U of T band The Semiotones take their songs to Switzerland
The Semiotones, a band of University of Toronto undergraduate and graduate students and led by semiotics professor Marcel Danesi, took their romantic and sentimental musical stylings to Switzerland over the summer break, performing before hundreds at the University of Lugano, where Danesi holds a cross-appointment.
The Semiotones, a student club established by Danesi, has been playing for about six years. Seven students were able to go to Lugano, but according to Danesi, at least a couple hundred students have been involved over the years – whether they play in the band or help to manage it. Danesi writes all of the 1950s-inspired tunes and plays the piano, while the students contribute to the final orchestration. They’ve released two albums and are preparing a third with all of their proceeds going to the Hospital for Sick Children.
“We really ended up becoming a family after the trip to Lugano,” said Danesi. “What a privilege it was. What a ride. Our group dynamic is incredible. When we’re on stage, age and academic differences disappear. We’re a band playing for a cause, playing with our hearts and souls. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
For fourth-year biological chemistry student Robert Colaguori, the trip not only improved his U of T experience, but it changed his life.
“I can honestly say that I’ve met incredible musicians who I am proud to call my friends, and I hope to continue my relationship with them for a long time,” he said.
Fourth-year neuroscience and animal physiology student Wesley Graham said his experience with the band in Switzerland has improved his confidence as a drummer.
“Professor Danesi brought me on one of the most influential trips of my life,” he said. “The trip was the first time I was able to travel with a group of people my own age. Playing live music in a foreign country was always a dream of mine. I was nervous about attracting a crowd, but we ended up getting the largest and most energetic crowd we ever had before! I plan on continuing this hobby for the rest of my life and I can thank professor Danesi and The Semiotones for giving me a chance to keep music in my life during my university career.”
Prior to the trip, the students prepared research projects that related music to sign theory and meanings which were tied to their performance work. Danesi wanted them to grasp the essence of what a performance is, not just as a simple display of music. The students then shared their research at the University of Lugano with professors and students, and because of this, the students from both universities have decided to plan an academic conference around semiotic communication theory and social media to be held at U of T in fall 2014, bringing their Lugano peers and colleagues to Toronto.
“This trip generated a positive interest in U of T as both a highly academic and well-rounded institution and furthered the field of semiotics as a whole, as well as acted as a cultural, co-curricular and academic exchange of knowledge,” said Danesi.
The trip was funded by the Faculty of Arts & Science Dean’s International Initiatives Fund which supports student initiatives that aspire to create dialogue and foster a greater sense of community through special events, lectures, or other forms of community engagement.
“This has been such a miracle to be able to be a part of this band,” said Danesi. “This will probably be my last year, but I feel so rejuvenated. There’s a joke going around about how I’m the oldest and yet the only teenager in the band. But we just work; the instant we start playing is just magic.”