Every third Friday, Lyman House comes alive with the sound of music. Specifically, bluegrass music.
This monthly bluegrass jam is the product of a partnership between Lyman Resident Director Louise Fix '14 and Kate Hockersmith from The Mythical / Movable Blue Mountain Bluegrass Jam.
According to Fix, she had heard about semi-regular acoustic jam sessions or "hootenannies" at the home of Physics Professor Emeritus Craig Gunsul. She was never able to attend as a student, so when she came back as a resident director she decided to check to see if it was still happening. Gunsul connected her with Hockersmith. Lyman hosted its first jam in December, and will continue until the end of the academic year.
"The way that the jam works is that we go around in a circle and when it's your turn, you suggest a song and then lead everyone in that song," Fix said. "This gives Whitman students and members of the community the opportunity to share songs. There are some very talented musicians who can pick up the chords to just about any song!"
The Mythical / Movable Blue Mountain Bluegrass Jam started in Waitsburg, Washington in 2007 as an outlet for the Waitsburg high school group Blue Mountain Troublemakers to play after school let out. It has grown and now travels around Walla Walla County welcoming one and all to pick up an instrument and join in.
"I have enjoyed getting to know folks in the Walla Walla community that I otherwise wouldn't have necessarily met," Fix said.
During the last jam session, she met an older couple that travels from Prescott, Washington with their son and granddaughter to be at every jam session: three generations of bluegrass musicians who all want to jam together. They learned old bluegrass tunes gathered around the old radio every night after work and then passed those songs down from generation to generation.
"I also grew up listening to and playing bluegrass and folk music," Fix said. "Some of the songs that we play during the jam are songs that I haven't heard since I was little, but I'm amazed at how I find myself singing along even though I thought I had forgotten all the words. I also like watching students, who think they are ‘only there to listen,' but then recognize songs and find themselves singing along."
Fix and Hockersmith estimate that up to 20 Whitman students will sit in on the jam at a time, but more cycle in and out to listen or participate.
"We love playing with Whitman students," Hockersmith said. "The college students that we have played with are amazing musicians and they choose interesting and fun music to play. We totally enjoy the energy and amazing talent the Lyman House students have brought to the bluegrass jams and will miss being on campus this summer."
Currently, weekly jams occur at the following places:
- First Friday - Open Studio, Corner of Preston and Main Street, Waitsburg
- Second Friday - Dickey's BBQ, Wilbur Avenue, Walla Walla
- Third Friday - Lyman House, Whitman Campus, Walla Walla
- Fourth Friday - 1st Christian Church on Third Street, Dayton
"‘Community' is not just a place with people in it," said Hockersmith. "It's people who interact with each other in the place that they live. In this age, when we really don't have to interact with anyone, jamming provides an excuse to get together in person, share ideas, laugh, make mistakes in a non-judgmental space and learn some new tunes."
She said she hopes that the campus bluegrass jams encourage more student musicians to explore traditional folk music.
"Bluegrass and Americana music is an important part of our national heritage, and if young people don't play it, it will eventually fade away. The bluegrass and acoustic jams are the traditional way that this music was spread and enjoyed. Always free, always unique—because we never know who will show up!—and the performances are a great way to bring the generations together."