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Monday, May 20, 2024

Musicians at Midd: Conversations with Yawny, Jocular William and Mickmaster Fresh

For this article, I wanted to spend time documenting students who identify as musicians at Middlebury, whose rich musical history extends from Tony-award winning Anaïs Mitchell to the infamous viral “MiddKid” music video. Though hailing from different backgrounds and styles, they are all brought together by their love and passion for music. 

Yon Bui (he/they) is a nineteen year old musician from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a town where the music scene is “pretty much non-existent”. A member of the class of ‘25, he recalls his first memories with music as being a toddler with a makeshift drum kit of pots and pans and hearing traditional Vietnamese songs in the car. Though he plays the flute, guitar, drums, he finds singing to be his main medium of musical expression. When he was younger, he recalls “I found this karaoke app that would allow me to sing over Bruno Mars songs, and I shared these corny videos as a kid with my family. It was a really good way of developing my voice.”


Yon Bui '25

Yon released his debut single, “Wallowing” under the name “yawnny” last spring on Spotify. A track made after a breakup, he shared a demo with two friends who helped produce the song, adding trap drums to develop the song. When he arrived on campus this year, he said “It was heartwarming when I came here and people told me they had listened to my music. There was even someone who recognized my song because his friend found it from Spotify. We Facetimed him and I was like ‘It’s me!’, and he freaked out.” 


A closeup of Yon playing guitar

Yon says he definitely finds inspiration from other musicians at Midd. “All the songwriters here are so incredibly talented.” he explains,  “I'm especially inspired by their approach to lyrics. I try my best to write in ways where I can say what I want to say but in a poetic way.” Yon is excited to release more music this year under “yawnny” and to keep performing, whether it be belting songs with his band “Les Bruns Jams” (pronounced “LeBron James”) or “cheesing” behind the drumset at W.O.M.P.  He reminds me at the end of our interview that “music hierarchies are dumb! Listen to what you like.” 


Yon playing guitar on Battell Beach

Will Thompson 22.5 (he/him)  is a musician hailing from Newton, Massachusetts. His name as a musician was born through his Freshman year English class, after coming across the word “jocular.”  “I saw the vocab word and thought it encompassed me as an individual. I have a rather proper name, Will Thompson III, so the name reminds me to be my goofy, authentic self”. Though his rap name may be goofy, his talent and commitment is undeniably serious. Seeing him perform live, his stage presence is like a tornado that channels the energy of the audience. 

When I asked him how he got so comfortable on stage, he recalled his earliest memory of hearing “Lean Back” by Fat Joe. “I was a menace back then, so my babysitter kept me in the back of the van, and I heard the song and was rocking with it, doing the dance and all,” he laughs, “then, I started rewriting lyrics to Eminem songs.” 


Will Thompson '22.5

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Continuing his music career upon going to college was a choice he describes as “divine intervention.” “My roommate Max just happened to be a singer and my producer Phin lived down the hall from me. They’re both pursuing music, so that inspired me to do the same.” In addition to being an artist with an album on Spotify, Jocular William stands out amongst other Middlebury musicians solely based on how much effort he has put into fostering a community around his music, throwing concerts, pop-up shops, and even a comedy show. Even with communal support though, he has also been met with people who don’t vibe. “I think it's ballsy to say ‘I’m going to be a rapper’, and sometimes it rubs people the wrong way. People are gonna feel some sort of way about you. Especially at a PWI, I’m representing my race in a way, so everything I do is double scrutinized.”


Will's bandaged hand

Regarding what he’s planning next, he tells me he wants to drop a project May 7th, and possibly celebrate the Middlebury spring concert with a performance of his own. When asked for anything he wants to emphasize at the end of our interview, he tells me “I don't really see myself as a crazy artist or anything. Like, I’m just a guy; I'm not too special. “ 


'Jocular William' taking flight

Mickey Feeney ‘23.5 (he/him) is a 21 year old cancer from Concord, Massachusetts. His background as a musician was probably fate, according to him. “My mom apparently took me to a psychic when I was young, and they told her that drums would play a big role in my life.” Even without a psychic though, one could imagine that with a family musical background including an Juilliard-trained professional upright bassist, a harmonica player, and an opera-singing sister who performed at the San Francisco opera, Mickey was also destined for a musical path. 

“My first musical obsession was reggae,” Mickey tells me. “ I loved the rhythm, the ambiance of the genre. It motivated me to develop my own vocabulary on the drumset and dive into my craft.” Watching Mickey practice drums in an empty Gamut Room, his skill is beyond evident, effortlessly switching hands and styles like some drum machine, lankiness and all. 


Mickey Feeney '23.5

Mickey’s mastering of his craft was something he’s been working towards from a young age.  

“My parents found me a talented, well-read drum teacher who exposed me to so much incredible music. The funny thing is, a lot of good music teachers are kind of mean, and if they see potential they’ll push you farther than you would've thought possible.” He laughs when I describe this scene as something out of the movie Whiplash. “For real, though!” 

Around seventh grade, he discovered a book by jazz legend Wynton Marsalis called Letters to a Young Jazz Musician, a book that reminds jazz players to to cultivate discipline and to practice until you crave playing your instrument when you aren't practicing, “It really taught me how to take my playing seriously,” he affirms.

Arriving at Middlebury, he joined the Sound Investment jazz ensemble, where he was immediately put in first chair. Regarding Middlebury’s musical culture, he says that “when I arrived I thought that the music scene here was dead, but it was really only dead because of COVID. This fall there was such a revival of Middlebury’s music scene. With people like Yon Bui, Mira Ward, or Devin Santikarma, we’ve managed to create excitement about music for the whole campus that I’ve never seen before.” 

Mickey’s favorite music is music that strikes him as, above all, authentic. “Thelonious Monk and Bladee, I know it sounds crazy, they have so much in common. People didn’t know what to make of their art because they were offering visions of the world that they saw as true. A lot of people have this approach where music is fun but also very very serious. This probably explains that though being a jazz aficionado, he also releases soundcloud songs under the rap alias “MickMaster Fresh.”

“Ultimately, for me, music is about taking your convictions about life and putting that out there, and seeing if that resonates with anybody.” 


Mickey playing the drums