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Strong Connection: Castleton IT Department plays with passion

Castleton IT Department plays with passion

A couple years ago, four people joined together for a musical performance at a ceremony. It was their first time ever playing together live.

The four had two things in common: They love music, obviously, but they also all work in the IT department of a small university.

Tucked away in the back corner of Stafford Academic Center is a small department, identified simply by a piece of paper taped to the door.

In such a hidden area of campus, you wouldn’t expect the people behind this door to be such a key part to the everyday functions of Castleton University.

Technology is a crucial part to both student life and academics, and it is the IT department’s responsibility to ensure our technology is up to par. We need them. We rely on them.

But in a world where internet connection is beyond highly important, those working in the IT department at Castleton connect in a different way. Their connection goes beyond technology.

Their connection is music.

Hidden behind that door is a rich history of musical talent,  with multiple bands, many live performances, tons of cover songs and a bond between co-workers and fellow musicians that will last forever.

From Different Upbringings

Jonathan Czar, Bryon Billado and Gayle Malinowski all work in IT at Castleton. They also share a passion for music.

And from the moment they all started working together in the department, they knew the importance of camaraderie and a positive work environment.

“We all decided 20-something years ago that it was important to work with people we could get along with,” Billado said. “We take a high priority in having a healthy working relationship where we can all get along.”

One way these bonds were built was through music. Even before they ultimately joined forces, their musical connections were prominent.

“You don’t have to necessarily play in a group together to have an appreciation for music together,” Czar said. “We’re always talking music … People bond over it whether you’re a player or not.”

But their individual histories with music are far from similar.

Billado attended Berkley College of Music. With the intentions of playing jazz, his journey switched paths when he learned he could find success playing a much different genre.

“I moved back to Vermont at the point of when country music became huge and joined a classic country band to make money,” Billado said.  “A bunch of us decided to ride the wave and form a country band doing Top-40 country called Red Hot Rider.”

Red Hot Rider raged on for 23 years, mainly performing on weekends while Billado maintained a full-time job.

Czar, on the other hand, came from a completely different musical background.

“Back in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a pretty good underground punk scene and I was with a group for a very long time, same group of musicians,” he said.

Known as The Vacancies, Czar’s band played in the Rutland and Castleton area. They’d also record audio onto cassette tapes.

“We did audio tapes. We would sell them at shows, and actually we made it on to EQX and they had us open as a support act for a couple of bands at concerts that they did,” Czar said. EQX refers to 102.7 WEQX, a radio station out of Manchester, Vermont.

But for Billado and Czar, another key difference is their motives.

“You played music you loved and I played music people paid to hear, which I didn’t love,” Billado said to Czar.

“That’s true,” Czar said in response. “What you were doing, there were people paying big money for that, and what I was doing was a labor of love.”

Meanwhile, Malinowski’s musical journey started much later in life. Her only music education came from lessons in middle school and grade school. When she discovered an electronic drum kit at a friend’s house, her curiosity piqued.

“I can do it with headphones and play drums and stay married because it’s not real loud,” Malinowski said. “I decided to make it my full-on midlife crisis.”

After buying her own kit, she didn’t tell many people. But she did tell Czar.

“I showed up one day with my stuff to kind of accompany her and we weren’t even really working on songs, she was just basically trying to separate her hands from her feet,” Czar said. He would play rhythm on his guitar and let Malinowski practice on the drums.

At first it was a struggle, but Malinowski picked it up quickly.

“We got through a couple songs and at one point I said to her, ‘Just think where you’ll be in a year,’” Czar said. “She has a lot of natural talent to enable her to get to where she is.”

So, while one was busy making good money off of music he wasn’t so passionate about and another profited little off of music he loved to play, the third was self-taught, picking it up later in life.

Working Together

With their own unique background stories in the world of music, the three joined forces for former Castleton University President Dave Wolk’s farewell ceremony.

Wolk was impressed.

“It was memorable,” he said. “I believe it was their first time performing together, and they sounded and looked great, as if they were veterans.”

Billado, Czar and Malinowski were also joined by another worker in the IT department, Matt Corriere.

“It is remarkable that they all have such a wonderful balance of right and left brains,” Wolk said. “The IT department was, and I am sure still is, the pride and joy of Castleton because of their ‘customer service’ approach to everyone. And to add musical talents to their technical expertise is impressive.”

The performance also served as an opportunity for the four co-workers to build on their positive work environment even more so.

“We don’t socialize together that often, except for Jonathan and I, but the four of us don’t socialize together much at all. It was a really fun way to get to know everybody in a different role,” Malinowski said.

Jonathan Czar and Gayle Malinowski of Castleton’s IT depart play a show in Rutland

After their one-time special performance as a quartet, a new duo was born.

Czar and Malinowski formed a new band now known as the Electrostatic Cats. Czar plays both guitar and bass pedals while Malinowski plays the drums. Both play some keyboards as well, and both sing.

“I’ve never had so much fun figuring out what we could play and what we couldn’t,” Czar said. “For us it’s just fun whether we were gigging or not, we’d still get together.”

In rehearsals, the sound created by just two people is impressive. Czar finds the chords on his guitar for rhythm all while moving his feet up and down the bass pedals on the floor.

In a cover of “Burn” by The Cure, the piercing screech resonating off his guitar to introduce the song is halted by a heavy chord shred. Screams and cries from the six-string intermingle as Malinowski bangs on the drum, switching between hi-hat and snares. Her head nods as she sets the beat, and Czar works off of it perfectly.

Recently, the duo put together their first gig, taking the stage at the Hideaway Tavern in Rutland. Besides a few technological difficulties, an issue that neither is unfamiliar dealing with, both enjoyed performing.

“I’m always a little nervous and will sometimes dwell on mistakes and what I could have done better,” Czar said. “When I reflected upon the performance the following day, I was very happy with how we did and particularly happy with how we sounded. I think our duo is very close to achieving something sonically that I’ve always imagined in my head but have never been able to pull off.”

Malinowski’s reflection was a bit more short and sweet.

“Once I got my hi-hat fixed, it was super freakin’ fun,” she said.

The Electrostatic Cats primarily do covers from the 80s and 90s alternative era. They cover U2, Radiohead, The Cure and even Muse and Lana Del Ray.

Czar’s voice reflects the pure sound of that era, complete with echo sounds effects drawing out the notes. Malinowski’s voice is rich, reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, which fits perfectly with the alternative music.

Although the music is a prominent part of all their lives, Billado said he doesn’t really mention it a lot.

“Over the years, there have been people who’ve been here for several years and then they find out that you’re a musician,” he said. “We don’t usually make it a primary topic but amongst ourselves it’s sort of there.”

Dune Mayberger, a Castleton student who has worked in the department since the beginning of this year, hadn’t heard much about them.

“Jonathan and Gayle have talked with Matt and Bryon about that gig a couple times over the past couple weeks. I didn’t really hear any of the details,” he said. “I did not expect them to be so musically talented, but I’m not super surprised. Many people have hobbies that seem to be a big jump from their work.”

You may not expect to find so much talent in one small department of a small college. But this is the power of music. It strengthens connections.

And when a few people with shared passions come together, the possibilities are endless.

“The camaraderie doesn’t necessarily come from the music; the music comes from the camaraderie,” Billado said.