Ben Meron ‘23 Plays Loud and Proud with THUD

Photo courtesy of Sophie Park of the Harvard Gazette

This year, we will be featuring incredible musical student groups on campus producing amazing music for the Harvard community and beyond. We’ll be speaking with directors, musicians, and more in these interviews to learn more about how they got involved with classical music, how they’ve grown with the student organization, and what they’re excited for in the year ahead.

Ben Meron ‘23 is a former Co-Director and current member of The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers (THUD). He has been involved with the group since his first year, and he looks forward to meeting all the new members in the coming weeks.

The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers is a group of students who “get together on Monday evenings and hit things.” Focused on all kinds of percussion music — from pop and classical music to drumming on buckets — the group performs around Harvard Square, Cambridge, and Boston and closes out each semester with a big show.

The transcript below has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

WHRB: What was your first introduction to music, and how did you bring your love of music to college?

Ben: I was into music at a young age in large part because my dad would play a DVD of the Eagles playing live in concert all the time, starting from when I was about three years old. I picked up the piano for a bit, then I started playing the guitar when I was in first grade. I was always interested in percussion as well, as I had always listened along to songs and tapped to the beat. In high school, I joined my school’s drumline. Then, in college, I saw a performance of THUD (The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers) during the Visitas weekend, and I thought it was just so innovative. They created percussion instruments out of all sorts of random objects, and I liked how they tied it all together with a funny plot. It looked like such an awesome, tight-knit community to be a part of, and when I got into the group, I was so excited to have so much fun doing it. Throughout college, I’ve also kept up guitar playing in performances, and I’m actually playing in the Pit Orchestra this semester for Something Rotten.

WHRB: How different is percussion and guitar? Do you have to really shift your thinking and technique from one to the other? They seem quite different!

Ben: Actually, there’s more in common than you might think. I found the rhythmic aspect of my experience on the guitar really helped build a foundation for playing more complex rhythms on the drums, and using both hands on the drums was similar to just strumming on the guitar. There was a nice overlap there, for sure. Also, percussion instruments are all unpitched, so you don’t have to worry as much about staying in key! Percussion has also helped me improve my sight reading abilities, too, which is so important for something like playing in the pit orchestra, for example, and playing in time with others.

WHRB: Out of the instruments you have played in THUD, what’s been your favorite, and what was the craziest?

Ben: I have to go with the bucket. We play all kinds of objects like cups and buckets (and normal percussion instruments too) in THUD, but it’s just fascinating how you can get all these different sounds that emulate the full drum set with just a bucket. As for the craziest, I would say it was when I bowed a vibraphone. It sounds like a very high-pitched, eerie ring that fit the music we were playing.

WHRB: How did you pick up all the creativity you need for THUD?

Ben: What really helped me was that for one year in high school, I was taking this percussion ensemble class with a few other students, and that teacher was especially transformative. We played all kinds of objects as percussion instruments then, and she was just very innovative and willing to think outside of the box. So when I saw the THUD show, I realized that I had actually done it before, but they were doing it even better.

Other teachers, too, have been so insightful and amazing in mentorship — for sight reading, for example, and reading sheet music. A lot of guitarists don’t read sheet music and mostly play by ear, but I think the skill of reading is so important for playing in pit orchestra and jazz bands, and it has really opened up a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

WHRB: What has your THUD journey been like from your first year?

Ben: It was awesome freshman year — it was such a tight community, and we had lots of social events. People really connected and put their full effort into performances, and I was very proud of the show we put on at the end of my fall semester. Then, COVID hit, and we fell apart mostly in the next year — we weren’t even registered as a Harvard organization because we just couldn’t do what we normally do unless we were in person and with each other. It’s just not the same when you’re only playing a few notes and piecing a video together from that. Then, junior fall, I was Co-Director, and this was a huge task because I was trying to stitch the group back together again. The group was half the size it was when I left because two years had gone by without any auditions. At that point, we took in way more people and doubled in size.

We also had lost some institutional knowledge, but we still had a sense of community. It was a lot of work, but it has now become a lot smoother.

I talked to a lot of former directors about administrative duties like forms to fill out, and then I tried to bring the group together as much as possible in socials, like freshman year.

WHRB: What’s coming up for THUD?

Ben: We have our concert on December 3rd, which will be our big show of the semester — the theme is still top secret! But we’ll be doing something similar as we’ve done in previous years, where we have a script and skits to tie together our pieces. There may be other performances that are smaller during the semester.

I’m really excited to get to meet all the new members and learn about their musical experiences and backgrounds. Freshman year, I remember one kid was just really good at playing the spoons, which is awesome!

WHRB: What makes THUD unique here on campus?

Ben: It’s really innovative to make a concert into a musical, to have people playing the instruments also doing some of the acting. Also, it’s great that we actually get to know each other as people and have a close community. There’s also a lot of freedom in what we choose to do, like what instruments we play and all.

WHRB: What is your favorite musical piece and composer?

Ben: I would have to stay loyal to the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” and, to stick with the Eagles, Don Henley.

WHRB: Anything else you would like to share with our listeners?

Ben: I’ve been following this cool band that plays very unconventional time signatures called Tool. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed exploring with THUD, too, especially as I look for something that sounds natural, but is actually a completely abnormal time signature. There’s a big skill to that, and that’s what I’m always striving to do.

// Felicia Ho ‘23 is a producer for the Classical Music Department and the Director of Online Content for Classical Music.