In my quest to learn more about the many student groups Ryerson offers, there was one group that caught my eye. Musicians @ Ryerson calls themselves Ryerson’s unofficial music faculty and their goal is to grow the Ryerson music community through events, socials and more. I sat down with their current president Preethi to find out more about the group. Members of the group were playing Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On in the background from their office down the hall, showcasing the group’s love of music.
Q: Tell me about yourself!
A: My name is Preethi, I’m a fourth-year Urban and Regional Planning student, so I’m graduating next year. I’m the President of Musicians @ Ryerson. I grew up in Dubai and I moved here in 2016 for school.
What is Musicians @ Ryerson?
Musicians @ Ryerson is a community that fosters musicians and music lovers as well, so it’s not catered to just musicians who play an instrument or sing a song. It’s open to anyone that appreciates music or just comes to events to listen or to meet people. We are very welcoming to everyone, but for the people that do want to be involved in the music aspect of things, we do events like open mics. We have weekly open mics at the Ram in the Rye every Wednesday night and we’ve been doing this ever since the group has been formed, and we plan on doing that for as long as the group lasts. Every Wednesday we’re always there, and it’s kind of our landmark event. It’s where a lot of us started, that’s where I started, just helping with open mics. A lot of the current executives started there as well. In addition to open mics, we do events like open jams, which is an event where we set up instruments and we just invite people to play a song or pick up an instrument or figure out what to do. There’s no specific method of doing it, just jam! We do it in the SLC sometimes, we do it in this building [Student Campus Centre]. Other than that, we do our office hours where we do lessons. If you drop by and see whoever’s there, they can teach you something that you want to learn. We also have some landmark events like Battle of the Bands, which we’ve been doing for the past six years and it’s an annual event. Last year we raised over $20,000 to pull it off at the MAC [Mattamy Athletic Centre]. We had bands that competed and there were judges, and it’s a large scale event compared to our other ones. We have an event called Darkness Concert, where we raise awareness for visually impaired people and we donate to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. We blindfold people who come to the event and we play music for them in the dark, so you get the experience of being visually impaired. Your senses are more sensitive to the music that’s being played. That’s the events that we do and other than that, we’re a bunch of friends that like playing music and we like growing our community, welcoming new people, involving them in what we do and sharing the love of music. That’s us.
How and why did you get involved with Musicians @ Ryerson?
I got involved over the Facebook group that they had when I was still in India. When I got accepted to Ryerson, I came across the Facebook group and I was really interested right off the bat and I knew I wanted to be involved. So I messaged a then-executive about a program they had, and still have, called Street Team. Basically, it’s a team of people that go out on campus and promote events by either postering or just communicating with people. We take instruments and just walk and play and entertain people, talk about the group and spread the word. So I really expressed my interest in that and he told me that once I got here we can meet and figure it out. That didn’t happen straight away, but when I moved here I was on res and I knew that they were doing open mics. I just came out to an open mic and sat in the back the first time, just watching everything. Really intimidating to be around all these musicians and everyone. They seemed really close together and I just sat in the back and watched. The second time I asked if I could help pack up, clean up or something and I did that and I met someone who is my best friend today. I asked him if he wanted to play a song and he said yeah and then we played and I fell in love with the whole group and community and everything. Since then I’ve just been involved. In my first year, I wasn’t an executive, but I helped them run events or I would just volunteer my help to do things. The second-year I ran during their elections and I lost to someone but I still stuck around. I was determined to be something in this group, so I helped in whatever way I could. I was finance chair, performance chair, I did a bunch of stuff. I was vice-president last year and now I’m president.
What instruments do you play?
I play the piano, a little bit of guitar, but I mostly sing. I took lessons for piano when I was a kid and I still play now, but it’s mostly to compliment singing for me. That’s the fun of it, I like playing and singing at the same time. Or, if we’re just jamming I’ll play piano then but I mostly sing.
What is your role as President?
