How Pitt Senior Mike Stolarz Balances His Drumming Career & Double Major

It’s a Saturday night in Millvale at Mr. Smalls Funhouse. Mike Stolarz, 21-year-old student at Pitt and drummer for hard rock band Yaro and the Static, has been waiting to step up to his drum kit all night. He is tired from working on homework earlier in the day, but he must tune out school and focus on the show before him. The lights dim, the opening guitar part begins, and Stolarz steps on stage. He waits for his cue and comes in, ready to put on a fun concert for the audience in front of him.

Michael “Mike” Stolarz is a senior at Pitt double majoring in Psychology and Sociology in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Pitt makes it easy for many students to pursue two majors, but it is a heavy workload regardless. On top of the busy workload and graduating in spring 2022, Stolarz still practices and plays drums with Yaro and the Static.

When entering his first year at Pitt in fall 2018, Stolarz was accepted into the business school with plans to major in marketing. However, after a tedious and difficult first semester, he realized that he was not passionate about business and marketing. He took a visit to the Career Center on campus and after talking with an advisor, was encouraged to look further into the psychology program.

Stolarz took an intro to psychology class and fell in love with the subject. Similarly, he became interested in sociology after taking an intro to sociology course as a general education requirement. Stolarz was immediately hooked on the two subject fields. Stolarz loves learning about the in-depth topics of some of the upper-level psychology classes especially, and he finds his sociology classes extremely beneficial and applicable to the world outside of school.

“I find both of my majors and their curriculums incredibly interesting, especially the sociology major,” said Stolarz. “There are so many different social contexts and domains in which understanding them sociologically is so beneficial. I have also found the upper-level psych classes incredibly interesting, especially the class I am currently enrolled in: PSY 1140 Conflict Resolution.”

Stolarz’s friends agree that he has a true passion for his psychology and sociology classes and tries his best in his academics.

“Mike has a lot of passion for what he’s studying,” said Stolarz’s girlfriend, Lizzie Pease, a 21-year-old civil engineering major. “He gets very excited to talk about his favorite classes.”

Academics are important, but they are far from everything in one’s college experience. Stolarz is heavily involved in music in Pittsburgh, and he has been playing music since middle school. He began playing drums in fifth grade for his school’s instrumental program, and he received his first drum kit for Christmas in sixth grade. He said his dad was a large factor in his music career; Stolarz’s father was a guitarist himself and was always playing music around the house as Stolarz was growing up. Stolarz has many fond memories surrounding music growing up, and it is no wonder that he quickly became involved with music as a child.

“[My dad] always played music around our house every day, whether we were listening to it, watching live concerts or music videos, or he was playing guitar or singing,” said Stolarz. “This goes back as far as I can remember, with one of my first memories being me at three-years-old running around my living room, playing my toy acoustic guitar, and pretending to be Angus Young, the singer of AC/DC, one of my dad’s favorite bands.”

Stolarz no longer lives at home and has his own apartment. As a drummer, it can be difficult at times finding places to play given that drums are a large and loud instrument. Stolarz still finds time to play and tries to play for at least five hours per week.

His apartment cannot hold his drum kit, so he practices mostly at his church, Bellefield Church, or in a practice room in the Pitt music building. Other times, he visits home to see his family and practice with his own drum kit. 

His band, Yaro and the Static, plays shows around Pittsburgh as well. Stolarz has been playing with the hard rock band since his sophomore year of college, and he has had the opportunity to record drums in the studio multiple times.

The most notable time was for the recording of the band’s debut album, “The Art of Adolescence,” which took place the second half of 2019. Stolarz is a hard-hitting, punchy drummer inspired mostly by a combination of his father’s music taste he shared growing up and his current music taste.

“My biggest influences are Dave Grohl from Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, Jimmy Chamberlain from the Smashing Pumpkins, Daniel Fang from Turnstile, Abe Cunningham from Deftones, and jazz drummers like Tony Williams, Art Blakey, and Mark Guiliana,” said Stolarz. “I’m also highly influenced by drums in hip-hop and electronic music, and I try to incorporate those sounds and grooves into my acoustic playing.” His bandmates agree that Stolarz is a dedicated musician.

“Mike is one of the best drummers in the city,” bandmate Aedan Symons said. “He’s really fun to play with, and he always shows up.”

Photo by Stephanie Sheronovich

Between managing school work, playing music, applying for jobs, and completing job interviews before he graduates, Stolarz has quite a packed schedule. His classes have not necessarily gotten harder, but the return to in-person classes in addition to everything else has made his life busy and, at times, stressful. Stolarz says his strategy for managing his busy schedule is to complete work and prioritize activities before going out with friends or playing music.

“I have found that waiting until I finish my assignments before going to play the drums or going out has served as inspiration to get my work done on time, as I always want to play the drums,” began Stolarz. “Music is also an incredibly cathartic and relieving activity for me, and any stress that I may have regarding school I am able to take out on the drums.”

Stolarz plans to take a few years off from school after graduating. He aims to get work experience relevant to his majors and eventually return to school to complete a master’s degree in social work, or MSW. He still plans on playing and writing music for as long as he can, whether it leads to a successful music career or not.

“In all honesty, if I had a chance at a career in music I would take it,” began Stolarz, “but having my experience and education I gained at Pitt not only would be a great backup plan, it also continues to inform my musicianship and my appreciation for music as a whole.”