amount of extended members that rotate themselves, as well as their varying instruments, give diversity to a music genre that perhaps wouldn’t be available without a plethora of differing instruments such as these. For example, in addition to instruments like the guitar, violin, bass and keyboards that they already have in their music, ‘Soft Cat’ also features a lap steel guitar, vibraphones, flugelhorn, and a saxophone! Pretty neat, right?

Many of their songs on their album, “All Energy Will Rise” is heavily influenced by a foundational sound of the pleasant-sounding Spanish classical guitar. In fact, for the first 8 songs off their album, “All Energy Will Rise”, one can hear the classic guitar either start out or isolate it’s track from the rest of the instruments.

An example of this can be heard in their song, ‘Somebody’, which features the classic guitar starting the song out by itself for the first 20 seconds until it is accompanied by an equally soft-sounding violin, whose rhythm parallels that of the guitar.

It’s not until the song, “A Disturbance on the Surface of a Body of Water”, (which actually sounds like an classical guitar that just had an electric amp put though it with a distortion pedal) where I don’t hear this classically sounding instrument. Regardless, this electric-acoustic substitute sounds awesome, especially when it’s the only instrument featured in the song, accompanied by two different vocal tracks!

An example of these instruments coming together is in their song, “All Energy Will Rise”. Just in the intro of the song (about 45 seconds long), you can hear that same electric/acoustic guitar from their track mentioned above, followed by a combined sound of a piano and a violin with matching chords. It’s not something I can say I’ve gotten to hear too many times, especially with bands!

This is than followed by an electric guitar and then 2 trumpets. This actually brings me to my final point about why many I think many people would enjoy giving this folk band a listen; ‘Soft Cat’ is a band that is able to add many instruments into practically any given song without going overboard. In other words, they don’t have some instrument tracks drown out those of other instrument tracks because of their natural tone/volume.  An example of this would be a keyboard vs a drum set.

*Note: Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a photo of the band that I could share/link to this post.

 

 

Good Current Baltimore-Area Bands To Give A Listen To

When it comes to rock or alternative bands, Baltimore and it’s surrounding metropolitan area have sounds to offer that I think many new listeners will find different, if not interestingly unique. The atmosphere of Baltimore provides a sense of lawlessness many attribute to the city’s struggling infrastructure in addition to their high crime rates and high drug abuse rates. Other’s accredit it to gentrification and the difference in areas such as white privilege and the ‘Black Lives Matter’

Therefore, there are a handful of bands in the rock-area genre that I feel should be mentioned considering this is a Baltimore area music blog.

  1. Beach House – Formed in Baltimore in 2004, Beach House consists of only 2 members: Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. Victoria plays the keyboard and is the backup singer while Alex plays the guitar and is the lead singer. The first song I listened to, entitled ‘Dark Spring‘, has a very synthetic feel to it. The instruments used in the song, like the drums and the keyboards combine in a way that reminds me of the band ‘MGMT’. The duo’s vocals are paired together in this song, which adds a nice consistency with the a guitar that makes its imdivil rock presence felt in the song without ‘overdoing’ it, if you will. If you like chilling in your dorm room and want to listen to music that drifts you away and not be, ‘in your face’ then I would recommend ‘Beach House’
  2. Wye Oak – Another 2 member band, Wye Oak stands out from how this duo creates their music. Although they collaborated in Baltimore, they both live in 2 different cities while making mixes of their own music. Then, they’ll meet for a week or two and combine what they think is the best from each others music, mix the sounds, and “boom”, you get the bands 5 album, “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs”. In terms of the actual content of the music, I felt that, from listening to their song, ‘Lifier‘,  they sound a lot less electronically reliant in comparison to Beach House. The lead singer is Jenn Wasner, has a soft voice who’s vocal ‘feel’ reminds me of Katy Perry, oddly enough. The song takes an awesome twist when the guitar solo breaks out at as an edgy ego punk pop feel at around 2:00. This solo sounds  similar to those 2000’s skater/punk bands I listened to in elementary and middle school. I feel like if you enjoy modern-ish electric rock and don’t mind a little bit of an edge to it, then you might like Wye Oak.
  3. J. Roddy Walston And The Business – This is a band some of the readers may have heard of, stemming from their breakout hit, ‘Heavy Bells‘, released in 2013. Unlike many musical artists who have hit songs, this song isn’t actually too different from the rest of their songs. The lead electric guitar, persistent in most of their songs, reminds one of Jack White or Dan Auerbach’s. The drums seem to have a slower, pace to them, but at a same volume that bangs as a compliment to the drums. The bass, although not outstanding, likes to follow the chords and beat of the guitars in the songs, like ‘Take It As It Comes‘. The piano, which can be heard in this song, gives a soulful Southern-rock feel to it. This is all capped off by the raspy, but talented voice of J. Roddy Walton, himself. If you like classic rock with not too much edge and a blues-y feel, you’re going to very much enjoy this band!
  4. Future Islands – In this band, the vocalist has a rough side to his high pitched voice but its much more sweeter when he goes for his low notes. Yet, in one of the songs i listened to, I got that voiced paired with rhythm and notes I haven’t heard, which sound just some of the music from the 80;s pop movement. An example of this can be heard in the song, ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’. What makes this so interesting is that, if I hear music like this with old twists to it, it will only last for an intro or solo. But in this case, it lasts the who song. Crazy! If you wanna hear music with a throwback feel to it without having to sing the lyrics because you don’t know them,  give ‘Future Islands’ a whirl.

