Six people are crowded in Mike Neely's dorm room, joking around and tuning instruments. But when it's time to begin, everything gets quiet, and six heads bow and six sets of eyes close.
St. Thrall makes no secret about its purpose as a band.
"We're a Christian band," lead guitar player and vocalist Andrew Casto said. "Through our music, we want to spread (God's) name."
Casto is confident and straightforward, a natural leader. St. Thrall is his baby; he's been working on these songs for years. The band began back in his home of Lafayette, but they were missing key players. After almost a year at Ball State, the pieces are coming together. In addition to trumpet player Wes Cook, who is in Lafayette, and Anthony Ray, drummer and junior at IU, Casto has recruited five more members.
Casto is a 22-year-old freshman music education major. While marching in drumline this fall, he met freshman guitar player and biology major Ty Caldwell. They began playing together at the Blue Bottle on Wednesdays, and added more people throughout the semester.
They have so far accumulated sophomore music engineering technology student Mike Neely on bass, sophomore telecommunications major TJ Hartman on alto sax, freshman music education major Jay Jehl on trombone, and freshman art education major Wendy Booher on backup vocals. Ray and Cook play shows with the band but don't practice with them; instead, junior music education major Doug Haag fills in at practices on drums.
Keeping track of the eight members of the band may seem confusing enough (even Casto had to count on his hands), but Casto said that they are still looking for other members: another back-up vocalist, a piano player, another trumpet player, and a tenor sax player. This would make for a 12-member band.
According to Casto, they basically play "rock 'n roll with horns." Most of the songs are acoustically based, although the band plans to switch to electric in the future. Casto is the main vocalist, but Caldwell sometimes sings, and Booher's sweet soprano voice floats on top of theirs.
Their songs are upbeat, almost triumphant-sounding. The common thread throughout all their songs is God's grace prevailing over humans' failures.
Take the song "Apostrophe S" -- "The Lord is my champion/And He triumphs o'er the strongholds that abide in me. ... My tangled life, by grace, You have unfurled/In the face of tribulation, You have taught me how to dance." But these were not always the lyrics to "Apostrophe S."
Casto said that at one time these were all secular songs. Casto said that in September 1999, after he had "rededicated his life to Christ," he had a discussion with his older sister about his band.
"She brought it to my attention that although the songs meant something to me, there's no telling how people are going to interpret them," Casto said. "Basically she asked me if anything happened with this band, what kind of audience I'd like to see when I looked out. It really opened my eyes and made me realize that it was something else I needed to surrender to the Lord."
Casto at first resolved to start over, but after some time and prayer he decided that he should keep what was good about the songs, the music, and redirect the focus of the band.
"There was nobody named St. Thrall," Casto explained. "Thrall is a word that means servant or slave, and it's kind of like the essence of Christianity is the whole idea of 'the first shall be last' and being bondservants of Christ."
St. Thrall will be playing their third big show at the Living Room Friday at 8 p.m. They plan to play for two and a half hours, and the show is free. Booher said that their last show at the Blue Bottle was standing room only, so they're looking forward to Friday. The band recently recorded a CD, which Casto hopes will be out by August.
"Whatever the Lord has in store for us is what we want to be. My dream is just to see Him using us for His purposes, to further His kingdom," Casto said. "If he uses it for great things in our eyes, that's awesome, but I have no problem being a humble ensemble that practices in Mike's dorm room for the rest of our lives."