Most students think of the Townhouses as a place on campus that only exists on the weekends, but it, in fact, does not disappear during the week. The steep staircase on the side of the building leads down to the basement, where at any given point, vocal harmonies or instrumental melodies can be heard echoing throughout the hallway.
Given that music is not the dominant academic field at the College, natural human curiosity will come to the forefront. Though one question will surface above the rest: Where is this all coming from?
The answer is not a where but rather, a who.
Buried deep in the Townhouse basement lies a Springfield College treasure in the musical form of Professor Christopher Haynes, of the Performing Arts Department. As do many professors, Haynes brings particular experiences and ideas to campus that are beneficial to students.
After 28 years, Haynes has decided that his time as a professor is coming to a close, and he will be retiring following the spring semester. This, however, does not mean that he is done as a musician. At just 60 years old, “It’s time to have some fun,” as he likes to put it.
“I produce records for people, I write music for film, for TV and things like that. I also perform with about three or four different entities or groups. And I teach privately,” Haynes said, as he described his post-retirement plans.
Haynes has worked with the Young @ Heart Chorus for 20 years now, a group that became world renowned consisting of all senior citizens who sing rock and roll. They have travelled and performed all over the world.
“Everybody loved us so much [that] we’d get another invite, and another invite, and another invite,” he said. “That alone is an example of how music lifts people up in spirit. These are old people, they’re sometimes like 90 years old. But they’re out there getting on stage and rocking out, and having the time of their lives.”
Haynes said, “There’s something about music that helps them keep active and alive, and doing well, and that’s been true for me as well.”
The musical community is what keeps him going. “When you’re able to play with really good people, good players, then you have this special kind of communication that’s going on, which transcends anything that could be said with words,” he said.
With all of his positive and creative spirit, Haynes has had his fair share of tragedy. In 2007, Haynes and his second wife decided that they were ready to have a child. Just a day and a half into young Sammy’s life, his mother passed.
Haynes found himself in the position of raising a newborn by himself. The support from his musical family was crucial, both monetarily and emotionally, as he faced a complex and draining legal process.
“I had to go to battle and sue the doctors who were responsible for the lack of care for my wife. That was a really grueling process as well,” Haynes described. “It caused us to have to lose a house to foreclosure, and many other really difficult things.”
Retired Professor of Social Sciences Dan Russell spoke of a benefit concert that was organized by local musicians. More than a dozen different musical artists came and performed at the concert, which raised money for Haynes and his family.
“It was tremendously special. I actually tried to perform, and I played one song with my friend, but it was very, very hard to even keep it together,” Haynes recalled. “To be up there on stage with all that love pouring out to you.”
The musical community was not only helpful with the financial aspect, but also proved to be an excellent form of healing. Alexandra Ludwig, a friend and colleague in the Visual and Performing Arts Department, described the role of music.
“There is a gift in being a musician in that music has, for me and I think for most musicians, so much healing capacity. When you’re creating something for other people, there’s a shared healing quality in that,” she said.
Haynes began his career in music with a degree in music composition from Berkeley School of Music in Boston. Recognizing the difficulty of getting a high paying job right out of college, he worked as a singing messenger in Seattle, and also in restaurants. Without a dependable source of income, Haynes moved to Europe and “bummed around for like six months with a backpack.”
After returning to the United States, he moved to the Connecticut area and settled with his first wife, with whom he had two daughters. Haynes decided to return to school in search of a stable job in music.
Around this time, it was necessary that Haynes was there for his parents. Losing his second wife was not the first encounter he had with tragedy. He had just lost his brother, and needed to be with his family. By attending Ithaca College, he was able to be close with his parents, and get a quality education at the same time.
“He committed suicide,” he said. “So I was the one who wasn’t really locked down and doing anything, and I went to be with my parents and help them through it.”
After attending Ithaca College, Haynes found himself in several different accompanist positions at different colleges, Springfield being one of them.
“Meanwhile, [Springfield] needed a choral director, they needed someone to do the ‘Best of Broadway,’ they needed a piano player for the singers, they needed someone to direct the singers, and they needed someone to teach the piano class. So there were all of these part-time jobs that needed to be filled and they gave them all to me,” Haynes said.
Haynes didn’t see Springfield College’s miniscule music program as a long-term fit, as he bounced around from role to role.
“This is not a place where your typical musician is going to really thrive,” he said. “You have to be willing to deal with people who are mainly athletes and health science professionals. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t like music, or that they’re not interested in taking courses and learning more about it.”
Through 23 years as the director of the music program, Haynes has still been able to be active in the music world off campus.
Dan Zukergood, Springfield College Professor of Education who also plays in a band with Haynes, recalled, “He is one of the most accomplished side men in this area. He records with everybody. Many times I’ll tell him about an album and a song that I want to do in my band, or whatever, and he’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I played on the original recording of that.’”
Haynes, even with all of his accomplishments and all roles that he has had to play in his life, still takes time to study and learn music. In 2017, he took a year-long sabbatical with a plan to work on a new piece of music, which is still in progress.
Over the year, he travelled and studied cultures where the accordion is a prevalent instrument.
“About 20-25 years ago, I took up the accordion, which doesn’t seem like it would be a great choice necessarily, but it turned out to be one of my signature instruments,” he said. “I started learning to play and I just thought, as soon as I picked it up, I was like ‘Oh my God, this thing is so weird. I love it.’”
He also spent time learning more about the technology that he uses to create his orchestral scores.
“I use technology in a really kind of innovative way to do the work I do,” he said.
Through the passion for his work and the art of music, Haynes has developed the music program at Springfield College into one of its hidden treasures. Though the implementation of a music major does not seem to be realistic in the near future, students seem to love his classes.
“What he has brought is such a wide variety of skills. He is an amazing musician and the courses that he teaches are meaningful to him. He brings knowledge of music technology, and so he’s worked with students in that capacity as well,” said Ludwig. “Just keeping it alive in this environment alone is quite the undertaking.”
Haynes has done more than just keep the passion for music alive for those on campus; he’s reinforced lifelong passions.
“I’ve grown to become a better musician and more importantly, better person, because of Chris,” said former student, Ben Ryan. “He cares about his students, his own work and many others outside of Springfield College; that’s what makes him such an incredible person.”
One of the favorites seem to be his class “Music as a Form of Social Protest.” The course has developed by incorporating several genres of music, and examples of artists using their talents to advocate for change.
“Music, and all arts, should be in large part about social justice. It’s just what music seems to be about,” Haynes said. “If it’s just about sex and drugs, then who cares?”
With his retirement approaching, Haynes is able to look back on the mark he has made at Springfield College. Though the basement of the Townhouses is not an ideal location, as it is completely isolated from the rest of campus, the program has been able to positively impact many students, even in the slightest of ways.
“When I hear him play, it’s a reflection of his inside,” Ludwig said. “I always feel like I’ve just been given a gift. There are subtleties and warmth that come out in his playing that are just beautiful.”
Photo courtesy of Springfield College Flickr