Music, not ‘rock’-it science

By Meryl Fulinara

Chicago-based Overman is trying to innovate the university science scene with their music, while also achieving musical success as science advocates with a scientific method of sorts.

“Evolution Rocks,” a song written by Overman’s bassist, Aaron Kelly, for a biology class at Columbia, is the basis for how Overman plans to climb the evolutionary music ladder.

“Here I am the night before the presentation and I’m putting together this lame PowerPoint presentation that was obviously put together in no more than 30 minutes,” Kelly said, who graduated in 2006 as an arts, entertainment and music management major. “I thought I was going to be exposed and was going to get a ‘C’ [or] maybe even worse than that, so I figured I would go for it all or fail trying. So I wrote a song about evolution.”

Overman is currently in the process of trying to create a 45-minute presentation for colleges and universities around the country that revolves around “Evolution Rocks,” including new informative songs that point out the importance of science.

A simple science project thrown together for class has now made a career for this Columbia student.

Kelly, Matthew Radowski and Russell Eggenberger, friends since middle school, are the core members. The band got serious about their music around 2004 when they started playing shows in the Chicago area.

Radowski was attending Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., Kelly was starting his first year at Columbia and Russell was working at Bob Evans in Plainfield, Ill.

Through natural selection, Overman came to exist as it does today-Kelly, vocals and bass; Radowski, vocals and rhythm guitar; Eggenberger, vocals and lead guitar; and Michael Keller, drums.

After Kelly graduated from Columbia, Overman started to treat the band like a business, putting strategy to their vision.

“We were able to run into some resources that have enabled us to acquire everything we need [in order to] only be limited by our creativity and motivation,” Kelly said. “This is a spot where every band wants to be.”

The band has since redesigned their website and e-mailed professors at various colleges and universities around the world, soliciting the band as a teaching aide, offering to go in and present their songs and create discussion about the advocacy of science education.

Dr. Heather Minges Wols, a Columbia Microbiology and Genetics professor, said the effectiveness of this program will be decided upon if there is a cognizant curriculum that surrounds the presentation.

“If all there is is a prepared lecture and can’t answer-beyond what they’ve prepared-the questions students may have, it won’t be effective,” Minges Wols said.

In 2006, Overman had a test-run by sending out e-mails to 2,000 professors, which resulted in 5,000 downloads from just one release at ISound.com, a music networking site. The band decided to try it again, this time on a larger scale.

When Kelly was in his first year at Columbia, he was in a general biology class where the final project was a 10-minute presentation on something biology-related.

Kelly said he came up with the song “Evolution Rocks” because he was just starting to get into the critical thought behind science, and evolution was something he was studying at the time. He thought that since it was a biology class, it fit.

“I stayed up all night writing ‘Evolution Rocks.’ I brought my guitar, printed out lyrics and added some end notes for the class,” Kelly said.

“[The teacher] loved it, and I ended up getting a 97 percent on the final project.”

And although his then-teacher, Elaine Ross, loved it, a few professors were concerned with one of the lines in “Evolution Rocks”: “The human race, the highest product of evolution, is now the cutting edge of progress towards higher things,” which the band changed, Kelly said, in order to make the song right before they could move on to larger projects.

“The new view on evolution is that there is absolutely no highest product; it’s an ever-growing tree of life,” Kelly said. “It’s not growing toward anything in particular, one species is not higher than the next.”

Music as a teaching tool is not new. Leigh Van Valen, a zoology professor at the University of Chicago, plays songs about animal life that he composes for his students.

“The key to an effective scientific song is to present facts that are not previously known to the student,” Van Valen said.

With the evolution campaign, Overman hopes his band will be advocates of science but doesn’t want it to limit the band to do other things or be pigeonholed in that genre of music.

Next year the band hopes to start playing classroom auditoriums across the country during the day and clubs at night, Kelly said.

Overman will play Goose Island, 3535 N. Clark St., on Sept. 27. To hear Overman, visit MySpace.com/OvermanIsComing.

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