*laughs* A lot of different things! So we have 10 executives, including myself. I have three vice presidents: vice president of events, administration and communications, and then subsections of each vice president. We have a social chair who does social media, there’s an events coordinator that assists VP events, there’s finance chair that assists VP admin. I just oversee everything and make sure everything is running smoothly, and if anyone needs help with anything I step in and offer my assistance. Throughout the years I’ve dabbled in almost everything there is in this group. Last year I helped run Battle of the Bands, so I helped raise the money and I did the funding applications and presentations, so I’m good with the administration side of things. I was also VP of administration last year. Prior to that, I did the performance side of things, so emailing people when we have a performance request. We have a performance directory and I used it to email people and ask them if they were interested in playing a certain event. I had that experience as well. I just step in when people need help. I have meetings every week so I try to get everyone together. There are 10 people with really busy schedules so it’s hard, but I try to get everyone together and just update them on what we did the last week, what we’re supposed to do in the next week and assign tasks to people. It’s not me just doing everything, we’re all on the same page most of the time. Everyone just knows what they’re supposed to be doing or just volunteers their help without me even having to ask. I’m there to be the point person for things or to be the final decision maker if I need to be. I facilitate the meetings, but other than that we all just have one goal and that is to grow this group as much as we can and make sure we are engaging with the Ryerson community, getting the word out and doing as many events as we can. With that mindset we function and my role as President, specifically is to make sure that everything is going well and if anyone needs anything I step in. If someone is not able to do anything, they’re really overloaded with work to do then I’ll come in and help out.
What is your favourite aspect of being part of Musicians @ Ryerson?
That’s a hard question, but I think it’s just being part of this group, period. We’re not doing this just because of the fact that we’re executives in a student group, we’re actually friends. We hang out outside of this as well, we go to each other’s places, we watch movies. Music is ingrained in all of us so much that we default to it a lot. We just play songs, it’s not anything to do with Musicians @ Ryerson. It’s a foundation for us, it’s a place all of us met but my favourite part of this is that I’ll be friends with these people for the rest of my life. That’s my favourite part, that I met all these people and we have this common bond that is this group and a common goal to grow this group. Even after we’re all graduated I know we’ll still have that bond, so my favourite part is that I was able to find this platform. As a student, it’s hard to find an outlet outside of school or studying and work and stuff to get everything out and do something that’s not studying. A lot of people struggle with that and that’s why we like involving people. They can come here and destress, whether it’s just listening to someone play music or if you want to play you can just let loose. I’m really glad I was able to find that so early on in my university life.
What is it like being involved in music in downtown Toronto?
It’s exciting I would say. The fact that we’re in such a vibrant, exciting location gives us an opportunity to explore ways to grow this group even outside of the Ryerson proximity. Even last year we did Battle of the Bands at the Hard Rock Cafe, which is now a Shoppers Drugmart, which sucks, it was where we did it for three years prior to last year and that was a really exciting thing for us to do. It’s not a part of Ryerson but it is downtown Toronto. It attracted a lot of people and we were able to pull something like that off. That’s really exciting for us to be able to explore locations like that. For this year we’re trying to do the same thing, we’re not going for the MAC anymore because it’s hard for a person to do. We’re trying to explore maybe a more intimate location. Downtown Toronto has so many music venues to offer and that helps. A lot of us are also musicians outside of Musicians @ Ryerson. A lot of people have their own bands and do their own shows. The fact that we’re in downtown Toronto helps with that as well. We’ve been to a lot of venues downtown, whether it was to see our favourite bands or to go be the band that’s performing. That gives us an idea of what’s out there and how we can incorporate that into Musicians @ Ryerson. We have recommendations for what to do and where to do it because we’ve been there so often. So being downtown is really helpful for us to have an idea of how a university student-run group can function in such a vibrant location.
I love Toronto.
Yeah, Toronto’s great. A lot of us commute sometimes and it gets hard because our open mics happen here [on campus] and they go to 11 p.m or Battle of the Bands goes to 11:30-12 and it’s hard to commute back and forth, but that’s because so much happens here. It’s the centre of things. Even where we’re at, at Yonge and Dundas, it’s a crazy location. We’re lucky to be here and function the group in such a centre point. We try to expand and not just stay within Ryerson’s proximity. We try to be accessible to all Ryerson community members but also try cool places to do things. Toronto, especially the music community, does so many cool events. We just try to get inspiration from that.
