The Gamut Room: Social Center for Decades

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Tucked quietly away in the underbelly of Gifford Residence Hall, the Gamut Room, a venue for student art, music and food, has been just kinda hanging out for more than 40 years.

If you can find it, either by way of the Gifford amphitheater or the building’s basement, upon entering your attention is immediately demanded by the walls. Across every square foot of plaster lies a buffet of intricate and imaginative student artwork including 20-foot long pencil sketches, impressionistic paintings of the female body and a structural pillar wrapped entirely in tin foil. The combination of the room’s exhaustive art installations and the poor natural lighting makes for what somebody more cynical could call an artistic dungeon.

“The matte black ceiling doesn’t really help either,” says Bjorn Peterson ’15.5, the current president of the Gamut Room, but the lack of daylight doesn’t bother him too much because the nighttime is when the room really comes alive. Peterson, who runs the organization alongside seniors Tshering (Ty) Yudon ’13 and Teddy Pendergast ’13, is following a multi-decade tradition of leadership. In recent years, however, most of the presidential duties have consisted of just keeping the organization alive, though it wasn’t always this way.

The Gamut Room got its start back in the late 60s with two students: Rick Doste ’70 and Don Delano ’69. Doste, who had used the room in Gifford basement for months as a place to practice piano, was the talent, and Delano, who saw the campus’s need for a late night food outlet, was the money. The two opened the room as a venue where students could come in the wee hours of the night to hear Doste play and purchase snacks to fuel their incessant studying.

The Gamut Room, as it soon came to be called, experienced a period of social and quasi-political growth in the 70s as the room transitioned from a casual hangout spot to the epicenter of campus counterculture — providing a site for liberated personal expression and activist discourse.

It underwent some physical growth, too. Originally, the room was located on the other side of Gifford until the residential hall was redone a few decades later. There were two separate venues: the “Tea Room” and “The Bandroom.” The former was a quieter lounge area where the proprietors of the room would sell tea and, mostly, wine at $0.35 a cup, seven nights a week to a student body that was governed by the looser drinking laws of an era long passed. The latter, as its name would suggest, was much louder, providing a boisterous arena in which students could release all their energy pent up during the College’s famous epoch of political activism in the form of band concerts and debates. Then, when the dorm underwent renovations, the two rooms moved to the south side of Gifford and joined forces to become the singular Gamut Room we have today.

While the Gamut Room may not vend wine to students anymore, the Gamut Room does serve other items. In fact, most of the venue’s programming consists of a variety of students making their own food in the Gamut Room’s kitchen and selling it to their friends.

“When Proctor’s closed and you’re still hungry,” Peterson explains, “we want the mindset of the campus to basically be like ‘Oh, wait, the Gamut Room is still open and they definitely have food! I don’t have to starve!’”

Their weekly schedule comprises gastronomically gifted students preparing light fare that spans the spectrum of college cooking. For example, Monday nights start at seven with LOCALmotive, the duo of Annalise Carrington ’15 and Jordan Collins ’15.5 preparing healthy, gourmet dishes that emphasize the use of local ingredients, until the team of Clara Gottesman ’15, Aly Fassett-Carman ’15, Abby Karp ’14 and Ellen Kerchner ’15 takes over with their Crepe Night, making delicious thin French pancakes to order with just about any topping or filling under the sun.

In addition to student cuisine, the Gamut Room puts on concerts once every two weeks. Former headliners have included rising campus bands Alpenglow and Will Cuneo & The Heartbreakers. It also hosts The Moth, a monthly event dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling in which students and the occasional professor regale each other with tales from their own lives pertaining to a common theme, like “Food” or “Rude Awakenings.”

However, there is a growing concern that the space isn’t being allowed to realize its full potential. The reason? Frankly, consensus seems to be that not enough people know about it.

“It’s such an underappreciated spot on campus,” said Katherine Kucharczyk ’16, a regular attendee of the LOCALmotive shift. “The food is delicious. The atmosphere is so cozy. I really hope people at this school will give this place the recognition it deserves.”

Kucharczyk isn’t alone in her worries. Even President Peterson is concerned about the attendance.

“We need more shifts,” he said. “There are a ton of opportunities for kids to share their talents here — we just need to make sure they know about it.”

The Gamut Room does not advertise in the events calendar with the school. To get involved with the organization, you can email Bjorn at bapeterson@middlebury.edu or view their schedule at go/gamutroom. Or, if you’re near Gifford anytime after the dining halls shut down, why not duck in and say hi? As Peterson says, “If the door’s open, you’re always welcome.”