Spring 2003 Contents OAM Home Oberlin Online Home
Feature Stories
Money Matters
Family Tree, Oberlin roots
Operation Internship
[cover story] Fury and the Sound
David Rees Gets His (Bleep) On
Around Tappan Square
Alumni Profiles
The Last Word
One More Thing
Inside Oberlin
Staff Box

Alumni Notes


One-Man Band and His Bucket Brigade

Talk to Billy Jonas '87 about music and watch his serious side
appear. Not quite the reaction you'd expect from a man with bells and drumsticks attached to his ankles and sneakers. Then again, Jonas wasn't quite the typical Oberlin anthropology student.

"I used my major to search for the essence of music, its core, its primal foundation," says Jonas via a crackling cellular call during the last leg of yet another tour. It's been 15 years, and folks can't get enough of his acoustic, folk-based, foot-stomping music made with barrels, water jugs, pails, and his guitar.

"Think Stomp-meets-Pete Seeger," says Jonas, whose web site merchandise features a T-shirt with the phrase "Bang a Bucket."

His videotape, Bangin' and Sangin', a live performance, has been praised for its originality and enthusiasm. Billy Jonas Live, a CD for adults and general audiences, he describes as a "portrait of a turn-of-the-21st-century neo-tribal hootenanny." His latest sing-along CD, What Kind of Cat Are You? earned a 2002 Parent's Choice Gold Star for its family appeal and thought-provoking lyrics.

Percussion aside, this one-man band's favorite instrument is his audience.

"I always imagined including audience members in my pieces so their relationship with
my music would be more intimate," he says. In 1986, he and fellow members of the Obie-band Big Bang Theory asked students to bring sticks to the Arboretum one night. Nearly 250 students obliged, turning everything in sight into percussion instruments. "The deafening sound coaxed neighbors from their homes," he says.

As the night grew, the students lit a bonfire in an old metal basin and danced around its 20-foot-high flames. The moon, which had been covered by clouds, appeared suddenly as everyone raised their hands to the sky. "It was the first time I felt the power of collective consciousness manifest itself in the material world," says Jonas.

Another Oberlin turning point came when he composed Unisong for Bottles for Professor Randy Coleman's composition seminar, during which nine audience members blew across the tops of water-filled glass bottles, attempting to tune them all to the same note. The results, he says, were "simultaneously beautiful and intriguing."

Visit www.billyjonas.com for more information.

--Yvonne Gay Fowler