Music is baked into Hart House, with no fewer than seven student-run clubs devoted to it – from jazz to classical, strings to a cappella. Four students share how music at the House became their community, the centre of their enriched undergrad experience.
Hart House is where students ignite passions, forge lifelong friendships and create lasting memories. Four students share their stories about their one-of-a-kind experiences with music at the House.
Fourth-year student Clara Hick, in the Faculty of Arts & Science (molecular genetics specialist program), says she was looking to join some sort of musical group in first year. “I'd played jazz piano for years and had been involved in choirs and bands throughout high school. Music has always been a big part of my life, a way to de-stress and enjoy my free time.”
At the U of T Clubs Fair, she was instantly drawn to the Hart House Jazz Choir Onoscatopoeia (Oscat). “I always wanted to be a part of some sort of a cappella jazz choir and this seemed perfect. So, I auditioned, and I've been a member since first year.
“It's nice to do an extra curricular that's not at all related to my degree. It's a great break from school to just have fun singing and making music with people; a creative release from schoolwork,” Clara sums up.
Jacob Li, also in the Faculty of Arts & Science (economics major), says he was similarly drawn to music as an extra-curricular activity, emphasizing that “Hart House Chamber Strings (HHCS) is accessible to everybody. There are no auditions required, and even online during COVID they managed to make rehearsals work.”
He values the less intense style. “It’s more laid back, more open to students.” He enjoys playing violin and performing as part of an ensemble. “Being able to achieve that goal and hearing yourself get better over the course of the semester is something I really enjoy.”
Xueting (Ting) Xiong, graduating from the Faculty of Arts & Science this spring, was drawn to music at the House because “despite being enrolled in a music major, I don't get a lot of opportunities to play violin. She began playing this instrument in high school, but her studies at U of T were focused on music history and culture.
“Hart House Chamber Strings was a great way for me to continue to nurture this life-long passion for music,” she says, adding, “Hart House is a safe and comfortable place where you get to know people, including students and community members.”
Seasoned Hart House musician Julia Kitaygorodsky graduated from the Faculty of Arts & Science, and she’s now in the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Molecular Genetics, working in a lab at Mount Sinai Hospital. She has been a percussionist in the Hart House Symphonic Band for nine years.
“I'm approaching on a decade!” she says, noting, “I wasn't sure if when I graduated, I could still be active at Hart House. I thought it was only for undergrads. Then I realized the ensemble is for alumni too. That was really awesome.”
Like Ting and Clara, Julia grew up with music. She had been playing in bands since grade six and, before that, she took piano lessons. “This was something I really felt I still needed in my life.”
“Everybody is really supportive; we build each other up”
All four students shared one common sentiment: “The biggest thing is the sense of community you get from being part of a group of amateur musicians who just want to come here to make music together and have fun while doing it,” says Jacob.
“Everybody is really supportive; we build each other up. There's not very much competition, which you often see in other ensembles. There's not much hierarchy in each section. Everybody works together on figuring out the bowings and how to phrase the passages,” he emphasizes.
For Julia, working in an ensemble is the best aspect. “I love music so much and the best feeling, for me, is that sense of a team when we're all playing together and the music comes alive. You have to integrate your part at the right time and make it fit with the whole ensemble. Making it come together as a whole is, honestly, just amazing.”
She underscores the joyful aspect: “It is great to be able to play with such a fun, passionate ensemble, because none of us are professional players. We're from a whole bunch of different disciplines. And we're all there because we love music and we're dedicated to it; we make time for it. Seeing everyone try so hard, it means a lot.”
It is, after all, meant to be fun. “I play everything from drums to cymbals to mallet instruments like xylophone to sometimes totally random instruments like a whistle, gong or water-filled wine glasses. We always have so much fun when it's something wacky like that,” says Julia.
“It's the friendships that I've made and the people that I've met – these have been the most rewarding part of being a part of the Jazz Choir these past four years,” says Clara. “It's nice to find a community.”
She recollects a group trip to the Hart House Farm to explore the outdoors and spend time together as a group. “These are definitely some of my fondest memories. I’ll take them with me.”
When asked about her most cherished memories, Ting says, “Gathering together, spending time, fostering a passion for shared interests... I've met a lot of cool people through the club. I felt connections – lasting friendships. Hart House is a hub for community building and discovering things.”
Urges Students to Join any Hart House Club
Ting has some advice for students: “In my first year, it was a little daunting to get started. But once you actually start, you find there are a lot of opportunities that are really rewarding.”
“School can be overwhelming at the beginning,” Julia says to students thinking of joining a musical club at Hart House. “But honestly, if you keep doing some of the hobbies that you love, you're going to feel a lot better. Some of my best stress-release moments were when I'd go to band at the end of a series of midterms and bang on the drums. Just being in the music. And having those friendships is a key part of getting through undergrad … and it's a big part of life.”
Clara urges students to join any of the clubs. “Getting involved in the Jazz Choir at Hart House really enriched my university experience. I think having the opportunity to make connections outside of your program or your classes is very valuable. The caliber of music programming at Hart House is so strong. It attracts a lot of fantastic people and musicians. I am grateful to be a part of that musical community.”
To learn more about Hart House Music Clubs, visit the webpage.