I see live music as having intertwining yet distinct facets:  Music as Performance, Music as Personal Expression, and Music as Communication, and Music as Community. People who are drawn to open musical spaces are often pursuing one of these experiences. These are not categories that are meant to divide or discriminate – one event or piece of music could be one or all of these.  It is a wonderful musical phenomenon to achieve them all.

Music as performance

If it takes 10,000 hours to master a given skill, then the performer demonstrates this mastery.  The technical proficiency and confidence are something to admire and appreciate – a result of talent and dedication to their art.  We’ve experienced it: the orchestra that sounds like one living entity, the unbelievable guitar solo, the perfect vocal harmonies – these performers keep you in their thrall until the last note.  This is the artist, the person as fluent in the language of music as the poet is with words.  Musicians often use an open stage opportunity to test their mettle as a performer.  Given the diversity represented at these events, listeners never know when they might be treated to a musical gem.

Music as personal expression

From a simple song to a complex orchestral composition, music has long been used to convey emotion, tell stories, capture historical events and cultural imperatives.  The urge to express heartache or joy finds its way again and again into song – think of blues or gospel.

Personally, I have found song writing to be a cathartic experience.  An idea or event that has me preoccupied will find its way into a song.  For a while I feel the need to sing it a lot, giving it life, venting the emotion.  After a while it loses its “heat” – I still love the melody, the words still resonate with me but I don’t have to relive the passion that gave rise to the song everyone time I sing it (so I can sing it without crying!).

One of the beautiful things about live music events that feature original songwriting is how personal each song is.  Each person has a story to tell and the lyrics might make us cry or chuckle or give us pause to think but they all add a dimension to the tapestry that describes our lives.

Music as communication

Watching the communication between musicians is one of the pleasures of live music.  Playing together requires listening while performing, a simultaneous give and take, merge and contrast, harmony and counterpoint – a real life example of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.

And of course there is the communication with an audience.  If this was a dispensable part of the process we’d just stay home and play music in the living room.  For some, it’s the challenge of really nailing a song at one go, or the boost we get from our listeners’ appreciation and feedback.  Or it can be a way to share our ideas (political, ideological songs) or enthusiasm for a certain artist (favourite covers).

Music as community

Music builds community in the very basic way of people coming together to share a common interest.  People who play music together form a sort of micro-culture where boundaries are set and rules are accepted: acoustic or amplified, how long each person can play, what kind of music is played, whether encouragement or honest feedback is expected.  Open musical spaces are unique communities where anyone is welcome to play regardless of background.  They provide a place to transcend our day-to-day routines, a place to support each others’ creative endeavours, a place to find and nurture friendship.

If you visit enough open music sessions (open stage or song circle or jam) you will likely experience many facets of music: the magical performance, the window into someone’s personal experience, the exchange of ideas, and the feeling of community that comes from a shared music experience.