Harmonies during hard times

Bella Yaniello, a junior integrated language arts education major, uses musicals as her artistic outlet. Photo by Gabby Yaniello

By Kaitlyn Kelley

COVID-19 forced businesses and schools to shut their doors, separated people from their friends and turned the world upside down. But amid all these events, some Youngstown State University students made the best of the newfound free time.

While some people find solace in listening to music, several students find themselves occupied by making it.

Lari Spahr, a junior creative writing and film double major, took the negative aspects of the pandemic and turned them into a positive experience for herself.

“I write and record my own tracks and vocals,” she said. “Sometimes, I buy the rights to beats already made by a producer because I’m only mediocre on instruments, and sometimes I cover other artists’ songs.”

With the help of more free time and the increased usage of social media, Spahr used this as an opportunity to work harder and share her voice more.

“I tend to write and produce more now than I did before the pandemic.” she said. “Also, social media has become a big part of sharing music. For example, TikTok is providing people with a huge platform that I think might be smaller if COVID didn’t hit.”

TikTok and other social media platforms are now a major part of how student musicians like Spahr share their art with others. Despite the fact in-person gigs are not a possibility right now, they still have the ability to make their projects known.

Jake Clark, a senior marketing management major, started pursuing music in 2017 as a hobby but started taking it seriously in 2019. The events of the pandemic only propelled his passion for music.

“I do all instrumentals and engineering stuff,” he said. “Genre-wise, it’s mostly hip-hop and alternative or an indie-pop vibe.”

Clark, like Spahr, networks and connects with new people through social media.

“So, I sell and lease beats to artists via Instagram DMs or YouTube and get paid in royalties,” he said. “I think without COVID-19, I could’ve DJed more and focused on that. But the positive of it is connecting with people who were going through the same stuff as me … everyone was just trying to work on their craft, and that really connected us.”

Of course, not all students made strides toward their work. Other musicians who have pursued their passion through musicals at YSU, were not as lucky.

Bella Yaniello, a junior integrated language arts education major, uses musicals as her artistic outlet. When the pandemic shut everything down last March, it took “Shrek the Musical” — and Yaniello’s part in the production — with it.

“Finding out the musical was canceled really sucked,” she said. “I had put a lot of my time and effort into it, and I was really excited! So, when COVID shut it down, even though I wasn’t surprised, I felt like I had something great just ripped away from me.”

Despite the personal satisfaction Spahr’s musical expression gives her, she also experienced some setbacks due to the shutdowns

“I had auditioned for ‘The Voice’ virtually during this pandemic, which was a strange experience compared to any in-person auditions I’ve done in the past,” she said. “I think if it were in person, it might have turned out different.”

Where there may be a lack of ability to get gigs, there is a bigger possibility of getting seen on social media. But students still move forward and share their art with others.