What Makes Us Different

What makes our music group and the music we create so different? Why are we all so devoted to making live music, together?

As a leader of live music groups in Portland for many years, I hear these questions frequently and now see them shaping Community Jams and its vision of spreading these unique experiences. 

There are a great many benefits to making music, and the personal impact and joy it brings to one’s life are the most beneficial of all. At the start of their musical path, most musicians teach themselves, catching bits and pieces here and there. We might take lessons for a bit, and then learn from friends, videos, and books. We listen, and mimic, and teach ourselves, autodidacts.

Some people learn to make music, either as a solo act or using production-techniques to produce recorded music. This solo act of creativity can be incredibly rewarding. Some people go to open mics, and share their music with others – namely other musicians and often the same ones – month after month. This act of performance can also be rewarding. I had a solo career with performances and a variety of projects including creating multi-tracked songs in the studio by myself. All of these activities were creative, enjoyable forms of musical expression.

Then I found something better.

When we set out to perform, we decide what to tell the audience with our voice, our body, and our emoting. We set up a persona, often similar to ourselves. We engage the audience purposefully, work the crowd, and play the room. It is a skill and an art.

Yet it is incredibly difficult to have the performance mindset and feel unfiltered honesty with one’s music. The only way to let go of that feeling of public performance and its oppressive judgment, filters, and self-editing is to play in a room with only other supportive musicians. 

This is the community jam, where we play alone with our music, together.
When we play alone, with no one watching, we drop all pretense. Without an audience, we must listen. We let go of the intent behind the message and instead simply embody the message. There is no reason to filter, or judge, or self-edit. We are in the moment, and honest, with our music.

Since the music we create in a jam is more than just our own contribution, we are less attached to it, while we oddly feel more responsible for it because we do not wish to spoil the contributions of others. Since we are ‘alone,’ we are listening, and thus we are the audience. We play with each other, and for ourselves. 

We are alone, vulnerable, and honest with each other about the needs of the song. Everyone contributes, some more than others, and we guide each other with our contributions. Adjustments are made, and we learn to not feel judged or harassed by these nudges to fix the room. We lose our shame, and our fear, and by accepting the mistakes of others in this precarious live soap-bubble we create, we accept our own.  

The best thing about live music jams is that any mistake we make is *immediately* over. The song continues without us. We learn from our mistakes so we don’t repeat it next time. Because the room is still playing, and our friends want us to play with them, right now, we get on with it.

Sounds a lot like life.

When the room gets ‘tight,’ and the song gels, then everyone relaxes and has fun. The song takes over, and the musical ‘moment’ happens. Some of us experience it more profoundly than others. Those ‘moments’ are like precious gems – the best high a musician’s brain can possibly achieve.

Playing live music as a group focuses the mind in a manner similar to meditation. We block out everything but the song, for three-and-change at a time. We can learn to fall into something other than ourselves repeatedly and regularly. Playing regularly in a mindful, supportive manner focuses the mind, eases stress, and practices the skill of identifying with needs greater than our own. The community jam naturally builds connections between the individuals, and incredibly strong bonds form within these groups.

It becomes a lifestyle. One which we wouldn’t want to do without, and one which we can’t imagine other musicians doing without. We begin to realize that there are musicians out there who don’t get to exercise their music anymore and don’t get to connect. Musicians who have disabilities, or who are infirm, elderly, homeless, impoverished, or cut off from the world.

Our community jams contain musicians of every stripe, trying to connect and make a song happen. We have members who have incredible impediments to their music, which they all strive to overcome in order to join in. Our friends include musicians who overcome strokes, paralysis, blindness, deafness, and a host of social, communication, or cognitive issues. Whatever contribution they make to the song is welcome.

It’s not about being the best musicians. It is about being better humans.

Some of us reach out to the community at large, finding ways to connect to other musicians. Members of our group have run interactive jams for the sick, the elderly, at-risk youth, the homeless, and the dying. Others have reached out by going out and sharing the music they’ve found with local Alzheimer’s sufferers, the elderly, and the infirm, and getting others to join in.  

People grow in ways they never believed possible, all through the small seeds planted in our studios. 

And we’ve got a cool app that helps every jam run smooth and sweet. Stayed tuned for details on that!

– Rob “Bodhi” Wolff, Music Director

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