Professors John Hubers, Joel Westerholm and Sam Martin started playing music in high school and they haven’t given up playing since.
Now, the professors are playing together in a folk band called “The Usual Suspects,” a name inspired by one of Hubers’ favorite films.
For religion professor Hubers, playing guitar with others has been a way of branching out from the usual church circle in which he operates.
“I’ve always looked for someone to play music with, both because I love to play and as a way of getting out of the ‘Christian Ghetto,’” Hubers said.
Through the years, Hubers has been in bands in New York, Bahrain and everywhere he has lived; he even recorded an album with a band in Michigan.
English professor Westerholm began creating melodies before he can even remember.
“When I was young, I made a melody to my telephone number so I could remember it,” Westerholm said.
He kept playing guitar throughout childhood, started joining bands during high school and even took time off before going to college to give a career in music a shot.
“I was playing rock‘n’roll with varying degrees of success in the Boston area before going to college,” Westerholm said.
After becoming a professor and starting a family, Westerholm continued to play music in churches and began giving guitar lessons to music ministry majors.
First-year english professor Martin started hand drumming in college for his school’s chapel team, other church services and a folk/worship band on weekends.
“At college, every band had 10 drummers,” Martin said, “so if I wanted to play, I had to come up with something different.”
The instruments Martin plays include the djembe, spoons, a bamboo rod and a Newfoundland instrument called the ugly stick, a homemade instrument made of a boot, bottle caps, a stick and a tin can.
The Beginning of The Usual Suspects
When Hubers moved to Orange City in 2001 to work for the Reformed Church, he began asking around in an attempt to find an acoustic guitar player interested in performing the kind of music Hubers loved. Hubers found the English professor to be a great match.
“Joel is a very good lead guitar player. I’m good at rhythm guitar, but I didn’t even pick up the guitar until moving overseas,” he said.
In addition, Westerholm and Hubers were interested in the same era and genres of music and found their voices blended well. Hubers said he appreciates the level of professionalism Westerholm brings to the group, as well.
“Joel takes music very seriously,” Hubers said. “In some ways, what we’re doing is tongue-in-cheek. We’re at the age where we are past all illusions of ‘making it’ with our music. We do it for fun, but at the absolute best we can. You can’t get up onstage and not have some pride in what you’re doing.”
Westerholm, too, was past any ideas of making it big.
“It seemed like we could do this sort of thing for fun,” he said. “The less seriously we take ourselves, the better it is.”
In addition, The Usual Suspects features Gary Reinders, an accomplished harmonica player Hubers knew from growing up in Orange City who had been involved with other bands throughout the years.
“Gary loves playing and has a great voice,” Hubers said.
Although Hubers moved away in 2006, The Usual Suspects got together again when he came back in 2010, this time with a job at NW.
Martin, the newest member, found out about the group through conversations with Westerholm.
“We knew he was a percussionist,” Westerholm said, “I think it came up during his interview.”
After inviting Martin over for a practice session, the guys decided he would be a great fit for the group.
“For me, music is always a communal thing,” Westerholm said. “Adding a percussionist gives me something else to listen and respond to. Martin finds rhythmic things in the music I hadn’t thought of before.”
Although Hubers was skeptical about adding another member at first, he said he was pleased to find how good Martin was at drumming.
“Martin adds such a good element,” Hubers said. “For anyone that has been to our shows before, they will notice the difference immediately.”
Martin said he has enjoyed working with the group.
“It’s an entirely different set of music than I’m used to playing,” Martin said. “It’s a lot of stuff I like listening to.”
Friday Night Preview
For their upcoming performance, which they’re calling Songs of Protest and Mirth, The Usual Suspects will be performing songs originally written by Woody Gutherie, Billy Joel, Sting, Neil Young and others.
“It’s kind of an eclectic mix,” Hubers said. “We chose the songs for their lyrics. Most have anti-war themes or talk about economic inequality.”
Hubers and Westerholm have also written songs to perform.
“We’ll be performing four songs that no one has heard before, all about the political scene,” Hubers said.
Westerholm wrote three songs, two of which are parodies. One is based on an experience at a Town Hall meeting.
“I asked a politician about how the affordable health care act would affect someone, and his response was ‘I’m not going to talk about that,’” Westerholm said. “It made me really angry, and that anger made me want to write.”
Although Martin hasn’t written any songs for the night, he said he’s looking forward to performing once again.
“It’s been four or five years since I’ve played in front of people,” Martin said.
The Usual Suspects will be performing from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, October 26, at The Old Factory Coffee Shop. Admission is free.
“There’ll be quite a few laughs,” Westerholm said. “Students will get to see their professors behaving in ways they usually don’t and they’ll probably enjoy some of the music.”