From Biiig band to open mics: The unsung heroes of Stanford’s music scene

With no plans on a Friday night, you venture to CoHo for a warm drink, where you are treated to student bands’ live performances. These performances are a subset of many events — such as concerts and open mic nights — made possible by several student musicians and audio engineers tinkering behind the scenes. 

After a year of virtual classes, Nathan Sariowan ’24 and Ellie Stalcup ’24 sought to bring together the community through live music in 2021.

Sariowan and Stalcup teamed up with The Arbor, a branch of the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) that supports campus music events, and launched a series of activities at Tresidder. Thus Wednesday open mic nights, Thursday trivia nights and Friday night student band performances became as we know them today. The impact that Sariowan and Stalcup had on Stanford’s music community is carried on by other musicians, like Sebastian Hochman ’26, who also writes for The Daily. 

Nathan Sariowan ’24

A photo of two performers tuning in front of a waiting audience.
Ever since coming to Stanford, Sariowan (above, center) has been busy creating opportunities for fellow musicians to share their music with a campus audience. (Courtesy of Nathan Sariowan)

San Diego native Nathan Sariowan has a background in classical violin and jazz music. It was not until he came to Stanford that he started to experiment with performing on the bass in bands, mixing music and organizing concerts. 

According to Sariowan, the campus’s live music scene has come a long way.

“We started with a few concerts, and now we have whole crews of people setting up equipment and a whole process for booking and paying artists,” Sariowan said. “It’s been really cool to see the evolution of that.” 

Sariowan said working with newer performers is a highlight of their work: “You see it in their eyes that they’re thinking, ‘That was really cool to do, and I want to do it again.’”

These experiences culminated in Sariowan’s role as lead student organizer of The Arbor during the 2022-23 academic year and organizer of CoHo’s open mic nights. 

Some of the most rewarding moments of organizing open mic nights include interacting with the audience and connecting performers, Sariowan said. 

“It’s always cool to bring new audiences to performers and bring musicians together,” Sariowan said. “I also love when I can introduce two musicians and say, ‘You two do similar things, and you should meet.’” 

A senior and music minor, Sariowan has also mixed sound for Stanford’s numerous theater productions and acapella groups, including Everyday People, Counterpoint and Mixed Company. He also organizes performances on and off campus. 

“Music has been a major part of my identity at Stanford. I’m so lucky that there are many musicians and music opportunities here,” Sariowan said. “Music is my work, it’s what I do for fun, it’s what I do to relax and it’s what motivates me.” 

Ellie Stalcup ’24

A photo of a person singing on the CoHo stage.
Experimenting with music tech for the first time at Stanford, Stalcup aspires to extend a similar opportunity of exploration to their peers. (Courtesy of Ellie Stalcup)

“My mom’s one rule for me and my siblings was that we had to do some sort of music. It didn’t matter what it was and we didn’t have to be good at it,” Stalcup said. “We had to have that in our lives.”

Stalcup grew up with a background in singing, piano, clarinet and oboe. At Stanford, they serve as current head manager of The Arbor and sing in the soprano/alto a capella group Counterpoint. They are grateful for their current involvement in music, which exceeded their initial expectations.

“Coming into Stanford, I was adamantly thinking I would only be a performer,” Stalcup said. “I hadn’t given music tech a chance, and I’m really glad that I did.”

Stalcup’s versatility and willingness to explore different disciplines within the musical realm inspired those around them. 

“Throughout our time at Stanford, I’ve been really impressed by the way Ellie just goes for things,” said Claire Morton ’24, Stalcup’s friend. “If it’s something they are interested in, even if they have no experience, they’ll work really hard to learn it and succeed at it.”

Stalcup made some of their favorite musical memories at Stanford through the Arts Intensive course “Wild Sound Explorers: Digital Storytelling at Jasper Ridge,” where they explored the sounds of nature and composed a song out of their field recordings. 

“It was the first actual piece I had ever written,” Stalcup said. “I was really proud of that.” 

At The Arbor, Stalcup experimented with audio engineering for the first time. They have since helped launch open mic nights and acted as an audio engineer for the Stanford Shakespeare Company. 

Now, as the manager of The Arbor, Stalcup sees students who are where they once started: brand new to music tech and eager to learn. Stalcup hopes to use their experience to help inform newcomers and assist with organizing events. They especially hope to educate others in music tech.

“Something that’s really important to me is making music tech more accessible to people,” Stalcup said. “It’s a specialized skill that requires all this access to special equipment that we’re lucky Stanford has provided for us.”

In their last year at Stanford, Stalcup urged students to carry on with a more diverse array of music environments and events. 

“A lot of the music events on campus right now are very popular music-focused, but I don’t think the same exists for more classical, instrumental music,” Stalcup said. “I would hope that similar opportunities arise for those forms of music; there are so many organizations that really want to teach people, to help people and to make it more accessible.”

Sebastian Hochman ’26

A photo of a person in front of the keyboard with a puppet in one hand.
Contributing to the ensemble of numerous student bands, Hochman seeks to create a more supportive setting for budding musicians on campus. (Courtesy of Sebastian Hochman)

Hochman was introduced to the University’s music scene through the Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble before becoming involved in student bands and the Stanford Improvisors. 

The Stanford Improvisors introduced Hochman to a new technique of creating music: The group combines acting and music improvisation in full-length plays, with actors onstage improvising lines and musicians accompanying them spontaneously. 

“Working together, listening to each other and making everything up on the spot for an hour and a half is just crazy,” Hochman said. “Musicians can be just as important as actors onstage.”

Hochman, who studies music, is a keyboardist in several student bands, such as General Consumption, Lavender Lovelounge and Biiig, a new band he recently formed with Sariowan and some fellow Stanford musicians. 

Hochman exudes passion for creating more opportunities for up and coming Stanford musicians. 

“There’s a growing culture of maintaining creativity at Stanford, but there does need to be work done by the University to give more resources to on-campus groups,” Hochman said. “There’s not enough practice spaces and resources for bands to meet, and there’s no access to funding for bands in any way that would rival a cappella or other voluntary student organizations.” 

The University did not respond to a request for comment.

Peers who have seen Hochman at work have felt the depth of his passions. 

“It is obvious that he cares about the music community and will do anything to promote music on campus,” said General Consumption saxophone player Sidd Wali ’25.

However, Hochman’s task of garnering an audience for musical performances comes with challenges. 

“There have been gigs that I’ve been playing where people don’t show up,” Hochman said.

“The question is: ‘How can we encourage the student community to be more excited about on-campus music so that musicians can feel more supported?’”