SoundCheck: Vt. High School Band Turns Out New Generation Of Protest Songs

Apr 26, 2018

There’s been an upswing of student activism in 2018, from Black Lives Matter flags flying at schools to school walkouts against gun violence. Now there’s a group of Vermont students providing a soundtrack for those actions.

The Friday before spring break, a group called SoundCheck played an eight-song set for students at Peoples Academy, in Morrisville.  The high school band performed mostly original songs, addressing topics from corporate greed to racism.

"Our main enemy is ignorance," said Grace Carlomango, a Montpelier High School student, as well as a singer, songwriter and the band’s tenor saxophonist.

"I think music is something that’s really unifying and that’s what I’ve really loved about this band, is that the idea that, you know, everyone has innate worth and beauty is something that we can all tap into," Carlomango said. "And that’s … why it’s so great that we’re just a social justice band. It’s very fitting. You know, and everyone’s welcome to listen to our music and change hearts."

Watch a video of SoundCheck performing at Peoples Academy:

The band is made up of a dozen musicians from nine different high schools around central and northern Vermont. Cabot School music teacher Brian Boyes came up with the idea, in response to a call for grant proposals by the Rowland Foundation for projects that honor diversity in education.   

"And so I had the idea to form a social justice band that brought together students from a variety of schools across the state to create original music and perform ... and spark dialogue and inspire change," Boyes explained.

This audition poster caught the attention of about 40 student musicians who applied to be part of SoundCheck.
Credit Brian Boyes, courtesy

The grant funding came through, as well as matching funds from the Bay & Paul Foundations. Boyes auditioned musicians last fall. Since then the group’s been composing, practicing and performing for other Vermont students.

Elizabeth Autorino is a guitarist who attends Peoples Academy. She said the band hopes to motivate students who might feel isolated in small Vermont communities.

"Young people who are trying to speak out against things they see as immoral and wrong feel like they don’t have a voice because they feel so alone," Autorino said. "But what we’re trying to teach them is actually, because these are small communities, you actually have more of a voice and you can – just because there aren’t people like you around you at all times, doesn’t mean you can’t change the world."

"We’re trying to spark conversation in young people. That’s the most important piece to all of this," added Harwood Union student Logan Wedge, who goes by the rapper name Loganic. "It’s hard to accept, but the people who we are fighting against right now tend to be the older people that don’t like things changing and they will be gone soon. And this younger generation needs to be educated enough to just take over those roles and not continue in those same footsteps."

Even though SoundCheck is on a mission to inspire other students, the musicians agree it’s made a big impact on their own lives.

SoundCheck performed at Peoples Academy High School, in Morrisville, earlier this month.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

"School really sucks," admitted keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter Paige Thibault, who goes to Champlain Valley Union High School. Her comment drew supportive laughter from her bandmates.

"Like, high school really sucks and I’m not gonna lie about it," Thibault continued. "And I’m just so fortunate to be here and lucky to meet these people ‘cause these are my people. And this is the first time, probably in my life, that I’ve felt that connection with a group of people."

Band member Grace Carlomango said SoundCheck aims to bring that sense of belonging to all the schools and rallies where they play.

"Whatever you’re going through, this is a generation of people who are gonna fight for you," Carlomagno said. "Things are gonna get better because we’re bringing compassion back."

SoundCheck’s next gig will be at Cabot Spring Fest! on May 5.