Serving the Community Through Service and Music: Christopher Hantman

Finding a balance between his passions for community service and his love for music, alum Christopher Hantman became the Center for Service's second Community Engagement Coordinator and started his own record label, Sounds and Tones, just a year after graduating. With all of this on his plate, Chris is still calm and collected, running around campus with a smile on his face and warm greetings to all he encounters.

Major: English Communications with a concentration in Creative Writing, Class of 2014

Department: Student Affairs, Center for Service’s Community Engagement Coordinator

What activities and organizations were you involved in as a student?

           " I was involved in a lot actually. I started as a freshman doing the LEAD academy program and then I did the Write Stuff service program which is a writing based program that works with local youth and I became the coordinator of that and a LEAD Academy leader the summer after that. In addition to those two I joined Pi Upsilon Pi fraternity and eventually was the president of the Inter Greek Council, I worked my way up eventually. I was the Editor-In-Chief of Spires Literary Magazine, I was the secretary of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, in Photography Club. I know I’m forgetting some, but that’s it in a nutshell."

How did they influence your career now?

            "My first experiences were through the Center for Service, they coordinate LEAD academy and The Write Stuff, so that was really where I met most of my first friends on campus. Most of my early experiences were through giving back to the community which is actually what my job is now is to connect students, I was one of those students, to those community service opportunities and all of the other clubs really just helped me learn a better sense of what a community is."

When did you first realize your passion for poetry?

            "Growing up my dream was to be in a band and I could never play an instrument. I took guitar lessons, drum lessons, I was in a children’s choir at my church growing up. So I was like okay well I can’t play an instrument so I’m going to write songs so I started writing lyrics a lot as a kid. Then when I went to high school I had an English professor who knew this about me and they kind of poked me and pushed me into the idea of pursuing it more in the poetic sense. They’re pretty much the same thing but thinking about it on less of a rhyme scheme forced melody and more on a content and form type of mindset.

            When I first came here I wanted to be an English major and a teaching major because I wanted to teach English but I eventually realized my passion was in the creating of writing more than reading it or teaching it. I still enjoy connecting people with it. Here I started pursuing poetry and during my sophomore year a few of the clubs I was in decided to host open mics on campus so I forced myself to read at one. It felt weird, it was the first time I’d ever read anything in public, it was scary but then that kind of got me on a path to reading at Open Mics regularly, performing at downtown events, at festivals in the area, stuff like that. I don’t read out as often as I used to, now I focus more on managing artists and connecting them to the opportunities that I had."

How did Sounds and Tones start up originally?

           " It’s funny because as a student I was going to make a radio show, I went through the training and I was going to call it Sounds and Tones Radio. Music to move your bones was our slogan and my friend back home was like oh I really want to start a record label so we thought lets combine the two. I never even made the radio show (chuckles) I never even made it that far. We had a project or two but that was all over the summer and when school started back up we realized we didn’t have enough time to do it on the side so we went on hiatus again for three years. But then when I graduated, I was bored out of my mind because I had all of those clubs but then I had nothing to do but work so I brought it back in May of 2015. There was a year in between which was kind of me booking shows in The Parlor Café and other places to connect with musicians but I didn’t really have a name for it. I was doing it through Common Folk and I’m still a member of that but I wanted to do something to take a step further and connect with musicians around the world. It’s picked up more than I expected it to."

Would you say that Sounds and Tones is more selective or inclusive?

            "It’s a combination. We do a lot of compilations that we release for free and that is really inclusive ou goal with those is that we want as many people from different areas and genres as possible. If an artist says “Hey we want to do something in The Berkshires” I’ll try my best to set something up, I’m not always able to do so in time but we always do our best to accommodate people’s interests because we all come from somewhere and we’re all at different points in our “musical careers.” But we do ask people to submit to be an official artist on the roster and that we are a bit more selective with because we personally have a few certain beliefs that we want our artists to mirror and that’s just mainly to be accepting, to be inclusive, not to have anything like racist, sexist, or transphobic or misogynistic or anything like that in their lyrics. We don’t want any hate speech, we want positive messages, inspiring music and creative music really. We’re always open to working with any genre, any age, any group.

           I said earlier all of our compilations are free, our next one we are charging for but all the proceeds are going to charity so that’s why."

Why did you choose your position you’re in now?

            "I loved everything about MCLA but I got the most out of community service and my time with the Center for Service and I just felt like it was a perfect fit. I want to help students achieve the things I achieved, if not more, I hope more and I just love everyone on the Student Affairs team."

What advice do you have for students with similar interests to yours?

            "To not be afraid to talk to people, this area is extremely accepting between the Common Folk Artists Collective, us and other groups in the area who are putting on events and doing stuff. If people are musicians and they want opportunities, just reaching out is great. If people want to start things like this on their own I think the same thing applies, just reaching out and asking us what we did wrong, what we did right. There’s already people who have done it before them so there’s no point in reinventing the wheel but I think the more art here the better and North Adams as well as The Berkshires itself has always been a destination for art but there’s also an art revolution happening more and more around us every day.

            We do have one student who is on Sounds and Tones, Izzy Heltai, and another artist who goes by Heart of Gold is a Pittsfield native who came to MCLA for a couple years. The big thing that we want to do is still be a part of this community but be a part of the global music community as well. One of our artists is from Philadelphia, we brought him here and he played at The Parlor early October and that was really fun. Some of our compilations have had people from Singapore, the United Kingdom, Canada; we’re really trying to cast a wide net."

How do you feel that collaboration adds to the music itself?

           " I think it just solidifies our message of being inclusive and having a positive message, it’s kind of practicing what we preach and that does create a more accepting community of not just artists but music consumers as well. The more we do that, the more we give a platform to people who don’t always get to be heard which in the end is another big goal of ours."

What events do you have coming up?

            "We aren’t really happening many events due to the holidays but we are releasing the charity benefit compilation on December 15th which we are calling Snow Songs: A Sounds and Tones Holiday Compilation. It’s a collection of winter themed or holiday songs and is benefitting Erica’s Lighthouse which is an organization that supports teens and youth with depression and mental illness and provides resources for their families on how to support people with those issues. A lot of the times with winter comes seasonal depression so we wanted to support that. There are more albums coming out but we don’t have any events planned until after the New Year."