Students Jam With The Pros At Olmos Pharmacy

Feb 7, 2017

At the renovated Olmos Pharmacy waitresses serve up burgers and shakes, while the crowd settles in for an eclectic mix of live music and a chance for members of the public to play with local pros.

Classical music jams hosted by the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony are a “grassroots version” of a San Antonio Symphony performance, says cellist Ryan Murphy.

“Instead of attracting big donors and putting on big concerts we try more to reach the community on an individual and smaller-scale way," Murphy says.

“We decided we would come up with a small group of musicians and basically invite the public to come out and jam with us,” says San Antonio Symphony violinist and music teacher Aimee Lopez.

There’s no stage here.  A dozen or so musicians gather with music stands in a semi-circle at floor level, in front of the huge west window facing McCullough at Hildebrand. It's not a jam in the sense of being entirely spontaneous. Musicians don’t know in advance which songs are coming their way, but sheet music helps to guide them while playing.

"It's kind of like karaoke," says Ryan Murphy. "You sign up with one of our symphony members who will be moderating everything and making announcements. When your name or group gets called, you go up and play whatever you like."

What kind of songs do the musicians play? Murphy says it runs the gamut, ranging from Scott Joplin rags to Mozart quintets and more.

“It just depends on who's there: trumpet, flute, drums, tambourine,” he says. "We have binders full of different kinds of things. Pop music, classical music, easy listening, jazz."

Many San Antonio Symphony musicians, including Murphy and Aimee Lopez, are also music teachers who invite their students to the Olmos jams.

"We like the opportunity to sort of not have to wear our tuxedos and allow for some risk,” Lopez says. “It's really a fun and relaxed way of making music together."

Josie Liu's daughter Elizabeth takes violin lessons from Lopez. Liu describes how, when musicians at the jam began playing a certain piece, Elizabeth popped up and bolted to the front to watch. She says Elizabeth was focused on the song – “Canon in D” by Pachelbel.

"It just sounds really pretty,” 9-year-old Elizabeth explains. “I have this little tingly feeling that makes me want to play it with the other people."

At Olmos, Elizabeth and two other student violinists join a pianist to play for the crowd.

"I felt a little nervous, but I still wanted to do it,” Elizabeth says. “I thought it was kind of a good opportunity for me to learn how to face my fears and play in front of the public."

Aimee Lopez invites her students to the jam so they can experience something about music that lessons alone might not convey.

"It was an opportunity for them to kind of look into their future, I hope, and to see what the possibilities are,” Lopez says. “There's just nothing like it."