What is your favourite part of Ryerson?
I never visited Ryerson before actually being a student. I work at the SLC currently, and I’ve been working there for the past three years. I’m a student senior specialist, so one of the red shirts that go around. I give tours to a lot of prospective students but I never was on that end, I never did a tour or anything. I just showed up here. From the first day, I felt like this was home. That’s because of how welcoming everyone is here and how friendly everyone is. The
reason I’m doing this, besides everything else that I’ve mentioned to you, is to kind of give back to new people that want to be involved. I get really happy and it feels really rewarding when I know that someone feels comfortable with us and feels like they have an outlet here. There’s a lot of international students that come here when they just want to be around people that they’re comfortable with. And that’s my favourite part about Ryerson, that everywhere I went 90% of the time, obviously, it was hard, whether it was residence or with Musicians @ Ryerson or where I work, everyone is just really welcoming and really friendly. There’s no “where you’re from, what language you speak, what you look like”, none of that matters anywhere. It’s just like “oh, you seem nice, let’s be friends”. Everyone is so great here. I think the people are my favourite part. The services Ryerson has to offer, groups like Musicians @ Ryerson. I feel like at Ryerson you get an all-rounded university experience. It’s not just you go to school, you learn something, you get a degree. You see a lot of things here, being downtown and being such an open, inclusive public university. I think I got a good experience and learned so much over the past four years and still am almost every day. I’ve grown a lot since the first day I showed up here so I think that’s my favourite part. I don’t know why I mentioned a lot of things, but all those things.
How could future students get involved with Musicians @ Ryerson?
They can definitely hear about us through social media, we’re pretty active. Our Facebook group is called Musicians @ Ryerson, we have a Facebook page called Rye Musicians, we can be reached on either one. We have an Instagram as well, we have Twitter. We’re all about spreading the word, promoting our events, making sure that people know what we’re about and what we’re doing. We’re very prompt in responding to students as well so anyone who wants to get involved can just shoot us a message anywhere, we will find a way to get back to them and we will go out of our ways to find a place for them as well. If you are here in Toronto and you’re able to just drop by our office hours, we have them every day of the week. We’re really easy to talk to and accommodating in the sense that our doors are always open. We love bringing people in, spreading the word and growing our community. Future students can definitely get a hold of us through our handles. I know it’s hard to find these groups before you’re a student. I’ve met some high school students through my work and spread the word through that too. I think social media is everyone’s best friend, especially in today’s world, everyone is on their phone all the time. We use that as a platform to get the word out.
One last question, what is one piece of advice you would give to future students?
I feel like everyone is on their own journey and their own path. There’s so much I would have told myself from first year, like don’t do this, do this, be this way, don’t say this, but all of that led me to be here and the person I am today. I guess one thing I wish I did better was to be more open and less timid and shy because that’s something I let get to me a lot. I would tell students to be open to experiencing new things and letting yourself… and I don’t even know how to explain. Just do whatever, make the best of the four years that you have because it goes by so fast. I can’t believe that it’s almost done and it’s so nervewracking to know that I won’t have Ryerson to come back to because it’s kind of like a safety blanket for a lot of people. It’s like you go to class, go to work, stress about exams, it’s routine now. But once school’s done, what do I do now? Ryerson has so much to offer, whether it’s student groups or other events or resources or services. I would just say make the best of what you have. A lot of things are included in tuition too, you don’t have to go out of the way to get those resources. You just have to be open to experiencing and looking for things and accepting what is being offered to you. Don’t be shy, don’t get intimidated. Everyone is here and everyone knows how you feel and is in the same boat. I think I felt very different from 0ther people and sometimes I felt like I didn’t belong, that I would say the wrong things or that I had to be super conscious of what I do. That was because I wasn’t used to the life here. It is hard for international students in that way, so I would say just don’t worry and make the best of it. People are going to do what they’re most comfortable with, whether it’s sitting in the back of an event and just watching instead of going and talking to people. Sometimes it takes time, some people more than others and at the end of the day, everyone is going to figure it out because everyone here is really friendly and at you will feel like you do belong here and it just takes time. I think everyone is going to have a good experience here for sure.