Tag Archives: UIC

A Lesson in Music from The Coop

Danny Biggins (far left) Jared Shaw (second to left) Jacob Barinholtz (second to right) (Cason Trager (far right)

Music is a uniting force that inspires those with open minds to share in the creative vision of an artist– be it a call to action, an expression of joy, or simply a reason to keep moving forward. At least that is how Chicago band The Coop defines music. The members met in high school and have continued the band all the way through college. Band members Cason Trager (bass, synthesizer, laptop), Jacob Barinholtz (drums), Danny Biggins (guitar, synthesizer, vocals) and Jared Shaw (saxophone, percussion) have found their school experiences helpful in becoming successful in music in the Chicagoland area.

The Coop began in 2004, when a group of musically talented friends combined forces in a mysterious old shack (hence the band name). The band focuses on both improvisation and composition, combining elements of current electronic music styles with classic sounds of rock, jazz, funk, and reggae. The variety of styles keeps the group’s sound in a state of constant change. “We really try not to let preconceived genres limit the music we create. Each member of the band has their own influences, and these differences are what make things really interesting for all of us,” explains Barinholtz. Still not convinced? For those seeking a unique atmosphere, The Coop has been known to provide the occasional accompaniment of live painters and fire spinners, among other visual performers.

Music lovers may have seen this unique rock/electronics/fusion jam band during one of their performances at several high-profile summer events. Performing at Summer Camp Music Festival and the Taste of Chicago as well as a New Years Eve 2009 show to a crowd of nearly five hundred people in Chicago has helped these young musicians to be recognized as up-and-coming fan favorites. Kelly Currier, a fan and student at University of Illinois at Chicago said, “Their shows are always a fun time with great music and good vibes. Everyone has a great time dancing and enjoying good tunes.”

With three of four band members in college, The Coop has crossed paths with a wide variety of people that have helped them evolve their music. Whether they’re concert promoters, other bands, or just music enthusiasts, everyone has had an impact. “I met many of these people because I was at U of I (University of Illinois in Champaign). We’ve kept in touch with many of these people too which is good because we can both help each other out along the way,” Barinholtz says.

Barinholtz during a summer show

Recent DePaul University graduate Jessica Figurski has known and played music with Barinholtz since middle school. “I used to love watching him play during school. He was always so dedicated and passionate. I remember thinking every time I saw him play, ‘I just know he is going to go far with his talent.” Barinholtz did not major in music at the University of Illinois in Champaign, but was involved with both concert bands and the steel band through the University. In doing so, Barinholtz was able to play in settings that helped him to understand and learn different music styles. Barinholtz said, “It certainly was difficult at times performing in two different ensembles in addition to The Coop, while still attending regular classes. I often had to put in several hours of practice a week to ensure that I could learn all of my parts well.”

Two other members of The Coop are currently juggling school along with their music careers. Shaw, currently a jazz studies major finishing up his senior year at U of I, is considered to be the music theory guru of the group. His typical day involves attending classes that cover topics such performance, music history, and composition. Biggins has also taken several classes related to music at Elgin Community College to further his education and ability. He balances schoolwork with the band and a job on a daily basis.

What’s next for The Coop? Tonight (March 12th, 2010) the guys will be competing in Summer Camp’s “On The Road Tour” in Urbana, Illinois at The Canopy Club. The show is a battle-of-the-bands style contest in which each member of the audience votes for their favorite band. The winner will be invited to play a set at Summer Camp in Chillicothe, IL, this May for the festival’s 10th anniversary.  With their combination of experience and talent, The Coop surely won’t disappoint on their bright journey to Summer Camp.

Download The Coop’s latest album for free at http://www.thecoopmusic.net

–Laura Green

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When Mojo is a Pen

The beauty of being an artist is the freedom of self-expression and appreciation for other people’s crafts. Every artist longs to find a space to share innermost feelings without fear of judgment or embarrassment. A place where the artistry put into one’s craft is treated with the utmost respect and received graciously as a precious gift. For many student artists at UIC and in Chicago, that place is Mojo’s Pen.

Mojo’s Pen started in 1981 as a student governed organization at UIC. It is an African-centered open-mic poetry set at UIC. The name comes from the belief that a “mojo” makes people feel better without the use of actual medication. Finding your personal “mojo” can be done without the help of others.   In this case, the “mojo” is found through the pen. Through writing personal thoughts and self-expression, people can cope with the stress life can bring. Mojo’s Pen is said to touch the soul and make the people in attendance experience its power to heal.

(left to right) Mosi Ifatunji, Marco Roc, Vernon Lindsay

The hosts are Mosi Ifatunji, Vernon Lindsay, and Marco Roc. These three bring energy to the atmosphere that helps make Mojo’s Pen the heart of creativity and unity that it is. Ifatunji provides painstaking insight to what is going on around the world and how it affects the Black community. Lindsay offers thoughtful words of encouragement, especially on academics, by sharing personal stories to which the audience can relate. Roc presents methods of action to give back to the community, recently leading the group in a fundraiser for earthquake relief in Haiti. Occasionally, the hosts will share pieces of themselves through their poetry. Together, the three display a special brotherhood that serves as the backbone of the set.

The performers mainly consist of students and other young musicians from the Chicago area. They are singers, rappers, spoken word poets, and even comedians. Ifatunji says, “The space is important because it allows students to express themselves in a safe space.”  Topics covered can range from what is going on in the world to what is going on in the artists’ personal lives. The artists feel comfortable sharing their experiences with the group because they consider one another to be family.

