Georgetown jams: How GU Jam Sesh is building a community for Georgetown’s burgeoning music scene

October 24, 2013

Standing in a living room full of people eager for the start of tonight’s performances, Zoe Rosen (COL ‘16) readies herself to sing at last Friday’s GU Jam Sesh event, “Folking Around.” People completely fill the off-campus house’s small living room and its attached kitchen. Some are even sitting on the stairs, just to catch a glimpse of the show.

The sounds of a guitar tuning and of friends offering cheers of support make for an energetic atmosphere. Then the lights start to dim and the room becomes silent. Zoe gives one final look at the crowd, takes a deep breath, then begins her first song.

// How it all began // 

“Folking Around” was the second concert organized by GU Jam Sesh, a newly-formed independent student group dedicated to creating a community for musicians at Georgetown.

In the summer of 2013, the group was nothing more than the idea of GU Jam Sesh’s co-presidents, Gianfranco Nuschese (COL ‘14) and Tyler Pierce (COL ‘15), to bring more attention to Georgetown’s band scene. (Full disclosure: Tyler Pierce is the Voice’s puzzles editor.)

“I went up to Tyler Pierce in Gelardin, where I work, and we just started talking about how bad the music scene was here at Georgetown, not because of bad musicians but because there is no place for us to play and no one really knows about us,” Nuschese said. “Even when I [tell] people that I’m a music major, they didn’t even know we had a music major here at Georgetown.”

Nuschese and Pierce began working on the structure of GU Jam Sesh this past summer. In talking to like-minded students, they eventually found Sacha Millet (COL ‘15) and Mary Ellen Funke (SFS ‘15), the group’s other two co-presidents.

“I was really involved with Guild of Bands and in an active student band, which is how I ended up meeting everyone and when they started talking about starting an organization like this, I immediately jumped on board,” Funke wrote in an email to the Voice. “With Guild of Bands being the only outlet to get on-campus gigs, I think that we all saw a need to expand upon the potential that we saw with some of the student bands.”

Guild of Bands, a one-credit Music course taught by adjunct professor Joseph McCarthy, teaches students how to prepare a concert and perform music. Though the class provides students with practice space and equipment as well as an opportunity to perform at an end-of-semester concert, only students in the class can benefit from these perks.

“The thing about Guild of Bands is that, because it’s a class, it needs a structure to function, but Jam Sesh can really reach out to those other students who want to be involved in music at Georgetown,” McCarthy said. “I think what Franco is doing with Jam Sesh is a great thing.”

// Finding Community //

Given the tight-knit nature of Georgetown’s band scene, finding performers to play at GU Jam Sesh shows has proven easy for the group. GU Jam Sesh reaches out to musicians they would like to feature in their shows, but other students who just want an opportunity to perform have also approached them.

“At the beginning of the semester, I told Jam Sesh that I am interested in performing and the style of music I play,” Rosen wrote in an email to the Voice. “Since I am a singer-songwriter, they asked me to perform last weekend at a more acoustic event.”

Co-presidents Nuschese, the drummer of Dagos; Funke, lead singer of Mellen; and Pierce and Millet, lead singer and lead guitarist of The Ripples, respectively, have also performed with their bands at these events.

Eman Abid (COL ‘16), a blog writer for GU Jam Sesh’s website, is excited to integrate the new group into the University’s music scene. “We’re going to have more events and more people. Solidifying the community and allowing the bands to collaborate more is what the future entails.”

Musicians who have performed at GU Jam Sesh events recognize the gap that the group has filled in regards to providing opportunities for students to showcase their talents.

“This is a really good basis for us to practice and know how it is like performing in front of an audience,” said Juan Luis Tirado Anduze (COL ‘16), who also played at “Folking Around.” According to Tirado Anduze, GU Jam Sesh is doing an important service by providing small gig opportunities that would be difficult to find elsewhere in the city, especially for fledgling student bands.

Teddy Schaffer (COL ‘16), another musician featured in “Folking Around,” echoes Tirado Anduze’s sentiments. (Full disclosure: Schaffer is a designer for the Voice.) “I organize the open mic nights at UG and, beyond that, there aren’t many opportunities for that kind of expression at Georgetown. Jam Sesh is doing a really good job taking the initiative on this.”

However, these opportunities come at a cost. For the services provided by GU Jam Sesh, each band must pay dues of $50 each semester. This membership fee covers performance venues, a website that features the bands, and publicity.

“We’re trying to have … common money to buy moving equipment because at this point [lack of moving equipment] is the biggest hassle, so if we could have a GU Jam Sesh equipment fund that would be fantastic,” Millet said. GU Jam Sesh has to be creative in transporting amps, keyboards, microphones, wires, and other equipment from venue to venue.

Before GU Jam Sesh, finding equipment was one of the greatest obstacles faced by Georgetown’s aspiring student musicians. According to Pierce, bands would have to be lucky enough to know someone who had the equipment they needed. Now, GU Jam Sesh bands pool resources and share equipment.

Students involved with GU Jam Sesh consider this collaboration invaluable. The community the group is creating among musicians brings together the pieces of Georgetown’s scattered music scene. The founders of GU Jam Sesh believe their efforts will open this scene to different genres of music.

“One of the reasons a capella groups do so well is because they’re low budget. All you need is a room and people,” Pierce said. “It takes more [resources] to have a band, but it’s not impossible and I think people are open to the idea of bands playing shows.”

Although Hoyas are involved in numerous bands and musical ventures across the Hilltop, many musicians say that students weren’t aware of Georgetown’s music culture before the creation of GU Jam Sesh. But, according to Funke, the collective is changing all that.