 

Finding Inspiration in Music from Baltimore and It’s Surrounding Area

On this blog, I am going to discuss the local music scene: specifically, Baltimore and the surrounding metropolitan area. Baltimore is a city with a rich history in art, especially music. Another aspect that makes the city’s music so great is how diverse it’s rhythms and sounds can be. For example, Baltimore is a city where you can go to a small underground dive bar on a Fri

day night, listen to an upstart folk rock band from Roosevelt Park and then on Saturday, head further downtown to listen to a jazz music concert just a few blocks down from Camden Yards.

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In addition to this, it’s not just the city limits of Baltimore itself that are the only areas to listen to great local and live music. As a recent ‘Baltimore Sun’ article revealed, the surrounding metropolitan area has artists who seem to have found inspiration from their local scene as well, despite being outside of the city. In the article, told from nearby Howard County, you can learn about people like 18-year-old Lindsey Jordan; a recent local high school graduate who is also a singer-songwriter for her 3-piece indie rock band, ‘Snail Mail’. She discussed how grateful she is for some of her experiences being involved in middle school and high school bands as well as the education she received from the time she spent there. Her band’s success has already seem to take flight as the band’s song, “Thinning” was named best new track by ‘Pitchfork‘, a growing pop music website.

 

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As far as the city goes, some say they find inspiration from a certain vibe or “feel” they get from the downtown area. In a video-edited interview with “The Baltimore Sun” local music artist Amy Reid says, “I think Baltimore’s energy is what I’m drawn to.” She elaborates by saying, “People like to dance here. People are super open and the city itself is having a lot of defections and it forces people to have a lot of important conversations and I think people do that through music and art here a lot.”

“Baltimore is important to my music because it’s like anything I’m rapping about, it’s something my scene went through and it’s just like everything I had to do to progress to where I’m at.”, says local Baltimore rapper, ‘Bandhunta Izzy’. He solidifies his point by adding, “…anything I wrap about, you’ll feel Baltimore.” These two artists make the point that the troubles present in Baltimore that the community wants to have discussions about are already thoughts and messages many of the artists have conveyed in their music.

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Based off of these examples, two of the bigger themes that many of these artists seem to mention are either poverty or education, ( or perhaps lack thereof). I also think it’s important to notice that one of the music genres mentioned here (hip-hop/rap) discussed how the aspect of poverty is reflected in their music and is also the part of the creation within the artists itself. In the indie/pop scene, I read about Lindsey Jordan, who’s bands success she attributes to the well-developed music instruction and education she received since her time in since middle school. Many times in Baltimore music, as well as the music’s ‘scene’, if you will, can develop the artists. However, there can also be especially rare moments where few get the opportunity to see how an artist can develop the scene.

 

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The benefits of mindfulness for a college student. By: John Hack

One of the benefits that modern technology has brought us is the ability to share new information in a much more timely manner. Additionally, it is because of this same technology that we also have the ability to access and share a plethora of new information and ideas from different cultures and/or platforms that we would certainly never have any awareness of without the same technological advances that we have been exposed to as we continue to grow. One of these “newer” ideas that I want to discuss is the increasingly popular practice of ‘mindfulness’. For those who are unfamiliar, mindfulness can have more than one meaning, so the aspect of mindfulness that I am going to discuss is the idea of mindfulness in regards to self-discipline and self-training through many forms.

Now, as ironic as this may seem, as great as technology can be, it can also be (and has been) a killer for the overall success of many college students. For example, in a 2016 study conducted and published by ‘Journal of Media Education’, 97% of college students admitted that they use their phones for non-educational purposes during class. Meanwhile, the remaining 3% of students in the study are liars. Among the 97% that said they were distracted by their phones for non-academic usage, 70% of those said that they used their phones for social media, while 40% said they went on the internet and 10% said that they play games. Even just over the last few years along, technology has become increasingly destructive to a college student because its a device that makes it so easy for a young mind to become distracted for long periods of time while simultaneously screwing with the growth of a developing brain.

So, in a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on technology to occupy the minds of those both inside and outside of the classroom, how do we get the brain to essentially train itself to maximize the potential of a college student? Mindfulness. Some may ask, “How so?”. Well for one, mindfulness exercises, such as meditation, can help college students greatly reduce levels of their stress and/or depression. Mindfulness is able to do incredible things because its the continual practice in the idea that focusing on one thing, activity, or task at a time can help form habits that is able to help the individual complete a task quicker and more efficiently, as opposed to multi-tasking where many ideas coming to a student all at once can stress even the brightest student.

Additionally, continual practice of mindfulness exercises can help college students stay on task and gain higher levels of focus. A study done at the University of Miami found that student who participated in a seven-week mindfulness training group had improved their attention and were much better with essentially losing focus of an idea and “staring off into space”, if you will, than those in another control group that didn’t receive the mindfulness training and exercises.

So, my point is this: If you seriously give  the consideration and time necessary to practice mindfulness, I can confidentially tell you that you will see the benefits it can bring as well as the habits you form during your time in college, taking the lessons you leaned and practicing, as well as sharing, them into the professional working world!IMG_6732

A Day In the Lax

 

In July of 2015, Morgan Stephens was hired as an assistant women’s lacrosse coach for University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Since then, Stephens, a then-recent graduate and lacrosse player for the University of Virginia, has committed her time and energy as well as her passion and knowledge for the game to improve the team’s performance and skill set. In this short film, she discusses how this commitment to the program over the years has led to strong improvements she sees in the team both on and off the field.