Senior Olivia Zitkus brought more than just academic credits and new experiences back with her after a semester abroad at University College London. She also came back to UNC with the inspiration to start Carolina House Band.
Zitkus started CHB in the fall of 2019 under the umbrella of the Carolina Creates Music network, which she serves as head of development. Now in its second semester, the student organization invites musicians who play instruments from any genre to perform on campus and in the Chapel Hill community.
"We've got musicians who are classically trained, we've got classic rock guitarists and people who play more than one instrument,” Zitkus said. “The idea is that we'll eventually have enough different types of musicians and vocalists to be really flexible as to locations we're able to play, the genre of music we're able to play and also be able to challenge people to get out of their comfort zone.”
Zitkus said that CHB currently has a general body of around 20 students and an executive team of about 12. Zitkus said the house band is currently operating under the requirement that each student plays at least two of the organization’s gigs per semester. Executive members have more responsibility, and may also be in charge of leading groups or helping to organize events.
But CHB is hoping to grow during its second semester, Zitkus said. Having a larger organization would allow students to choose which performances they’d like to participate in, which would make the club a lighter commitment for those looking to join occasionally and play.
CHB's executive team includes first-year Bianca Washington, who serves as director of music and teaching, and first-year Kevin Zhang, the director of teaching and learning. Beyond performing with the band, they are also responsible for helping to run rehearsals and find venues for CHB. Washington also selects music that the band performs.
They both found out about the organization through a Facebook post that Zitkus made in the fall.
“It seemed interesting because I'm a musician and that's what I do,” Zhang said. “I currently play violin every day, and wanted to do something to do with music or music outreach, so I was like ‘It would be pretty cool if I could do something like that.’”
Washington said she’s in a few other music organizations at UNC, but this one stood out to her because of the variety of musicians they invite to perform with them.
"My favorite part about it is playing with instruments that I've never played with before, and also being able to play off campus in different venues,” Washington said. “I'm a classical instrumentalist, and I play violin and cello and such, so being able to play with drums and guitars and a bass has been very cool.”
She also said that as a director of music she is responsible for communicating with the venue and catering their music selection to fit the event.
She said the band performs on and around campus five or six times a semester. Recent gigs have included more alternative music because they can incorporate a variety of instruments into the arrangement, Washington said.
Zitkus said that the organization remains an evolving platform of undergraduate bandmates, and emphasized that those who are interested in joining the band shouldn’t be intimidated by a perceived lack of experience.
"It doesn't matter how much you know," Zitkus said. "Everybody, no matter your skill level, can learn something or learn something while teaching somebody music. I think that there's a lot of power in that and it's good to challenge yourself and perform on a regular basis."
She also believes that, in addition to bringing musicians from different areas together, the organization has a lot of value in creating a space for musical growth and leadership.
"I think it empowers students who aren't necessarily music majors to keep creating and putting themselves out there,” Zitkus said. “If you can lead onstage and run a rehearsal and manage musicians, you can lead in a lot of other areas too."
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