(left to right) Rik and Eazy performing

There is an undeniable bond that is present in the room once the set begins.  With various unorthodox call and response chants, Mojo’s Pen makes sure that everyone feels included in the experience. At the beginning of the set, the group picks a topic for discussion. Once the topic is selected, a piece of paper is sent around the room, where each person contributes one line to the community poem. At the end of the set, one of the hosts will perform it in front of the room. The people in attendance generally enjoy this tradition. It lets people who may be too shy to perform to still have their voices heard.

Christien R. Cain, UIC graduate and member of R&B group Lily Monroe®, describes the set:. “It is nice to come to Mojo’s and try new material on them. I never like performing new material on large audiences, when people are paying, and you’re not sure what they’ll think. Mojo’s is different. They encourage you to just be yourself without judgments.” The students seem to be very receptive to one another, encouraging people to continue after making mistakes and always giving positive feedback on their work. It is not always about how polished the performance is, but what it does for the performer’s soul. The young artists describe the setting as a very cathartic experience and say they found their personal mojo’s through their pens.

While Mojo’s Pen is an African-centered open-mic poetry set, they welcome every race, color, and creed to attend and participate. Mojo’s meets every other Thursday at 7:00pm at UIC in the African-American Cultural Center in Addams Hall. The next scheduled set is March 5, 2010. For more information on Mojo’s Pen contact Mosi Ifatunji at ifatunji@gmail.com.

–Lauren Cain

Timeout with Chris Poynton of The Crown and Two Chairmen

Few people have heard of The Crown and Two Chairmen, an instrumental post-rock band from Chicago. However, for those interested in seeking out a different style of music, this might be a band to hear. The Crown and Two Chairmen consists of four guys: two guitarists (Ken Bonner and Kevin McAfee), Chris Solano on the drums, and bassist Chris Poynton. Three of these four musicians are recent graduates from the Chicagoland area. Recently, Poynton answered a few questions about the band and talked about how being a recent college graduate has impacted the group.

Tell me a little about your band, The Crown and Two Chairmen. Where did the name even come from?

Um, actually I stole the name last year when I was studying abroad in England. When we were in London, we used to visit this pub that I really liked. And it was called The Crown and Two Chairmen, and it just kind of stuck with me. But yeah, the band…we’ve been together a little over a year now. If I had to label what style of music we are, I would categorize us as post-rock or experimental. I met Kevin [guitarist] my freshman year at UIC [University of Illinois at Chicago]. He was moving here to Chicago and contacted my roommate at the time through Facebook because they liked similar styles of music, so we became pretty close through that. I met Chris [drummer] because he played with my old band from back in the day and then we contacted Ken [second guitarist] through Craigslist.

So you played in a band before this?

Ha ha, yeah. We were called How Bright the Sky. It was more, like, pop-punk style, which I was really into in high school. We were pretty big, I guess, for our age, but it didn’t work out, which is a long-ass story.

Understandable. You graduated last year from UIC. How has college prepared you, if at all, for your music career?

It really didn’t help me at all. I guess, from a business school perspective, I learned the importance of contacts and learning who can and cannot help you out in the long run. Emailing, calling, and promoting…but that is really all common sense stuff, y’know?

True. You were a business major, I take it?

No, I was an English major, actually. I just imagine, maybe if I were a business major, it might be of some help with my band? I was an English major because I thought maybe I could fall back on a teaching degree at some point. I don’t know, though, exactly what I am going to do.

So you guys have been together a little over a year now. Was it hard balancing your last semester of school and the band at the same time?

Well, yeah, it was. I really care about the music and the other people in the group, so we treat it as if it were a job. It definitely is a really big commitment, but it’s worth it if you are passionate about something. I really had to learn how to balance my time between the two. I never was very into school. I got straight A’s for the most part, although I never had to put in too much effort. The only punishment was that band practice was at noon on Sundays for a while, and 99% of the time I was hungover.

That must have been terrible for your headache. Where do you see The Crown and Two Chairmen in the future?

I don’t know. I really hope we’ll continue on. Our last show at the Beat Kitchen [drew] such a great crowd. We had a few technical difficulties in the beginning, which was frustrating, but we were just so pumped by the amount of people there that it felt right. But if you want me to be realistic, a real job is in my future. It is hard to have four guys as young and attractive and unpopular for the time being as us focus solely on one aspect of their life…unless you are Fall Out Boy. After high school, I got really sick of playing songs that ended after three-and-a-half minutes and were designed for sixteen-year-olds. For us, it’s all about wanting people to hear our music and our style and think to themselves, this is good. We really just want to be respected by other musicians, first and foremost, as well as the fans. Our music is [about] trying to have more thought appeal to life, rather than just singing about a girl you like that broke up with you or [about] getting drunk this weekend.

Is that the reason you chose to play all of your songs thus far entirely instrumental?

I don’t know. Maybe. When we first started playing together, we didn’t know what to expect or what was going to come of us playing together. In the end, adding lyrics just didn’t fit for us, and we decided to exclude it entirely.

I am a big fan of Explosions in the Sky, and I definitely think you guys have a similar song style to them.

I’ll take that as a compliment. Thank you.

Check out The Crown and Two Chairmen’s Myspace at http://www.myspace.com/thecrownandtwochairmen

-Laura Green


What’s Happening This Week: February 3-9, 2010

Wednesday, February 3: Mos Scocious @ Tonic Room (2447 N. Halsted), 10:00 PM, $5

Thursday, February 4: Mojos’ Pen Open Mic @ UIC African American Cultural Center (Adams Hall, Suite 207), 7:00 PM, FREE