Veronica Merril: from Carnegie Hall to University Records
For many high schoolers, the experience of standing on the stage at Carnegie Hall performing a solo violin recital would be a time to think about themselves, and with good reason. Veronica Merril (Architecture ‘21) is different. “After my experience at Carnegie Hall,” the third-year music and architectural history major said, “I realized that although I had many opportunities in my life to pursue the arts, there were so many people who were just as talented as I was who just didn’t have those same opportunities.”
Merril began working at a Washington, D.C. arts nonprofit that provides arts education to D.C. school kids who may not have Arts classes in their schools. “That experience was really meaningful to me. I guess I was bit by the bug of promoting and helping to catalyze other people’s art.” The bug followed her to UVA, where the Miller Arts Scholar is President of a student organization called University Records. Founded initially as O Records, University Records is part record company and part booking agency, providing performance and recording opportunities of all kinds to students throughout the Grounds. In her second year as President, Merril has led the organization through a period of meteoric growth. “I think that we had between 20 to 40 members when I started,” she said. “Now, we have 250.” The main reason for this explosion of interest, she says, is accessibility. “The main reason we have been able to involve so many people is by attempting to reach out to every corner of the University. Everybody is welcome. Our main goal is to create more accessibility to the arts, specifically music, at UVA.”
Merril says that her experience as a Miller Arts Scholar has been key to the organization’s success. “I feel like I have really found a community of people within Miller Arts Scholars who share a common goal of bolstering the arts at UVA. I feel incredibly inspired every time I walk into class with my fellow scholars.” Her experience with MAS has also helped her reach deeper into the UVA community to find and support more artists. “One of the things that appealed to me most about the Miller Arts Scholars program is the chance it gave me to meet and support other artists. I see University Records as an artistic community built on fostering collaborative growth. Being able to involve Miller Arts Scholars as a part of this community has been incredible.”
University Records provides students of all interests and abilities with opportunities to share their talents in various ways, from intimate house concerts to larger festival settings and recording sessions. The organization also serves as a dynamic incubator, bringing artists together through often innovative means. They recently collaborated with FLUX to host an open-mic event that mimicked a speed dating format, with each act playing two minutes before the audience would clap them off. “Honestly, it was really hard to set a time limit, because you just wanted them to keep going,” Merril said. Efforts like these, and a database she helped create of interested players, have launched more than their share of collaborations. “I think I can safely say that most of the student bands at UVA came out of University Records.” The organization’s interest and efforts extend beyond Grounds as well. University Records recently held a “Building Bridges Music and Arts Festival” in the UVA amphitheater. The festival brought UVA musical groups and local Charlottesville bands together on stage for a night of community building and performances.
The work Merril has done has also significantly impacted her academic path. “A lot of my classes at UVA have focused on the social issues in Charlottesville. Being in the Civic and Community Engagement course: Music Ethnography with Nomi Dave pushed me to understand the community better and allowed me to see the opportunity that comes from being in a small town with a huge music scene. Sometimes there are a lot of tensions between the University and the community, but I believe a step we can take to heal these tensions is by connecting through music.”
Next year, Merril is envisioning doing some of that healing right outside her door. The newly elected President of the Miller Arts Scholars program recently learned she will be living on the Lawn in the Fall. She is already thinking about hosting jam sessions outside her room and hoping to invite local musicians to participate alongside UVA students. “In the end, what I really want is to help people make art. I love making art myself, but it is so meaningful and moving when someone comes up to me and tells me that I helped foster and facilitate their creativity. I am so thankful to University Records and the Miller Arts Scholars for giving me the opportunity to serve this University year after year.”