Ferndale’s Musical Families Make Neighborhood Memories – at a Distance

Ferndale’s Musical Families Make Neighborhood Memories – at a Distance

(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 8, 2020)

Ferndale, MI – There are people who live for the sound of guitar strings strummed to make a tune, and for the way those sounds mix with the music of others, to create songs that no one person could make alone.

Yet in this time of social distancing and isolation, musicians are finding new ways to connect.  From online videos to front porch concerts, creatives are continuing to share.

For Ferndale Schools Music Director Elon Jamison, being without the booming beauty of the school’s band shaking the walls with musical passion and ever-improving precision, had been hard.

“I’m doing my best to share beautiful music with my students via Google Classroom and email. We’re doing a few ‘assignments’ here and there, but trying to keep it light, and worrying more about keeping connected to our classes than trying to really focus on the music,” Jamison said.  “Sadly while things like Zoom are pretty good for remote group conversation, they don’t work for actually playing together remotely because of the time lag involved. There are a couple online things that allow you to collaborate such that each member of a group can add their own track to create an ensemble performance, but they’re tough to put together.”

Some thoughtful neighbors – the Brisson’s – came up with a plan to connect, and brighten the day of others who are staying safe, though sometimes lonely, in their homes.

“We reached out to the neighbors because we know they all have a love of music as a life support at a time we need support,” said Katie Brisson who also has a musical family, “They have lived near us for a long time, and while we don’t all talk regularly, we know this is Ferndale and neighbors are there when you need them!”

So they orchestrated a little concert, with members of each family gathering at the ends of their driveways in order to keep safe distance from the rapidly spreading coronavirus.  Ninth grader Jim chipped in with his baritone and cajone.  Seventh grader Ruth added the sax and oboe.  Elon’s instrument of choice has been the bodhran, an Irish frame drum, pairing well with his wife Stacey’s Irish whistle. Neighbor Jerry Price, who had three sons learn music from Elon, joined in with his mandolin. And Katie’s husband Gerry’s guitar tied everything together. The concert has become a weekly tradition, and sometimes others join in.

“Neighbors are your family too. So, you should spend as much time with them as you can despite social distancing,” said 13-year-old Ruth.

With her whistling and the other music spreading through the street, Stacey is happy.  “For me, I love being able to use the gifts I have to give back to my community. We’re all trying to navigate through this together and figure out in what ways we can contribute. I’m normally gigging frequently and all of my jobs have been either cancelled or put on hold. It’s so nice to have an opportunity to make music with others when that has largely been diminished. We are all lucky on our little section of West Lewiston to have a group of us that make music. Music heals and binds. That’s the gift we’re giving and receiving with the ability to do this,” she said.

“I’ve been privileged to play across the street with Ruth some duets on oboe and saxophone as well.”

The jam sessions are fun and informal. There’s plenty of Irish music because it’s easy for people to join in, though the Jamisons are classically trained, and Price is a folk and roots artist who not only plays, but is a songwriter.

Though the kids and neighbors are happy with the upbeat Irish tunes.

“It’s good to do something together that everyone enjoys,” said 14-year-old Jim.

The musicians on West Lewiston plan to keep the concerts going through the “stay home, stay safe” order, getting together from a safe distance once a week to jam.

Members of the public are encouraged to get outside and enjoy fresh air and social distancing while talking with (or jamming with) neighbors.

Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

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