A familiar music project has returned to Westman after a two-year hiatus, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Westman Jams had its first session since 2020 last Sunday, welcoming a dozen musicians from across the province for a typical three-hour sitting at the Spruce Woods Community Club, where everything from old country to folk music was played in front of the modest, yet receptive crowd.
The group, created in 2003, met sparsely over the pandemic, and only had a few members join in on the virtual session.
“We were absolutely shutdown. It was heartbreaking,” said Amy McAlpine, recording secretary for Westman Jams.
“It was definitely nothing like live.”
The project saw a shift in power before returning to full operation, as membership voted for the first-ever all-women’s executive board.
“It’s exciting,” McAlpine, voted in March, said. “I think the new president [Cori Bolt] has some cool ideas to bring us up to the times.
“I’m looking forward to the next two years. I think we’re going to go really far.”
The women-led project is planning to try nailing down firm numbers on its membership and reach its jam sessions to nearby areas.
McAlpine said her records show 300 members are currently a part of Westman Jams, but that number has fluctuated over the years, due to the project’s come-and-go policy.
The group wants to run one session per month at the Royal Canadian Legion in Brandon, where the group has seen great turnouts in the past. It also plans to host a fundraiser at Crow’s General Store this summer.
While some changes are on the horizon, McAlpine said the project is dedicated to its cause, the International Music Camp Summer School of Fine Arts.
The summer initiative, founded in 1956, welcomes students of all ages to the International Peace Gardens from June to August to develop their skills in music, theatre and visual and creative arts.
Westman Jams donated $3,000 to the program in 2019 for students enrolling in the music camp.
“It certainly helps the children who are talented but may not have enough money to go to the camp,” said Jan Ashton, vice-president of Westman Jams.
Students typically pay their thanks to the group by returning at the end of the summer to join in on a jam session, Ashton said.
Fundraising efforts follow a vision set out by Reg Jones, founder of Westman Jams.
Jones passed away in 2013.
“We want to carry on his legacy,” McAlpine said.
Each jam session garners about 20 musicians, who sit in a semi-circle and start the meeting by playing the group’s theme song “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by Johnny Cash & Family, as an ode to their founder.
“That was what Reg wanted,” Ashton said. “A place where people could come in and sing. You’re just everyday people who love music.”
Each person who shows up to the jam session is allowed to play two songs of their choice, regardless of the genre.
“It doesn’t matter if you play an instrument or not, you still get a chance to sing,” Ashton said.
The group welcomes musicians of all skill levels and the session is free to attend.
“This is not a professional group,” McAlpine said. “Anyone who loves music is welcome to attend.”
Westman Jams sessions are the last Sunday of every month at Spruce Woods Community Club from 2 to 5 p.m.
Joshua Frey-Sam, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun