Skarizon Celebration

Ska-hoy everyone! I’m Manthan and I’m back with yet another article. This time, I’m going to write about something very special to me – my band Skarizon. This month (in fact, as of when I’m writing this article, in a week) we celebrate a full year of being a band together!

Everyone in the band has worked hard at some point, regardless of when they were part of the Skarizon experience. They’ve all sacrificed countless hours that they could’ve spent with friends (while actually eating their lunch). The main reason why we’re all together is not because of a music grade or club requirements. We’re all here together to share the joy of music. As our bassist Aaron once said, “we’re a bunch of music fanatics that listen to the weirdest stuff.” He isn’t farther from the truth; we listen to music ranging from early jazz to ska to even punk rock and pirate metal (ok that last part is probably just me).

We play a type of music called ska. Ska originated in Jamaica in the 1960s and became famous due to its upbeat feel; it was also the precursor to reggae. It’s so fun to play because it always gives out positive vibes. While ska in its traditional form was popular in the 60s and 70s, the British made their own version (basically colonized) of ska in the 80s with two-tone ska. This form of ska would later influence the 90s movement of ska punk, where every band (especially Rancid) got addicted to ska of some form. While the ska punk movement doesn’t get much media attention anymore, there are awesome new ska bands like The Interrupters (thanks to Rancid) and The Makeaways, who have been very supportive of us.

The story of Skarizon started back in late 9th grade. In 9th grade, I joined an amazing club that I wrote about – the Tri M Music Honors Society. For most events, I played tabla for them. However, for the Art Stroll, I partnered up with two other members who could both play Indian instruments (harmonium and veena). We would practice after school in the shade as the Dublin sun poured its head onto us. I ended up missing the performance because I was too busy cleaning myself up from our theater performance and ended up doing an improvised tabla solo, but that’s a story for a different day.

To be honest, I should’ve started with middle school; back then, I was really into Bryan Adams. I loved his music so much that I would sing it everywhere. In fact, I even wanted to play a guitar, sing, and even start a band just like him. I borrowed an acoustic guitar from a friend’s dad and tried to learn guitar, but I never had the time to commit to that class. I then thought of singing but I couldn’t sound like Bryan no matter how hard I tried. That dream went away quickly especially when I realized that I’m better off as a drummer.

My dreams of starting a band never went away, though. At the start of 10th grade, I decided to plan something crazy out. I was going to make my own Indian music band. I invited the same two people I practiced with, but the band fell apart halfway through our first meeting because I ran out of ideas and time. The two people I invited didn’t have time to commit and felt that they could’ve easily done the same thing in Tri-M. That really sucked because I got super excited over it and had so many great plans. I even tried auditioning for rock band and played Seven Nation Army, but that didn’t go well. No hard feelings as in both cases; everyone’s been supportive of me.

I was in the school’s jazz band as the drummer and tabla player. Despite all my failings in starting/joining a band, I still had tons of fun playing with them. The first semester of jazz band was filled with us playing Latin music. We played different forms of music ranging from bossa nova (Brazilian Latin music with a strong Portuguese influence) to even ska!

The first ska song we played was “Man In the Street” by the Skatalites. I was on tabla and had fun playing along, but overall, it didn’t really excite us that much. However, I ended up playing drums to “Latin Goes Ska” (also by the Skatalites). I loved the song so much that I would go rogue during drum solos and destroy everyone’s hearing. I feel that everyone in the band loved it a lot. This song was so fun that when I started Skarizon, it was the first song we learned.

In November or December, Dr. Liddell half-joked that someone should start a ska band. I don’t think I got that he was joking. However, throughout December, I had a hard time finding people interested. Eventually, things would change, and Dr. Liddell remained extremely supportive of us. He’s given us lots of advice on how to get better and even helped out during tough times. He’s seen us play live and always encourages us to keep going. Sometimes he even jams out with us.

I didn’t want this new ska band of mine to become yet another failed dream. At the start of the new year, I pledged that I would make this band happen. I once again started asking everyone. Eventually, in mid-January, Skarizon’s first member (excluding me) joined the band – our guitarist Rohan Kumar. He was also in jazz band but played the tenor saxophone. He knew how to play guitar but I originally planned for him to play the tenor sax. However, he would later switch to guitar.

Not too long later, our next member joined the band. I was really excited to have him because he can pick up any instrument (excluding anything where he has to blow air) and play it like he’s a natural. That, of course, is our bassist (he now also plays the vibraphone) Daniel Cha.

Here he is dressed for the occasion!

Apart from being an instrumental genius, he also arranged our covers. For our first show, we played a ska version of Seven Nation Army (yes, the same song that I failed many months prior to it) that he arranged. Over the summer, he made ska versions of Never Gonna Give You Up and a Christmas medley of songs including Joy to the World, Feliz Navidad, All I Want for Christmas Is You, and Run Rudolph Run. Out of all these songs, we only performed Feliz Navidad live, and that was for our second show.

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This is the arrangement of the song we played – sheet music is at 101 KB View full-size Download

Our next member is our baritone saxophone player Chayla Venzon. When Chayla joined us, she brought a strong sense of musical cohesion and unity that we were sorely lacking. She essentially helped conduct our practices and gave us all things to work on. She was present for our first show and still performed even though she had to run after being at another event. When we reconvened in August, she didn’t have much time to show up to practices due to other commitments, but she was there for our second show as an audience member. Her support really meant a lot to us. She’s back with us again as a performing member. We’re all so happy to have her back.

Not too long later, our pianist and artistic director Mark Yang joined. He was originally going to be our official guitarist but switched to piano because he felt more comfortable as the pianist. Even though his parts on piano are pretty easy, he still enjoys playing along. Thanks to him, our rhythm section got extra strength.

Our horn section grew stronger with the addition of the dynamic duo – Annabelle Overholt on clarinet and Julia Vu on flute. Together, they both brought a lot of energy, excitement, and fun to our practices with their antics. After our first performance, Annabelle unfortunately decided to take a break from the band, and we’ll miss her. Julia has still remained a member and her flute adds extra dynamics to our sound.

Our horn section was not complete yet. We were missing a powerful sound; we still sounded rather empty without the presence of a powerful, noticeable horn player. This powerful, noticeable horn player – in fact, the original saxy legend – came in the form of our alto saxophonist Ron Li.

Ron was really great at what he does; he can play any song we give him and always brings about a special energy that truly shaped our sound. When I first asked him, he said he didn’t have time to join us, but a month later, he became part of our experience. Sadly, in early February, Ron announced that he was going to take a break from the band for the rest of the year. We’d like to thank him for always being a part of us. We’ll definitely miss him.

This lineup made history as Quarry Lane’s newest band. We had our first show at the Quarry Lane Art Stroll back in May 2019. We had a small crowd of about 13 people. Among them included some friends like Wesley Vong, who filmed our entire set, Aliva, who came to check us out and seemed very supportive of us, my parents, and even my maternal grandparents. We had sound issues; we were playing out in the open. We also had tech problems and even had to deal with the wind blowing sheet music everywhere. Despite that, we still played great and everyone got to witness a new band being inducted into the local music scene!

For that show, we started off with the first song we ever learned as a band – Latin Goes Ska. We then played Spread Satin by Roland Alphonso; this was the hardest song we learned at that time. To close, we played Seven Nation Army.

Over the summer, we took a long break where we thought of new songs to play and attempted to have practices but ultimately failed. However, as school started again, Skarizon was returning with a new lineup and some new songs.

When we recruited for people at open house, we only got 6 people. Out of that group of 6 people, only 1 person ended up becoming an official member. This new person became a new member of our horn section and added more to the dynamics. He’s brought so much joy and excitement to our practices and has never failed to make us laugh. This young lad is our trombonist Sarp Gursel.

A month later, we got another bassist – Aaron Lam.  We originally planned for him to join us back when Skarizon was just getting started, but he didn’t really have time. However, now he finally found time to be with us, and he’s having a great time! When he isn’t playing bass (we still have Daniel, who plays bass for the harder songs), he joins Mark on piano duties.

In December, we had our second show as a band at our school’s Winter Arts Festival. It felt nice to be performing again, especially because we were itching for another gig. This show featured our newer members Aaron and Sarp, and was even Ron’s last show with us.

This time, we were playing to more people (about 20 or so) and had a more supportive crowd that cheered us along and even danced to our music. We once again played Latin Goes Ska. We had a live debut of our cover of Feliz Navidad. Our last song was very hard; we had lots of sheet music issues that didn’t fully get resolved. In fact, Ron didn’t learn his parts until the night before the show; we later discovered that those parts were still wrong. It didn’t help that none of us knew how the solo section would go. We played a cover of The Impression That I Get by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Even though the song devolved into a confused jam session, we still played like we knew what we were doing, and everyone loved it.

After winter break, we met again. This time, we were preparing for a new event – the Tri-M benefit show (which I wrote about earlier). We had plans to learn new songs and fix our older material. Additionally, Chayla was returning! Unfortunately, practices didn’t go that well because we were playing challenging songs (September; we also tried to revise Impression). School was also busy for most members. We also got a new member – our percussionist and photographer Andy Seo, who’s made practices more fun.

We were somehow progressing fine, but a week before our show, life took a sudden downturn. The week before the show, Ron announced that he had to take a break from the band due to academic commitments. This hit hard because he played all the main parts and gave us a powerful sound. Now, we were at a severe loss regarding what to play.

A few days before the show, however, things grew worse. First, Daniel announced that he couldn’t make it. I was getting worried but I knew that Aaron could also play bass. Aaron and Mark, however, both had a basketball tournament on the same day as the show, so they had to leave. Andy then announced that he couldn’t make it. This hit us hard because now, the only people left were me (drums), Rohan (guitar), Chayla (bari sax), and Sarp (trombone). Our rhythm section would’ve sounded weaker, and the horn section lost a lot of power.

Help was on the way. After I told Dr. Liddell about our situation, he joined us on bass. His support really meant a lot to us; our mentor was there jamming out with us. Additionally, Andy and Mark were able to persuade another friend of ours, Jason Zhang, to join us on piano. They all saved our situation. While we sounded empty, people still felt the spirit and like our show.

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This was the lineup for our latest show. It was at low point in our history, but we came out strong. We got lots of support from the crowd as well. 3.23 MB View full-size Download

While that performance wasn’t our best show, more people got to know us (we were playing to about 30 people; most of whom had never heard us live before). After that show, we were going to fix all our older material. To make things better for us, we got a new member – our tenor saxophonist Akhil Pillai! Back when Skarizon was just getting started, I asked him if he wanted to join, but he didn’t seem to keen on doing that. Now, he’s with us, and he’s doing great!

He announced that he would join us a week before our Tri-M show, but he only formally joined us during our first practice after that event; he wasn’t ready to perform. Over the course of about 2 weeks, we brought him up to speed with our material (excluding Feliz Navidad, Spread Satin, and Seven Nation Army). We finally worked out all the sheet music issues in songs like The Impression That I Get and September, and even got started with another song – Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy (which was meant for ska).

After our Tri-M show, we also made plans to perform elsewhere to redeem ourselves in our own eyes. We asked the Spanish Club if we could perform at their annual Salsa Night; we played the perfect music for that event and brought a lot of energy to the shows. The Spanish Club was very gracious when they accepted us to perform there, and we were all very excited. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, the event was either cancelled/postponed to May.

We then planned to have a performance on that same day after school on campus. Because school was recently shut down, the show will most likely not happen. We even had plans to play at the Rock n Roll San Francisco Half Marathon; however, due to fears of the virus, we had to cancel that event. Currently, we are learning new songs and are preparing for any potential events in the future.

In the meantime, some of us recently played (as of when this article was written, earlier today) at a park just as a fun practice/jam session, which was organized by our trombonist Sarp himself. Despite the occasional drizzle and cold winds, we still had a lot of fun playing and truly discovered what it means to be in a band – friendships, fun, and freedom.

We’d like to thank many people for encouraging us to be with us along the way. First, we’d like to thank Dr. Liddell for creating us; he gave us the idea to start a ska band. He’s always been very encouraging of us and has listened to all our practices, regardless of whether they were a success or utterly dysfunctional. There are few people like him who can truly inspire a love for music and help us unlock our inner musical potential.

We also would like to thank the Lower School librarian Ms. Haggerty who always let us use her room for practices and kept encouraging us. If you’re reading this, then I’m really sorry for forgetting your name like that; I’m not the best at remembering names and linking them with faces.

Next, we’d like to thank our dear friend Wesley Vong for filming our first 2 shows and being very supportive. He stands or sits throughout the entire set and always holds his phone up to film us. His arms clearly hurt, but he still somehow fights through the pain. He got us online and helped us reach out to more people everywhere.

Speaking of close friends, we have to thank our “unofficial manager” Elliot Tong. He sits in during practices and just hangs out with us. While he can’t play any instruments, he still enjoys what we play. His presence has been very supportive for us.

The last person from this school that truly deserves a shoutout is our close friend Jay Yuan, who plays violin. He was part of jazz band, and just like me, was a band clown (he would strum it like a guitar during performances). He never really had much time to be with us, but he still joined us for our last official practice of last school year (he was also going to move over the summer). We played a very dysfunctional yet hilarious version of Latin Goes Ska with lots of fails and antics.

Not all our friends are from this school. A close friend of ours, Rish Jain, recently started a heavy metal band called Fiery Haven. He’s also been supportive of us. While he’s a metalhead, the fact that he really enjoys what we play means a lot to us. It’s proof that anyone can enjoy ska. We also have to thank another band – the Eternity Band, which is composed of people from my old school. They’ve also been very supportive of us.

Lastly, we’d like to extend our greatest thanks to another ska band. The ska community is filled with lots of positive vibes; everyone supports each other. Somehow, this band followed us on Instagram and took a liking to us. They’ve been around since 2014; the fact that they like us really says a lot about us.

It’s only been 1 full year and everything has been so eventful. We’ve had 3 performances (not bad considering how life keeps getting in our way, but we’ve had lots of lineup changes. We’ve learned lots of different songs and quickly got the support of lots of different people ranging from friends to teachers and even other bands. I’m not sure what this next year will have in store for us, but hopefully it will mean more songs, more music, more shows, and more fun!

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