Student-Musicians Fine Tune Balance Between School and Musical Passion

Zack Miller | The PhoenixJunior Kristina Tsakos said she hopes to continue to sing at live shows in the future.

When Kristina Tsakos was in kindergarten, she took to the stage for the first time to perform the popular lullaby “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and her passion for sharing her vocal talent was born. Tsakos passion has crescendoed since then, leading her to perform original songs at venues such as Lincoln Park’s Golden Dagger, located at 2447 N Halsted St.

Tsakos, 20, said she’s always had an interest in music and her passion is grounded in her mom and grandfather’s musical talent. The environmental science major said she started writing songs when she was in high school, but she began writing her most meaningful lyrics during her first year of college.

While staying up late studying for a biology test and writing an essay, Tsakos said the lyrics for her song “What Would I Do?” came to her all at once. A few lines that started as a poem quickly shifted into a meaningful song about a bad breakup. 

“I was just so wired on caffeine and stress and I was trying to fall asleep — it was 4 a.m. at this point — and all of a sudden, I just get up and write pages of lyrics,” Tsakos said.

Tsakos is often accompanied by a guitar player when she performs and when she records her original music.

She plans to include “What Would I Do?” on the album she’s been working on over the past year and a half, which she hopes to finish by the fall. Tsakos said her music falls into the indie-alternative genre and takes vocal inspiration from singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Amy Winehouse. 

Tsakos said much of lyricism reflects how she navigates relationships and change.

“Oh but people’s lips are weird / When they’re not the ones you’re used to / If I hurt more, did I feel more than you?” Tsakos sings in her 2019 song “What Would I Do?”

While Tsakos pursues solo musical endeavors and occasional collaborations, other students have formed bands. Five Loyolans formed a group called Caase Study, which focuses on playing covers of funk and jazz music.

The students met through Loyola’s Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combos. Department of Fine and Performing Arts Professor Lara Driscoll recommended starting a band to Colin Montville, the band’s pianist. Trombone player Asha Egmont overheard the conversation and volunteered to join Montville’s band. The two musicians were then joined by guitarist Ehmed Nauman, bassist Aaron Freedman and drummer Spencer Peterson to form Caase Study.

The band covers songs by groups such as funk-pop group Vulfpeck, and their musical style is inspired by artists such as The Meters. Freedman said the band has taken up a “modern funk style.”

Egmont, Freedman, Peterson and Montville have a jazz band class together.

Montville, Egmont and Freedman have been playing instruments for several years. Montville, 21, began playing the piano after their dad put them in lessons to learn the instrument at the age of nine. Montville spent years wanting to quit due to not being as good of a player as their mom, who also played the piano.

“My mom said, ‘Tell you what, once you’re better than me, then you can quit,’” the music major said. “By the time I was better than her, I was like, ‘Man, this s— rules.’” 

While these students have continued to pursue their musical passions, both Tsakos and members of Caase Study said balancing academics with making music is difficult. These students agreed that arranging specific times to be creative isn’t always effective. 

“I think a lot of other artists can empathize with this notion that you can’t really schedule a time to be creative,” Tsakos said. “The times that feel the most rewarding are those ‘Aha’ moments that are just spontaneous.” 

Egmont, 20, has struggled to find time for practice with the rest of Caase Study during their dedicated practice time on Thursday, which the group has deemed “funk o’clock.” The trombone player said her academics and on-campus job often interfere with band practice and prevented her from being able to play in Caase Study’s April 1 performance at Ireland’s Pub.

Montville, Nauman, Freedman and Peterson performed as the opener and house band during a Comedy Club event at Ireland’s Pub.

“Being a [environmental studies and jazz studies] double major and a student worker takes away a lot of my time for rehearsals,” Egmont said. “I think being a music major is really helpful because it kind of clocks in time to learn about music during your day, but the practicing and rehearsing part of it is just a little more difficult to include.”

Whether they’re coming up with lyrics in their bedroom late at night or clearing their schedules for funk o’clock, these student musicians agreed that music is an important tool for self-expression and relaxation when enduring academic stress. 

“I can’t say that it’s the priority sometimes, but it’s not work,” Freedman said. “It feels like I’m just relaxing and having fun.”

Tsakos’ music can be found on Spotify, YouTube and SoundCloud under the name “Kristina Tsakos,” and Caase Study’s performances are available to watch on the YouTube channel Colin1019.

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