Bryant Clayton sat down at the baby grand piano, no sheet music. He played two soft notes without disturbing the quiet of the room. Humming gently, he searched for just the right pitch. His simple piano melody and the sound of his smooth voice blended into the tranquil atmosphere. A student taking a nap on the couch in the corner paid no attention to him, and another student, focused intently on her laptop, only glanced up once.
Clayton continued singing, occasionally adding dimension by beat-boxing. His music contributed to the peaceful palpability of the room, contrasting the chaos of the Hulman Memorial Student Union’s noon rush hour.
“It’s an escape for me,” said Clayton, a freshman psychology and pre-med major from Indianapolis.
Walking through the main hall of the Hulman Memorial Student Union, a variety of melodies will drift out from the Art Gallery Lounge, a large room with walls filled by student artwork and furnished with a number of couches and tables. Whether the classical notes of Claude Debussy, the soft sound of Bon Iver, the emotion-laden tune of a popular Adele song, or the new notes of an original piece, the music comes from a baby grand piano tucked away inside. Donated by former basketball standout Larry Bird, the piano has long been a fixture at Indiana State University. Prior to making the journey to the lounge in 1990, the piano made its home in the old Tirey Student Union.
HMSU Services Manager Tammy Morris described the instrument as “very popular,” that students can go to practice on a recital piece or play simply for relaxation. “When we have events and must put signage up that the piano can’t be used, students are very disappointed,” she said, adding that the Sycamore Lounge has an upright piano.
Several students noted that the baby grand is one of the best pianos on campus. Although there are other pianos, this one is conveniently located and regularly tuned four times per year, said Morris.
“This piano is really nice. A lot of the other nicer rooms with pianos are locked,” said Tommy Crist, referring to practice rooms in the School of Music.
Since he lives in a residence hall next to the HMSU, Crist said he comes into the piano room every chance he gets, sometimes three times per day.
“I like that I can express how I feel with piano. It can be therapeutic,” said Crist, a senior music liberal arts major from Lyons. He demonstrated a transition from sad and reflective to calm by starting with a few louder, darker chords and transitioning into a slower, peaceful melody.
“Music gives some type of emotional connection that can touch the hearts of anyone. So many people gravitate toward it,” said Clayton. He explained the meaning behind a “Cleopatra,” a song on his solo mix tape, as he played a mixture of chords with a hint of sadness. “This song is about this guy who falls in love with this woman who’s not willing to be with him. It’s kind of about despair.” The chords evoke a type of expression that music strangely can.
Music has a strange yet powerful ability to bring people together, crossing the boundaries of culture, background, interest and age.
Clayton’s taste in music alone is a testament to its diverse appeal. He enjoys anything from the indie folk sound of Bon Iver to the hip hop/R&B sound of Kanye West to the classic style of Michael Jackson.
Clayton grew up in a predominantly African-American church, where he described music—especially gospel – as part of the culture. “I was raised in it,” he said.
Although he grew up in an entirely different country, the same style of music—and same piano – connects Clayton with Angeles Mastaki.
“Music is one of the best things given to the world,” said Mastaki, who is currently studying English through the Interlink Program at ISU. Originally from the Congo with a sojourn of seven years in Morocco, he grew up around music because of his grandparents, who were actively involved in church. He grew up singing and in 2008, came to the United States to sing in a gospel choir.
He can’t read music but he knows the basics, playing piano since he was 14 years old. He describes playing the piano as his way of de-stressing from classwork, visiting the lounge at least four times a week.
“Playing things like piano is the best choice we can make to feel more peaceful. Music is something that helps people to forget,” he said.
“I can go to the piano and vent how I’m feeling,” he said. What he really loves is improvising, combining something he knows with his own invented harmonies.
Crist has an eclectic taste in music, playing a variety of pop singer Vanessa Carlton’s “1,000 miles,” a few songs by Christian rock band Relient K and the tune from the video game Final Fantasy 10. In front of him sits the sheet music for classical composer Claude Debussy’s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” and he talks about being influenced by Japanese film composer Joe Hisaishi.
“It should be fun and expressive,” said Crist. A fun, staccato melody echoed his words. “Play what you like to play.”
That’s exactly what senior Landry Moore does.
“I like anything that’s catchy and has a good beat. I just play because I like to,” said the senior exercise major from Brazil, adding that he comes in quite often, whenever he gets down time on campus.
When Moore sits at the piano, his knit hat off to the side, an ISU student walking past might hear a song that sounds like a Bruno Mars song that’s playing on the radio. While he’s never taken lessons, Moore plays by ear and has “always been around music.” He’s the youngest of six kids in a house with a well-loved piano.
Moore played parts of songs by Adele and Justin Timberlake before modestly mentioning writing a bit of his own music. Moore’s unassuming demeanor doesn’t give way to the fact that he’s a talented musician, recently joining a band where he adds vocals, bass and piano.
Junior Hannah McKnight, a criminal justice and Spanish major from McCordsville, is another talented musician—although she doesn’t go into the piano room very often. In fact, she walked in precisely because no one was present. Not that she has anything to be worried about—McKnight has played for 17 years, starting when she was just four years old. Influenced by her piano teacher, she knows a great deal of classical music, but really likes “anything and everything,” including from the musical “Les Miserables.”
“This might sound really corny,” she said. “But I love the song. I recently read the book and saw the movie, and love that music.”
A love for music is what seems to draw students to this piano, whether it is classical, pop or something original. Whether lessons lasted one year or 17 years, those that play are talented, expressive. As Mastaki said, “music is music.”
As each one of the players stood quietly and left the room, it was as if they were never there. Each left behind a tranquil feeling and a baby grand piano left to wait patiently for new notes to grace its keys.
Bethany Donat, ’13, is a media relations assistant in Communications and Marketing. Her graduation from Indiana State this May, sunshine, Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked flavor of ice cream and the ocean make Bethany happy.