“The band scene is becoming more well known and is getting more press than ever before,” Funke wrote. “So the music scene is going from being an underground subculture to something that everyone at Georgetown can actively participate in and celebrate.”

Musicians who perform at Jam Sesh believe the shows give them an avenue to express their creativity unavailable elsewhere at Georgetown. “Music has something from poetry and something from instrumental music, and I can write a song that has a specific meaning,” Tirado Anduze said. “Jam Sesh gives me that opportunity to express myself.”

// Dealing with neighbors //

Although GU Jam Sesh has both the following and the membership it needs to be a unifying musical force on the Hilltop, finding a venue for larger, louder shows has been difficult because of the new noise violation rules in the Code of Student Conduct. S

ince the beginning of the fall semester the University has instituted a new policy restricting noise to one’s property line at any time of day. “The neighbors have all the power. They can abuse that power extremely easily,” Millet said.

Millet hosted GU Jam Sesh’s first concert on Sept. 9 at his house in Burleith. Recognizing that the show could disturb some neighbors, Millet preemptively informed them of his plans to host the show by knocking on doors and leaving flyers in mail slots.

In a letter Millet wrote to Adam Fountaine, associate director of GU’s Office of Student Conduct, Millet revealed that many of his neighbors appreciated being informed about the show ahead of time. Despite the goodwill demonstrated toward Millet before the concert, a neighbor’s complaint during the show, scheduled from 8:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., resulted in a noise violation imposed by the University. Millet was fined $50 and required to work five sanction hours.

D.C. metropolitan police did not penalize Millet because he was not in violation of the D.C. Noise at Night Law, which makes it illegal for people to make noise “likely to annoy or disturb one or more other persons in their residences” between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“The cops came knocking on the door half an hour before the show ended,” Millet said. “They could not do anything legally. They just asked us to shorten it. We were already planning on ending before ten, so we shortened it by half an hour.”

Millet recognizes that the noise could disturb some neighbors, but he lacks a means of communicating with them to address their concerns. “I understand that people don’t want noise at any time without knowing, but if we could decide on the precise date with the neighbors, and all agree, it’s fine,” Millet said. “But we have … no way to contact the neighbors. Neighbors are complaining because we disregard their lives but we have no way of having a dialogue with them.”

The University, however, believes the Georgetown University Compliance Helpline, a tool for students and non-students to report possible violations of University policy, is the best way to deal with altercations with the neighbors.

“We believe the Helpline is the most effective way to address any concerns in the neighborhood and resolve issues before they escalate,” said Rachel Pugh, Georgetown’s director of media relations. “We have received an increased number of calls to the University Helpline this year, from both students and non-students, and we expected this.”

Nevertheless, because of the strictly-enforced standards for noise violations, GU Jam Sesh is struggling to find off-campus venues for louder shows. According to Nuschese, the recent change in the Code of Student Conduct regarding noise violations hurts the group’s ability to realize its potential.

Jam Sesh is also not an officially recognized student group with access to benefits, including on-campus spaces. It is limited to off-campus venues.

“The downside of not being [a University sponsored organization] is that we cannot have access to the venue, and if we do it’s very expensive,” Millet said. “The good thing is we can work with WGTB, who are very supportive of Jam Sesh.”

Allie Prescott (COL ‘14), general manager of WGTB, has been behind the new group since GU Jam Sesh’s inception. She and other members of the student radio station see the group’s goal, to bring attention to the vibrant music scene at Georgetown, as consistent with their mission as a radio station.

“We have about 2,500 built-in connections through social media, and a much higher weekly reach through our website,” Prescott wrote in an email to the Voice. “We try to use those numbers to help Jam Sesh artists in any way we can. Our biggest promo push was for Mellen in August—we released her EP via our website, and it got picked up by mtvU and a number of music blogs.”

Though WGTB’s media resources are helpful in spreading the gospel of GU Jam Sesh, until the independent student group can find a way to host louder shows without the threat of noise violations, hosting quieter, more low-key shows such as “Folking Around” will be the norm for the group.

// Future of Jam Sesh //

Recognition as an official university group could bring additional space and financial support to the group, but many of its leaders are wary of being institutionalized.

“Being involved in Georgetown means adding two or three middlemen to the bureaucracy,” Pierce said. “We would get funding, but we would be limited in the shows we could do, and we would have to censor things. Band people don’t want that stuff.”

Funke, however, hopes that GU Jam Sesh can find a way to have official University sponsorship while continuing to operate independently.

According to Nuschese, the group has also explored the possibility of collaborating with GU’s Department of Music. “I would love to work with the music department,” he said. “They are sort of intrigued, and they’ve asked me about it. I’m hoping to get their help.”

For now, the four co-presidents are at the group’s core, dedicating much of their time to the development of GU Jam Sesh, but they acknowledge the group’s potential to grow. Pierce believes creating a separate board to deal with logistics and financial matters would expand the group’s capacity to showcase more bands and sponsor more shows.

“I think that the potential for Jam Sesh is extraordinary,” Pierce said. Though the group is only in its nascent stages, the proud co-founder already sees the impact it is having on Georgetown’s music culture: “Once it was there, everyone realized they were missing it.”

Zoe exhales her final note for the night, and her face breaks into a smile as her friends rush to the front of the room to congratulate her while new fans shout words of encouragement and praise. The rest of the audience is expectant, chattering excitedly in anticipation of the next act.

Inspired by Zoe’s delivery, Teddy Schaffer rises from his seat on the ground and takes a seat in front of the mic. The audience quiets down, and people make room for those just arriving. Teddy takes in the crowd, already primed for his performance, calmly tunes his guitar, and adjusts the mic. He’s ready for his time in the spotlight. The lights dim, and after a deep breath, Teddy begins to play.


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