WESTFIELD-Larry O’Brien has been making music – with friends – since his college days in the 1960’s.
O’Brien shared a fond memory recently that cemented his love for the acoustic guitar that has remained a passion of his for more than 50 years.
As O’Brien and his college friends were walking around the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, they came upon Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
“We all ended up playing together with Dylan and Baez that afternoon,” said O’Brien.
While O’Brien and his college friends always jammed “informally,” over the years he has made great strides in fine-tuning his musical skills with the assistance of tutorials on the Internet. He has also recorded CD’s featuring Christmas instrumental tunes and Johnny Cash songs.
O’Brien is now sharing his passion of “jamming” with others on Wednesdays from 1 – 2 p.m. at the Westfield Senior Center.
“Blues, folk, jazz, any style is welcome,” said O’Brien. “My vision is to bring people together who play the guitar to share their different styles of singing and to exchange ideas.”
O’Brien added that individuals who know basic finger chords would fit in perfectly for the gatherings, however, the jamming sessions are not appropriate for beginners.
“If people want to break into smaller groups who share a similar interest, that also works,” he said. “I do not envision everyone having to do the same thing.”
O’Brien first proposed the idea more than two months ago to Tina Gorman, executive director, and Mary Lou Niedzielski, program director, both with the Westfield Council on Aging.
“Westfield Senior Center participants are welcome to discuss program or activity ideas with Mary Lou or me,” said Gorman, adding they both consider a variety of factors before implementing a new program. Factors can run the gamut from room availability to start-up costs.
“Older adults bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to senior center programs and activities,” said Gorman. “Sharing their interests and in some cases, their expertise, is beneficial to everyone involved.”
Gorman added that the importance of mental stimulation cannot be overemphasized.
“The mental decline that many older adults experience is not the result of the steady death of nerve cells; it is the atrophy of connections between nerve cells in the brain,” said Gorman. “That atrophy is associated with routine behaviors that require little brainpower.”
Gorman noted that learning a new skill or forming new friendships are ways to keep the brain active and stimulated.
Attending the initial jamming session on July 10 included Les Hutton, Dawn Garini, Carole Whitmore, and Carlo Cressotti.
“I have some catching up to do,” said Hutton after the hour session, adding, “I’m going to try to fit in.”
Cressotti shared a similar sentiment.
“I enjoy making music with others,” said Cressotti, adding he expects to be a regular attendee of the new group.
“Playing the guitar is a good escape for me,” said Whitmore, adding, “it’s a fun hobby.”
Garini noted she had started a similar program for guitarists more than two years ago, however, those participants were beginners and the sessions turned into lessons in her home.
“I expect to participate regularly with this group,” said Garini.
For O’Brien, a retired Agawam High School teacher, he is hopeful more people will want to jam with others in a weekly welcoming environment.
“Ultimately, the jam sessions are to share, learn and exchange ideas,” he said.
Any older adult is welcome to participate in the jam sessions, according to Gorman.
“If the person likes the group and plans to participate often, then we would like him or her to become a senior center member,” said Gorman, adding, “membership is free.”