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Professors that shred

Austin Hale
OCMD plays at Canyons in Blowing Rock, NC on Saturday, April 9. Photo by Austin Hale.

Professors having lives outside of the classroom is a foreign concept to many students, a recent Yik Yak user posted. But the idea of professors spending their free time “[thinking] of ways to make you suffer,” as one Yakker commented, is far from the truth.

History professors Jari Eloranta, Antonio Bly and physics and astronomy professor Johnny Hollandsworth started their own band. Along with keyboardist Greg Taylor and bassist Kenny Johnson, they make up Obsessive Compulsive Music Disorder, or OCMD.

Bly said the group got their start when Eloranta helped him move into his house. Eloranta noticed an instrument case and suggested the two get together and play.

“We got together and there was like a click,” Bly said.

The two played together in several “permutations of different groups,” Bly said, before picking up drummer Hollandsworth three years ago. Then at a conference in Nashville, they added Johnson to the group and Taylor joined soon after.

The band plays a genre of music they call “jazz rock funk fusion.” Bly said that all of those music forms have been genuine at some point. Bly defines genuine music as music that people dance to. He said when music becomes intellectual and cerebral, “it loses its spirit.”

Bly has been playing bass for 20 years. He started because a friend owed him money.

“He didn’t have my money and he knew I was interested in picking up a musical instrument,” Bly said.

To settle the debt, Bly took his friend’s old Harmony bass, had it repaired and learned how to play it.

“At that time I didn’t really understand the instrument or its position in a musical setting,” Bly said.

As a Jimi Hendrix fan, originally Bly wanted to play the song “Purple Haze.” At his first lesson, his instructor showed him the bass part and explained a bass player’s role in a band.

“I said, ‘I don’t want that, I want those two other strings,’” he said.

Eventually, Bly resigned to the rhythmic role of a bass player. He learned how to play a variety of Hendrix and other rock ‘n’ roll songs before discovering jazz, and Bly has been playing bass ever since.

“That’s when I began to discover the instrument,” Bly said. “This [instrument] is heavy, this is no joke.”

Eloranta has been playing guitar for 30 years. Unlike Bly, he got into the instrument through peer pressure.

“I had a couple friends who played and when I saw what they were doing I got interested,” Eloranta said. “And attention from girls, that helped too.”

When he first got started, Eloranta was into hard rock and metal. He has played in several metal bands.

In college, Eloranta played in a Blues Brothers tribute band before moving to a Finnish dance orchestra and then to a few funk bands semi-professionally. He even thought about studying music in college.

His grandmother convinced him otherwise. “She just told me ‘First of all you have to get a real job, then you can have fun playing music,’” Eloranta said.

Eloranta said he got into academia because of one of his professors.

“I was doing okay in his class, but then he took me aside in the middle of the semester and said, ‘What are you doing? Why are you wasting your time here? You know you’re going to get the ‘B’ with minimal effort, but you have much more talent than that,” Eloranta said.

After that talk, Eloranta said he got his act together and got serious about school. When he was ready to graduate, his professors suggested grad school.

“It was at that time I was already hooked anyway, that this is what I want to do,” Eloranta said.

Bly said he knew he wanted to be a professor since he was a kid. He had an old friend who told him, “I’m gonna do the math, and you’re gonna do the history, and together we’re gonna change the world.”

From that point on, Bly said, he and his friend went down the path of academia.

Bly’s passion for history is evident among his students.

“He’s really approachable and passionate about what he teaches,” Omar Heikal, a junior molecular biology major enrolled in Bly’s global studies class, said. “He grades on discussion so he encourages everyone to give their input and talk to one another.”

When it comes to Bly’s musical pursuits, Heikal said he was not surprised because, “he seems like he’s really chill in his spare time,” Heikal said.

“Music has always been my escape,” Bly said. “I look at it as a way of expressing myself more fully.”

On top of music, Bly is also passionate about ballroom dancing.

“It’s all part of a piece of me,” Bly said. “It’s my stress reliever.”

Eloranta said he does not find professors moonlighting as musicians all that unusual. Many of his friends in academia play musical instruments, he said.

“Music is very complicated,” Eloranta said. “So it draws a certain type of mind.”

Eloranta said it’s likely that OCMD will record an album in the future because the majority of the band members  have equipment at home where they can record.

Story by: Austin Hale, A&E Reporter

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