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Musician Brings Veritas to Ears

By Christopher A. Kukstis, Crimson Staff Writer

In the mix of magicians, calculus-focused raps, and boy-band stars performing at the Freshman Talent Show in September 2001, Daniel J. Zaccagnino ’05 had one thing on his mind: a lonely banjo case lying on the ground, no owner in sight.

Zaccagnino hung close to the empty case, anxious to meet a fellow banjoist. That banjoist turned out to be John D. Hegge ’05, who would become Zaccagnino’s roommate in Dunster House.

Within a month, the banjo-playing duo were a fixture on the steps of Weld Hall and Widener Library, their pluck entertaining Asian tourists and anyone else who would listen.

Zaccagnino arrived at Harvard to find a disparate music scene, where student bands had no centralized resources, even though performance spaces were widely available. Zaccagnino, who began writing his own songs in high school, quickly recognized that organization would help bands get access to expensive equipment and bigger audiences.

His brainchild, the student group Veritas Records, has united musicians and businesspeople since Zaccagnino founded it in 2003. It releases annually a compilation of original songs by student bands, and has been instrumental in the successful creation of undergraduate Pub Nights.

Zaccagnino was inspired to bring together the campus’ amateur musicians because music has been the connective force for most of his friendships at Harvard.

“There were all these people whom I met because someone told me they were into music, or told me that they might like my music...just from handing my CDs around, I got to know a lot of people who were interested in music,” he says.

Zaccagnino had begun recording his own acoustic rock CDs at Choate, a boarding school in his home state of Connecticut, where he completed an independent study on editing and production. But while he could provide expertise in recording and production, Zaccagnino says music is only one side of a successful record label.

So Zaccagnino recruited Matthew L. Siegel ’05 to take on the business end of Veritas Records.

Zaccagnino and Siegel worked fast; within the label’s first year they had assembled a crack team of musicians, business people, artists, and producers. Trustees in the music industry and professors on campus backed the project.

Zaccagnino and Veritas dropped their first compilation disc on May 6, 2004, at the Roxy, a nightclub in Boston’s theater district that doubles as a popular and intimate music venue. Unable to remember the exact date in the interview, Zaccagnino spins around to expose the back of his white t-shirt, where the date of the launch party is printed. Underneath in magic marker, he has written the date of the 2005 CD launch party, which took place at a College pub night.

Zaccagnino says that it is through these events that Veritas has most directly affected the student body.

Zaccagnino got connected to the College’s Pub Night initiative through a friendship, this one with “fun czar” Zac A Corker ’04. Zaccagnino’s interest in student bands and Corker’s interest in students’ social lives were an easy match, and they agreed that the community of musicians in Veritas would provide the entertainment for the wildly successful College-run parties.

“We had an idea for some sort of an event in Quincy House, like a grand version of their concerts in the Cage, with free beer and the Veritas bands, and then I heard from Zac what he had planned for Loker Commons,” Zaccagnino says. “The match seemed a natural one, and when [Harvard Student Agencies] entered the picture supplying the beer, all the pieces were in place.”

The huge numbers that arrived for Pub Night—the first one drew nearly 1,000 students—has led College deans to investigate the installation of a full-time pub on campus.

After he graduates, Zaccagnino is sticking around Cambridge and continuing his work on campus improvement, collaborating with Corker on the prospect of a full-time pub. While they won’t be in charge of Veritas anymore, Zaccagnino and Siegel are staying in the music industry, bringing their experience with the student label to a larger arena by starting a professional service for independent musicians.

And students who have benefited from Veritas think Zaccagnino has a pretty good chance of succeeding.

“He’s a really motivated guy who’s managed to put some pretty impressive stuff together on campus,” says Maxwell C. Drummey ’07, a guitarist for the student band Chester French.

In the uncharted waters of the real world, Zaccagnino hopes that this motivation—along with his unwillingness to leave any banjo case unturned—will spell more musical successes.

—Staff writer Christopher A. Kukstis can be reached at kukstis@fas.harvard.edu.

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