Student group Milk epitomizes Dartmouth’s live music culture

Milk, an all-senior group, looks set to end on a high note with Battle of the Bands and WoodstocKDE.

by Joe Daher | 11 minutes ago

Courtesy of Kendall Milender.

On Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Collis Common Ground, Milk competes with six other student bands in the Battle of the Bands, a competition to determine the student who opens the Green Key Campus Music Festival. Additionally, on May 6, they will take the stage at Kappa Delta Epsilon’s annual music event, WoodstocKDE.

The band consists of six close friends from the Class of 2023: Kendall Millender ’23 as lead singer, Zahni Khin ’23 on guitar, Will Toth ’23 on bass, Max Bloom ’23 on keys, Carsten Kleinsteiber ’23 on trumpet, and Noah Portnoy ‘ 23 on drums. The roster has largely remained unchanged since its inception, with the exception of Kleynsteuber, who joined the group in the fall.

Describing the band’s style, Portnoy emphasizes that they span multiple musical genres. Portnoy also said that the band was formed out of the members’ desire to come together as a stand-alone group.

“Forged in the flames of sophomore summer, Milk began as an indie-rock, pop, R&B and alternative collective for student musicians who were tired of touring in bands that weren’t their own,” said Portnoy.

In addition to being a multi-genre group, the members of Milk also pride themselves on their ability to play multiple instruments. Blum said the Milk band members switch instruments on certain songs because almost all of the band members can sing or play a secondary instrument. Kleynsteuber, for example, sometimes plays the keys when the trumpet is not played.

“It’s nice to have multiple singers and have people rotate,” Kleinsteiber said. “You can always do something different.”

Bloom and Khin first connected during an impromptu jam session freshman year at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Toth and Portnoy joined shortly after.

“Since the fall of my freshman year, I’ve been very active in jamming with people and trying to find [musical] scenes,” Bloom said. “There was this really cool GroupMe of fifty Dartmouth students who just wanted to have fun.”

The pandemic forced a sudden halt to live music and thus halted the frequency of their jam sessions. However, the four would reconnect when they returned to an outdoor campus their second summer. Millender joined the band on vocals during one of their jam sessions at Bones Gate. Their first gig took place soon after at WoodstocKDE that same summer.

“We’ve played a lot of shows,” Millender said. “[WoodstocKDE] it was so much fun. And it was raining! It was our first show and I think we were all super nervous, but it was great.”

The band broke up again due to members’ broken terms, but will eventually reunite in the spring of 2022 when they play concerts at WoodstocKDE to a larger audience.

At the time, Kleinsteiber was living with Khin and Portnoy and began playing a few songs with them on his trumpet. Not long after, he joined the group as a permanent member.

“We had five people in the group and we had enough to get by,” Khin said. “But you can always use a little X Factor and we found Karsten. So we just put it on a few songs and it was like clockwork – just very natural.”

Since the addition of Kleyensteuber, Milk has performed at several fraternities, including gigs at Bones Gate, Psi Upsilon, Beta Alpha Omega and Alpha Chi Alpha. Despite the thrill of these gigs, guitarist Khin finds his greatest satisfaction in band rehearsals.

“During rehearsal, we try something new and sometimes it just clicks,” Khin said. “Like when all the instruments and the vocals come together and the band is playing like a well-oiled machine and I’m looking out there and I’m just surrounded by my friends – those are the moments I remember the most.”

Millender emphasized that live music has blossomed in popularity over the past few seasons since the pandemic stopped, and she’s grateful to have been a part of that movement. Millender also emphasized the quintessentially Dartmouth nature of the group.

“It’s just so classic Dartmouth that if we have a show on a Saturday night, we all show up beforehand to get the stage together,” Millender said. “And that means knocking over pong tables, leaving a few cinder blocks, and that’s the scene.”

The group does not have a strict style, but gravitates towards certain artists according to the musical taste of its members. The band played music from contemporary artists like Maroon 5, but also performed classics like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” One of Milk’s most recurring covers is Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” which was also one of the first songs they performed live. Although they mainly focus on covers, Blum expressed their hopes to play original tracks in the future.

“We try to play cover songs and give the people what they want,” Bloom said. “We were ambitious to write our own stuff, but also as busy kids from Dartmouth, we have to be realistic. So we haven’t really played any originals, but maybe we will soon.”

Milk kicked off this spring semester by playing the annual Pond Skim at Dartmouth Skiway and are scheduled to play again at WoodstocKDE later this semester.

“I think we’re excited about Woodstock coming back because we’ve played it every time it’s happened,” Millender said. “Spring is fun because we get to play some Darty classic rock music, which I like better.”

Millender spoke of the strong collaborative nature of the various groups on campus and the high appreciation for the supportive audience of Dartmouth students.

“The culture feels very supportive,” Millender said. “They were [all] hiring from the same place as we all have to share [equipment].”

In true Dartmouth style, flexibility is a necessity to handle the challenge of working around six different schedules, and sometimes substitutes are necessary. According to Milender, Dashiell Prince-Judd ’23 of Read Receipts will play with them for WoodstocKDE this year. In the past, Toth has also performed as a sub for The Stripers.

The group expressed bitter feelings about the graduation, especially since Milk would no longer exist after the members graduated. They plan to have a final show called “Kill Milk”. Between Battle of the Bands, WoodstocKDE and other potential shows, Milk will have a busy spring finale.

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