Arts Features, Arts, Music, On Campus

Stavros Piperis Discusses ‘Sing It to the Heights’ Win

Stavros Piperis, MCAS ’19, took the stage in front of three Jesuit judges and a packed Robsham Theater on the evening of March 1 with two things on his mind: the lyrics to Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather” and the make-it-or-break-it importance of the loop pedal beside his foot.

Having just been moved from the green room to the wings of the stage for the Sing It to the Heights performance before his, Piperis was taking in the size of the audience for the first time—it was much larger than the audiences he had encountered while performing at open mic nights hosted by local dive bars and quaint restaurants throughout Boston. Standing behind the mic with his acoustic guitar, however, Piperis was unshaken by the many faces fixated on his performance.

“When I’m playing in a smaller venue, it’s harder to know where to put my eyes because people are like right in front of you,” Piperis said. “But [in Robsham] it was easier to detach a little bit [and] take it all in.”

Piperis delivered an impeccable performance of the popular country song, stripping the song to the combined sound of his acoustic guitar and vulnerable voice. The singer complemented the emotional lyrics of the Zac Brown Band ballad with the sincerity of every sound that poured from his guitar strings and voice to captivate the hearts and secure the votes of the audience members. Votes sent via text message toward the close of the night declared Piperis the winner of 14th annual Sing It to the Heights—a feat freshman Piperis could not have imagined.

Piperis auditioned to compete in Sing It to the Heights two years earlier but was not selected to perform. Two years filled with performances throughout the greater Boston area and his hometown of Omaha, Neb., however, prepared him for a second shot at the singing competition. Piperis was selected to compete in the Boston College version of American Idol after auditioning with an original song titled “Delicate.” He decided to retreat to the catalog of other artists for the competition and settled on Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather” due to the potential Piperis saw in the song.

“In terms of writing [the song] is gorgeous,” Piperis said. “Also it left enough room for me to do something with the arrangement—it’s usually performed with a full band but there was a lot of room around the bridge to build up and make it more explosive. It has potential to be memorable, I think.”

The skilled guitar playing that Piperis exhibited onstage is not something that will soon be forgotten by the audience. The audience hung onto every note as the guitarist looped and layered riffs around the bridge, creating an unexpected electricity with the acoustic guitar. Piperis recorded one of his riffs and, with a kick of the pedal beside the microphone, played it back to the audience. While the mechanism sounds simple to use, the successful implementation requires near perfect playing.

“It’s always risky,” Piperis said. “If you mess up just a little bit, you’ll hear it for the rest of the performance.”

Piperis has been looping riffs in his live performances for about a year now and credits Ed Sheeran with introducing him to the intricate art. Piperis took note of the acoustic aficionado of soft pop’s use of the loop pedal to make his otherwise lonely guitar riffs more full. The young guitarist also looks up to John Mayer for pairing “accessible” pop-song concepts with “intricate instrumental aspects, especially the guitar.”

On the vocal front, Piperis greatly admires the work of Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay who has consistently pumped out hits like “Viva La Vida” and heartbreaking ballads like “The Scientist” over his 21-year career. When asked which artist, dead or alive, he would collaborate with if he had the chance, Piperis responded with “Chris Martin” after a brief moment of contemplation. Piperis sang the praises of the legendary front man’s “ear for tune,” calling him the “best pop melody writer” in Piperis’s lifetime. Out of all the songs in the band’s illustrious catalog, Piperis cites A Rush of Blood to the Head’s “Amsterdam” as the most complete embodiment of the genius of Martin.

Despite household name influences like Sheeran, Mayer, and Martin, the student singer finds unique artistic authenticity in performing songs he wrote himself.

“The most authentic way of performing is doing something that you wrote, something that you understand fully,” Piperis said.

There are distinct drawbacks to performing original material for a new audience—Piperis has found that introducing an original song is “asking a lot” of the audience. It may be hard for the audience to process music they have not heard before. For Piperis, the reward of baring his soul for a new audience is seeing them begin to “access and appreciate” his music, which he characterizes as acoustic pop.

Pinpointing the precise inspiration behind Piperis’s original pieces is difficult for the budding artist. He finds that his art is often inspired by the art of others.

“The thing that pushes me to write the most is hearing other people’s music that I kinda wish I had written,” Piperis said. “I think the biggest obstacle for me is feeling like everything has been done before.”

