The members of Half Circles, a Harrisonburg-based indie-folk-rock band, are all EMU alumni: (clockwise, from left) Jon Styer '07, guitar; Andrew Jenner '04, bass guitar; Amanda Styer '12, keyboard and block bells; and Dan Baker '05, guitar and vocals. They're practicing for a MACROCK gig on April 6, 8:10 p.m., at Court Square Theater. (Photo by Michael Reilly / Daily News Record)

Alumni Come “Half Circle” to Rock Harrisonburg

The concrete floor was cold. Wires snaked through the low-hanging wooden ceiling of the basement in an old brick house near Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).

A vibrant peach couch with yellow flowers, an old beat up purple pool table and a small silver refrigerator formed a half circle around a brick fireplace.

In the center of the cluttered nest, the shells of five musicians came alive. The sound was warm; a mixture of folk and rock – concocted with hints of bells, flute, drums, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and keyboard – with a hint of melancholy all perfectly blended into a smooth cocktail of melody.

The members of the band Half Circles have been practicing in anticipation for their half-hour in the spotlight starting at 8:10 p.m. April 6 at Court Square Theater during MACROCK: a two-day music festival with more than 60 bands playing at multiple venues throughout Harrisonburg the weekend of April 5.

With the band

The relatively new five-member band that features a brother-sister singing duo will perform songs such as “My Friend” and “Siren Song.”

The sister half of the duo, 22-year-old Amanda Styer, a cook at The Little Grill, sings harmony and plays flute, melodica, keyboard and steel bells in the band. Styer said she was a 16-year-old visiting her brother, Jon, at EMU when she first went to MACROCK.

“We grew up in a small Ohio town, so I just thought it was like the coolest thing ever. Just like, I can’t believe people do this. They have all these bands, local music and they have famous bands come … Since then, MACROCK has always had a special place in my heart.”

J. Frank Hillyard Middle School teacher Dan Baker, 30, who plays guitar and does vocals, is also a longtime fan of the festival. Having grown up in the area, he’s been in the audience for years.

“I’ve be going since I was in high school, even when it was over at [James Madison University] still. It’s had its up years and its down years, but yeah, I am excited to play,” Baker said.

“Since I’ve always been in this area, it’s something that you always hear about. And, since bands have to apply, it’s almost like a prestigious thing to actually get in and get a good slot like we did this year.”

Coming half circle

The approximately 2-year-old band has come full circle since the original one disbanded a few years ago.

Guitarist and vocalist Jon Styer, 28, a photographer and graphic designer for EMU said he and bassist Andrew Jenner, 30, a freelance writer, originally were in a band called Dear Wolfgang.The band played for five years, but split after the two lead singers moved to Kenya. Jon then started jamming one day with his roommate Baker.

“We were both fairly comfortable writing songs and singing, so we decided to give a go at this kind of dual song writers in one band,” John said.

“That’s kind of the philosophy of the band; some what where the name Half Circles comes from.”

After enlisting drummer Danny Yoder, the music gained an up beat tempo and the EMU web designer brought a rock edge to the band.

“When I was in high school, I was in a band and I was really into loud hard rock … that was what I learned the drums on. And, since I’ve gotten older, I have sort of mellowed out more.

“I really enjoy music that has minimalist drums. So, I think I have a little bit of both…”

Woman power

But, the most unique addition may be the only woman in the band.

“I think Amanda more than anything adds a different element to us because besides that we are a four-piece band.” Baker said.

“But [she] plays bells, melodica and flute. It just makes our stuff more interesting,” Baker added.

Jon said having two singer-songwriters also sets the band apart.

“We do write a lot of songs together, but we have multiple perspectives in one band, which, I think, stops it from sounding like all the same songs.”

The band’s songs – such as “Serpentine” and “Birds” – and current album cover, which features a bird flying out of an egg held by the tail of a snake, symbolizes the opposing forces of two singer-songwriters in one band.

While both come from the same musical egg, they have taken two different paths.

According to Baker, “It kind of went with our half circles imagery of having these two opposing forces.”

Courtesy Daily News Record, March 30, 2013