A well-tinseled Christmas tree. An old model ship. A half-assembled three-thousand-piece puzzle of Venice.
To most, these aren’t the images associated with a frat house, but they’re the ones I encounter when I venture to Phi Mu Alpha, Northwestern’s resident music fraternity, situated comfortably in a house in the sorority quad.
Entering the common room on a Tuesday night, I find a quiet but industrious house, busy with purposed activity—brothers move from room to room in the basement, setting up instruments for band practices. Others set up laptops in common areas. In the main room, a lively event-planning meeting ensues, with ideas ranging from live-band karaoke to casino night.
“Laser tag was awesome,” one brother assures me, referring to last year’s event.
Other suggestions include hot chocolate pong in the sorority quad and broomball (The former uses “marshmallows as balls” and the latter is “like hockey on ice.”) Other past events have included an annual Christmas party, a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Dance Marathon, and philanthropic performances involving the whole fraternity as a choir at local retirement homes.
Until this year, though, the brothers’ events have required a bit more hoop-jumping than those of other fraternities. Until recently, PMA was not a member of the Interfraternity Council (IFC), so PMA has had to go through the same channels for event approval as most non-Greek student groups. Weinberg senior Mike Di Maso, the fraternity education officer and one of the brothers in the house, explains the decision to join IFC. “We thought that we didn’t belong in IFC because we thought we were more different than we actually are.“
The focus on music does set PMA apart. Its bands cover a wide range of genres, varying from classical musicians to jazz quartets to rock groups. (One of them, The Main Men, competed in last year’s Battle of the Bands).
Surprisingly enough, most of the brothers aren’t music majors. “We’ve got maybe five music majors, tops,” Di Maso explains. Nearly half of PMA participates in marching band, but the house is still attractive to students outside of Bienen. “We’re looking for good guys—not necessarily the best musician, but the best man,” he explained of their membership. Nevertheless, a passion for music seems to unify the house—a home to many of the brothers.
“This is our home, because we have, like, memories and stuff here,” one brother mutters.
Distance from the other fraternities no longer seems like a barrier to PMA’s participation in IFC. The move guarantees the brothers increased funding, support, visibility and a new sense of interconnectedness with the Greek community and campus as a whole.
“Now we’re actually reconciling those differences [we thought we had with the other fraternities],” Di Maso explains.
Phi Mu Alpha has more argyle than you’ll find in any fraternity house up north, but it also shares many of the more traditional symbols of brotherhood – paddles, a well-filled trophy case (the brothers won Greek Week this year) and an abundance of framed rosters dot the common room. Alongside those, though, lies a defunct organ, a vintage foosball table and a plethora of other musical instruments.
The common room embodies what PMA is—a place where red cups and antique organs, can co-exist and intermingle. With touches of eccentricity and a focus on music coupled with more traditionally Greek traits, Phi Mu Alpha seems to have carved out a clear niche for itself within IFC.