Creating his own music doesn’t stop Piperis from experimenting with the works of others. On a less serious note than reworking one of Zac Brown Band’s most emotional ballads for Sing It to the Heights, Piperis gets a kick out of creating eccentric acoustic covers of well-known hip-hop songs. T-Pain’s “Bartender” is a staple for Piperis, who likes to pump up the audience by starting his sets with nostalgic, low-stakes songs.

Performers at Sing It to the Heights only get one song to capture the affection of the audience—this is certainly not a low-stakes competition. Piperis immediately recognized the high level of talent he would be up against in the competition, having already been rejected from it once. This prompted hours of practice that often took place in his room or in the practice rooms of Lyons Hall. Because Piperis was a longtime fan of Zac Brown Band and already knew the lyrics of “Colder Weather” well, much of his time practicing was spent perfecting the guitar parts he embellished on the song. The practice clearly paid off—Jesuit judge Rev. Ignatius Idoko, S.J., described the “goosebumps” Piperis’s performance left him with.

For Piperis, practice started much earlier than these past couple months. Piperis was raised in a musical household: His father’s family was informally musical, having impromptu jam sessions often, while his mother was formally trained in piano. Like his mother, Piperis plays piano, but he first started singing when he was 14, around the same time he began playing guitar. Early inspirations for Piperis include a “wholesome” mix of Christian gospel songs and Disney soundtracks, particularly that of Beauty and the Beast, a musical score that remains among his favorites today.

Piperis is certain music will always play a significant role in his life, but is unsure whether he will ever pursue music as a career. A political science major, Piperis is faced with two starkly different career options: the disciplined intellectual pursuit of a law degree and a resultant lifetime in courtrooms or perhaps even on the House or Senate floor, or the tumultuous pursuit of a career in the ever-exclusive music industry.

“To take a serious shot at [a career in music] would need a lot more investment, time, money, just energy in general, and that’s hard to do with class” Piperis said.

Piperis remains serious about his music nonetheless, and does not rule out the possibility of pursuing music in a professional context, while confronting the challenges of such an endeavor.

“Music is something that, regardless of what I do, is always going to be at the center of my life,” Piperis said. “But the form that takes is really hard to predict.”

A clear interest in music does not translate to his choice of on-campus activities, however. When Piperis isn’t reading Locke and Hobbes or plucking the strings of his guitar, he participates in Hellenic Society of BC, an on-campus club that celebrates Greek culture. Piperis was almost named after one of the most famous Greeks—Piperis was almost “Aristotle Piperis” according to his fun fact at Sing It to the Heights.

Piperis is no stranger to the Jesuit Catholic aspects of BC’s unique on-campus culture. Having attended Creighton Prep, a Jesuit high school in Omaha, Neb., Piperis was already familiar with focusing on service and reflection in everyday life. Piperis just returned from a Spring Break service trip as a part of Appalachia Volunteers. Being one of the lucky few chosen ones to participate in a Kairos retreat is another standout experience from Piperis’s three years at BC. During the notoriously secretive retreat, students are asked to reflect on their lives. While Piperis says he’s “not the best at reflecting,” he does think understanding purpose has made valuable contributions to the manner in which he approaches songwriting, however transient the specific inspirations for each song.

Piperis says the reason he doesn’t participate in any of the on-campus clubs devoted to music is because he spends so much of his time practicing music. He wanted to bolster his college experience by indulging in some of his other interests as well. Piperis prefers to practice his craft performing at open mic nights presented by Music Guild and in bars around Boston.

Piperis’s favorite performance involves an unexpected collaboration with a violinist. Under the lights of the basement of Article 24, a bar and restaurant in Brighton, Piperis accepted the offer of a fellow open mic participant to provide backing violin during his set. Piperis remembers walking away from that performance with a feeling of euphoria—the combined sound of his acoustic guitar and the generous woman’s violin during the performance of one of his original songs not only stunned the audience, but Piperis as well.

Experiences like this have also left Piperis with a yearning to connect to musical members of the BC community. Sing It to the Heights provided Piperis with the opportunity to interact with talented BC students of similar interests. Aside from being able to raise funds for nearby school St. Columbkille’s music program, listening to the voices of other BC students was the highlight of participating in Sing It to the Heights for Piperis.

“Most of the performing I’ve done in Boston has been pretty isolated, and [that] gets lonely,” Piperis said. “My favorite thing about Sing It to the Heights is being able to both share the stage and just enjoy and witness all these other artists on campus.”

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor

March 18, 2018