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Jam session offers chance to explore musical talents at Sewickley library

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Quaker Valley junior Jillian Gittins, at left, and Caroline Poeggel, an eighth-grader, work on a violin performance during a jam session for teens at the Sewickley Public Library in February. Submitted
Making music during a jam session for teens at the Sewickley Public Library are, from left, Casey Heckman, Christopher Gittins and Maddie Durbin. Submitted

“Shh” isn't the only sound teens are hearing at Sewickley Public Library lately.

Instead, they've been encouraged to make some noise with their friends during the once-a-month jam sessions open to sixth- through 12th-graders.

Teen librarian Emily Fear said the number of teens attending the sessions slowly has been growing as the young musicians pass along the word to others.

The next jam session will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The idea came about after Fear noticed a large number of students coming into the library with instruments.

“Every teen I met seemed to have immense musical interest and talent,” she said.

Some had been playing their instruments in the teen department, which upset some adult patrons, so they have moved to the upstairs community room one Sunday a month, when few people are working in the upstairs offices.

Although the new location reduces the disturbance, the music still can be heard, but, Fear said, that's OK.

“Not every moment of every day at the library has to be in austere quiet. There's something to be said for having that music in the background, having that audible evidence of community and creation present in the library. It transforms the library beyond its traditional role of information center into a true community center.”

Fear said the idea for the jam session was generated from the teens.

“So many of them know each other, but have not gotten a chance to play together due to differing musical training or ages,” she said.

Since the sessions began in January, teens have played everything from an electronic drum kit and keyboard to violins, a cello, saxophones and other instruments. Fear also brought her melodica — similar to a harmonica­ — for students to try.

“I was worried that they might think it was awkward, but whatever awkwardness may have been present at the very beginning soon dissipated. It helps that they're all pretty frequent visitors to the library. They have familiarity with one another that allowed them to collaborate with ease,” Fear said.

Quaker Valley ninth-grader Maddie Durbin, 15, of Sewickley said she likes to go to the jam sessions because it's fun to play music with other people, and it's a good way to get herself to practice.

The daughter of Susan and Liam Durbin, she said most students bring their own music to the jam session. Some will sight-read other students' music and play along or sing along when someone else is playing.

“The atmosphere is really fun and not serious. It's also helpful because other people can help you, and you can learn more about music and other instruments,” said Durbin, who plays the violin, piano, guitar and ukulele as a hobby.

Livvy Sevcik, 14, of Sewickley, also a Quaker Valley ninth-grader, said the jam sessions are a good place to hang out with her friends, make some music and swap sheet music.

“That's what it's really all about: just making music and having a good time doing what we love, and maybe learning a couple things in the process. As an amateur musician, it's sometimes difficult to find people who are willing to play with you or a place to get together in which to play,” said Livvy, who plays the cello, guitar, piano and mandolin and hopes to start the saxophone soon.

The daughter of Lisa and Matthew Sevcik said she likes the jam sessions because she doesn't have to worry about “what people who are really good will think.

“I don't have to worry about how I sound or how much more practice I need,” said Livvy, who likes to sing duets with her friend.

She said if someone would walk into the community room during jam session, it would probably just sound like “a cacophony of noise.

“But to us, it isn't. To us, it's a lot of music all happening at the same time and all running into each other and maybe crashing apart, but that's the beauty of jam session. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters but making music.”

She said music is one of her favorite hobbies. It calms her and helps her focus on her life.

“It's just generally a good thing.”

Christopher Gittins, 12, a sixth-grader at Quaker Valley Middle School, said he would recommend the jam sessions to others because “it is such an awesome place for musicians to meet up, collaborate and even record music.”

Christopher, son of Dan and Karen Gittins of Sewickley, plays the piano and sings.

“I like piano because it is my way of accompanying my voice, which is my strong point, and because it's such a powerful instrument,” he said.

Fear said with as many musically talented teens as there are in the community, there never will be a shortage of potential participants.

For now, the program will continue once a month, but, Fear said, if interest continues to grow, she might consider expanding it.

“Their musical abilities inspired the program to begin with,” she said

“And it will be those abilities that keep it going.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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