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MSC Alumni Make Mark in Music World

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—When they were students at Morrisville State College more than 15 years ago, Matt Ostrander and Eric Semo shared an avid interest in music that quickly bonded them as friends.

They spent hours singing Beatles tunes and strumming guitars in their off-campus apartments. They told stories about how they listened to Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles records as children; they sang songs they had written before they turned 16; and they shared dreams about making their mark in the music world.

They’ve spent the past years watching those dreams come true.

Ostrander, class of ’90 and Semo, class of ’91, are part of the San Francisco, California rock band ViV. Ostrander is lead singer, song writer and guitarist in the five-man band, while Semo is bass player, singer and song writer.

The talented musicians are working on their third album and they are also attracting national attention.

Their music has been licensed by MTV (Road Rules, MTV Extreme and The Real World), America’s Next Top Model and ESPN, and has also been heard on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Frontier Airlines will also be using songs from their unreleased DVD and will be showing performance clips on all their planes starting this fall, Ostrander said.

Described as a cross between Americana and British pop, ViV is a rock band with a unique sound that blends alternative and contemporary rock sounds.

Compared to Crosby, Stills and Nash, U2 and the Wallflowers, their music incorporates warm guitars and traditional rock instruments with exotic synthesizer sounds, an electric violin and an occasional mandolin. All of this is accompanied by a spectacular light show with projected images and unique harmonies.

One of the band’s unique sounds is a melodic four-part harmony which Ostrander said is a strength of having four singers in the band.

At Morrisville State College, Ostrander earned a degree in liberal arts - humanities first, followed by Semo a year later in journalism. The two met up again at Cornell University where they both transferred to continue their education, then made plans to start a band. They moved to San Francisco where they now live with their families.

Since they formed ViV in 2001, the band has released two albums and is working on its third which is due to come out in 2006. Their first album, “ViV White Album,” was released in 2001; the second, Flawed, was released in 2004. Flawed has tracks produced by David Cole (Melissa Ethridge, Cake), Adam Rossi (LUCE), and by the band themselves.

ViV is currently busy playing colleges, private high schools, theaters, clubs and festivals and has enjoyed an exciting year of growth.

Ostrander attributes part of the band’s success to a mutual respect members have for each other and their passion for what they do.

“We really love each other as a band,” he said. “We are good friends who all happen to be incredible musicians.”

But they wouldn’t have anything without the support from some very special people. Drawing on the emotions of audiences of all ages, ViV attributes a portion of its popularity to loyal fans.

“Our fans are great,” Ostrander said. “They are a following that keeps us alive.”

So what’s it like traveling and performing in front of audiences that have reached up to 9,000 people?

A feeling each can only describe as exciting. But being on the road performing also has its downside.

“It’s a grueling and hard existence,” Ostrander said. “You work for little money and spend many nights sleeping on couches, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

While they would love to be a platinum-selling band, they are content playing music and making a living doing what they love.

“If success happens on a larger scale then that is great, but if not, we are proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Ostrander said.

Regardless what happens, Semo and Ostrander said they will never forget their college roots and hope to return to Morrisville State College to perform some day.

“I could never forget Morrisville—the place that helped me to grow up and get ready for the world,” Ostrander said. “It’s also the place where I connected with some excellent friends who I still keep in touch with.”

Semo said his experience at Morrisville was one of the turning points in his life.

“I had some great professors, like Neal Bandlow (professor emeritus, journalism), who saw potential in me,” Semo said. “Professors encouraged me and found a way for me to reach beyond my potential.”

That also helped him later in life.

“I learned to persevere and to have self-confidence,” Semo said. “There are so many people out there who are ready to tell you that you can’t—and you can’t listen to them. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.”

When they are not busy practicing, writing songs or performing out on the road, Ostrander and Semo enjoy spending their spare time with their families. Ostrander and his wife are expecting their first child in December. Semo and his wife have two children.

An avid writer, Semo has his sights set on yet another dream—writing a novel or novella some day

Morrisville State College offers 12 bachelor degrees and a wide variety of associate degrees and options. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones. Morrisville State College was also chosen as one of the top five colleges in the nation for campus activities by Campus Activities magazine. The Morrisville State College Norwich Campus offers programs in business, transfer, technologies, liberal arts/education transfer, and nursing to Chenango County area residents and employers.