Sound Together: Making music on campus


Kristin Kennedy

Carolina Pines, the bluegrass band in Sound Together, performs during Fallstock in Stem Concert Hall.

As Michael Sauffer, music junior, pounded a beat with his drumsticks, Zoe Blackwell, music senior and Matt Restrepo, music sophomore, leaned forward and swayed as their hands flew across their saxophone keys during their jazz band’s performance.

The jazz band, called Cold Front, is one of three small ensembles making up Sound Together, a student-run organization on campus.

In addition to Cold Front, Sound Together is made up of a bluegrass band called Carolina Pines and a cover rock band called American Music Classics, or AMC.

Curtis Merrill, music senior, plays the keyboard and provides vocals for AMC. Merrill said Sound Together helps music students fulfill their requirement to participate in a campus ensemble.

“That club was intended to have musicians from IUS to play in an ensemble without being really affiliated with the choir or the concert band or the orchestra, or even the guitar ensemble,” Merrill said.

Merrill said he helped Blackwell start Sound Together because he was interested in the idea of playing piano and keyboard in an ensemble.

“Now, I can sing, but I really wanted an opportunity to play the piano, which is my main instrument, with a small group or large group – it didn’t matter to me – of other musicians,” Merrill said.

Tim Haertel, lecturer of music industry and adviser for sound engineering and music business, is the faculty sponsor of Sound Together. Haertel said Sound Together is different from other campus organizations, because different bands can form, but they operate as part of Sound Together to enable them to perform, rehearse and use equipment on campus.

I just love it. I look forward to band practice all week.

— Tim Haertel, lecturer of music industry

The structure of Sound Together provides opportunities for the organization to grow, Blackwell said.

“If you have enough people, you can branch off and make your own band,” Blackwell said. “I want to get an Irish band started. I think that would be fun.”

Haertel said Sound Together began to grow during the 2014-15 academic year, when Blackwell came up with the idea to start a jazz band, which became Cold Front. Haertel said he then helped the band build up its presence.

“I secured them some support from the school, places to play, equipment and sort of refereed the first semester of getting it together and working on personnel and so forth,” Haertel said.

Compared to the 2014-15 academic year, Cold Front consists of all new members besides Blackwell, Haertel said.

Restrepo and Sauffer, Bobby Conley, music sophomore, Ethan Miller, prospective music junior and Tye McFarland, music sophomore, make up the rest of Cold Front.

Conley plays the bass, Miller plays the piano and keyboard, and McFarland plays the bongos. Meanwhile, Restrepo and Blackwell play flute in addition to saxophone.

Blackwell said Sound Together allows her to play music that’s different from classical music, the style of music she and other students in the IUS music department primarily play. She also said the organization allows her to get experience playing various instruments.

“It’s a chance to explore different styles you wouldn’t normally get to explore if you were just a classical musician,” she said.

Blackwell said she has developed musical skills such as improvisation as a result of her experiences in Cold Front.

“You don’t get to do that [improvisation] in classical music,” she said. “And it’s an important skill to have as a musician nowadays.”

The members of Cold Front want to gain more experience playing together, Blackwell said.

Ethan Miller, prospective music junior, plays the piano during Cold Front’s performance in Fallstock.
Ethan Miller, prospective music junior, plays the piano during Cold Front’s performance in Fallstock.

“The bluegrass band [Carolina Pines] has been around a while, so they play at a lot of events, but the jazz band’s trying to play more,” she said.

Mike Mullins, music senior, said he and Aaron Linson, music senior, founded Carolina Pines in 2012. The band became part of Sound Together after the organization began.

“We got together and figured out we both had an interest in bluegrass and it bloomed from there,” Mullins said. “The group has been amazing. We’ve recycled a few players and have had the opportunity to play with different students who bring different styles to the group.”

Mullins said even though Carolina Pines is a bluegrass band, the band also performs music in other genres. He said in addition to performing old bluegrass songs, the band has performed music by various artists and groups, including Balsam Range, Trampled By Turtles, Zac Brown, Stevie Wonder and others. Also, Mullins said he wrote a song that the band performed called “Don’t Tell Mamma.”

“We make things our own,” he said. “We have a classic rock fan in our group, as well as metal fan(s), a country fan, and of course we all are bluegrass fans. But bringing all of that together is something really special.”

Mullins plays guitar and provides the vocals, Linson plays the mandolin, Josh Druin, music junior, plays the fiddle and former IUS student Adam Jackson plays the banjo.

Haertel is also part of Carolina Pines, playing the bass. He said he went to one of the band’s rehearsals one day and noticed the group did not have a bass player.

“I grabbed an upright bass out of the closet and started thumping away, and they said, ‘Well, you’re our bass player,’” Haertel said.

As for AMC, Conley, Sauffer and Linson are members along with Merrill. Conley plays the bass guitar, Sauffer plays the drums and Linson plays the guitar.

Merrill said he enjoys performing in AMC because it allows him to play songs he knows, including “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, with friends.

Haertel said Sound Together provides students with opportunities to play what they want in front of their peers on instruments they’re not always the most familiar with.

Zoe Blackwell, music senior, Matt Restrepo, music sophomore, and Michael Sauffer, music junior, perform during Fallstock.
Zoe Blackwell, music senior, Matt Restrepo, music sophomore, and Michael Sauffer, music junior, perform during Fallstock.

“I want them to have an opportunity to play music in a non-graded situation,” he said. “But they also need to learn how to play in a band, as opposed to having a conductor that makes decisions about what kind of music they play, when the rehearsal time is, and all that. That is essential to professional music, is working together for a common good and accepting different roles and compromise.”

Haertel said Carolina Pines, Cold Front and AMC performed at the Chancellor’s Medallion Dinner on Saturday, March 28 at Horseshoe Southern Indiana in Elizabeth. More recently, they performed at the Fallstock concert, which was organized by music business students, in Stem Concert Hall in the Ogle Center on Monday, Nov. 16. Haertel said he believes Fallstock was the Sound Together bands’ best show to date.

Haertel said Sound Together’s members have been accomplishing goals by performing in their bands, but the organization has been dealing with challenges. The members have to come up with a constitution and bylaws, and there is currently not a leader of the entire organization.

“We’re having a little bit of a leadership crisis right now,” Haertel said. “Each individual group has their leaders, but no one wants to step forward and take over the entire organization, because it’s too much paperwork and too much hassle. They’re already playing in the orchestra or the band or the choir, their ensemble here. They’re taking a full load of classes and working jobs.”

Despite these challenges, Haertel said the members still have goals. For example, he said some of the members have been thinking of starting a blues band. Haertel also said he wants each band to perform more often, and the members of each band want to continue to learn more music to perform.

“Right now, none of us have more than a half-hour’s worth of music learned, each group or individually,” he said. “So none of us can play a really extended gig yet. But I think hopefully by the end of spring, each of us will have at least an hour. That’s the goal.”

Haertel said his favorite aspect of Sound Together is that it helps him have personal relationships with his students, and they work toward goals together.

Curtis Merrill, music senior, and Bobby Conley, music sophomore, perform as AMC in Fallstock. AMC is the cover rock band in Sound Together.
Curtis Merrill, music senior, and Bobby Conley, music sophomore, perform as AMC in Fallstock. AMC is the cover rock band in Sound Together.

“I just love it,” he said. “I look forward to band practice all week. We keep saying, ‘We’re going to take it on the road. We’re going to get a bus.’”

Haertel said the members of Sound Together work hard to perform high-quality shows for their audiences.

“They pretty much wrote all the music up themselves,” he said. “I don’t coach them. I stop in on their rehearsals and show that I’m interested, but they do all the work. I’m proud of them. They have passion in what they play.”

Sound Together mostly consists of music majors, but the organization is always looking for musicians, regardless of their majors, Merrill said.

“Don’t be afraid if you think you aren’t good enough,” he said. “We’ll find a place for you.”

For more information about joining or starting a Sound Together ensemble, contact Tim Haertel at or 812-941-2025.