The Mountain Jam…

The fellow in the photograph above is Mr. Colyn Fischer.  He is the two-time National Scottish Fiddle Champion.  For those of you who have had the privilege of hearing him play, you know why.

(You can check out some of his music here:

Colyn is a troubadour.  His art is exquisite because his love and passion for his heritage run deep.  If you sit down to share a bottle of single-malt whiskey with this Scotsman, you best be sure you are following protocol- else he will most certainly give you an earful.  Colyn is a gentleman and a scholar.  He is a teacher as well as a student of life.  He is someone I am fortunate to know and to call a friend.

Roughly two years ago, right before I made the decision to further my education and attend the Goddard College of Vermont in pursuit of my Master’s degree, Colyn and I got to talking (just as artsy folk do) about a collaborative project.  Colyn regularly performs with a pianist by the name of Shauna Pickett-Gordon.  Together they have been developing a new set of recordings based on the theme of the four elements.  Of course, this is right up my alley.  I thought I could do some abstract paintings for the liner notes of their new musical venture.  Colyn seemed reasonably interested and so I produced a set of digital color comps to inspire me towards production of the actual paintings.

The project got postponed however, due to… well, life.  Colyn lives in San Francisco and only visits the sylvan mountains of Pennsylvania for a few weeks out of the year.  This summer, fortuitously, our paths crossed for an evening of music and art-making.

I am back in Vermont this week, reflecting and preparing my study plan for my G4 semester.  I decided to take a look back at my ‘study plan as a whole’, as our overall curriculum goals are referred to.  Oddly enough, I had completely forgotten that I’d mentioned doing this project way back in January of 2010 as a possible component of my eventual practicum.  How cool is it that it just so happened to work out that I got around to doing it immediately following my G3 (practicum) semester.  My subconscious, artistic alarm clock must have been set to go off just in time.  Don’t you just love how magical life can be some times and how it makes a point of nudging you and whispering in your ear so that you take notice of such serendipitous occurrences?

Here are a pair of photos that feature my friends Dan Kunkle (bass) and my brother from another mother; Joshua Carns (lead guitar).  Behind Josh you can almost make out Matt Gretz on the drums.

The jam session took place at Michelle Lenhart’s house, out in ‘the cut’, as we yokels call it.  Michelle also took all of these great pictures I am posting throughout this blog entry.  You can check out her website at:  I am so fortunate to have so many amazingly talented and artistic friends!


The evening began as a rather disorganized quartet of musicians just trying to feel one another out and decide what exactly they were going to do with an entire night of artistic freedom amid the moist, mountain air and the glinting of fire flies.  As soon as I sat down on the wooden planks of the porch and began squeezing big globs of acrylic into my palette pans, the music seemed to take shape.  Maybe it was because I was focusing and putting myself in the proverbial ‘zone’, or perhaps there really was some kind of energy exchange that began right then and there between the musicians and myself… who knows?

                                                                                                                                                                                         To the left is JC.  He’s cheesing it up for the camera… what a ham!

To the right we have Colyn, Dan and JC having a conversation comprised solely of musical improvisation.

The language that exists between like-minded artists transcends the spoken word.  It conveys complete thoughts and emotional depth that cannot be related through our limited verbal pontifications.

Capturing a mood or tone with a photograph is an art form all its own.  What was initially a dual collaboration became a triad when Michelle began soaking the moment into her camera lens.  This picture of Dan is one of my favorites.  I can still hear and feel his bass bouncing, bobbing and humming away, blitzing me with it’s rhythmic thunder.  Although, that might be because I was sitting right next to his amp the whole time I was painting.

I am so glad Michelle was inspired to document the evening.  Look at what we now have to look back on.  I can see the intense concentration and affection Josh exudes when he plays in this quintessential image.  His guitar is his heart’s voice and it sings with purity.  His expressive quality is fleeting, like a moment of impending joy suddenly washed away in a tide of raucous noise and then swept back into your ears by a dulcet lullaby.  You never can tell just where JC is while he is playing.  His body is here, on Earth, but his soul might just be blasting through the cosmos, flying perpendicular (inside joke).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        As the night progressed, there were definite shifts in interest, mood and conveyance.

At times I felt that I was painting alone and at other times each musician was painting with me.

There were moments of discord and harmony, times when everything seemed to gel and other times when it all seemed very disconnected, as is the case with any lengthy conversation among friends.  It was unpredictable, and it was beautiful.

As each painting was completed, the previous jam session was dubbed.  We started with a ‘Fire Jam’, then moved into and ‘Earth Jam’.  After a brief intermission we proceeded into the ‘Air Jam’, which to me seemed the most insubstantial and confusing.  Then i realized that we very well may have been tapping into the essential ideas behind each symbolic element.  Fire was a starting point and everyone threw themselves into the fray with reckless abandon.  Each expressed themselves in their own unique way.  Then, when Earth became the new mode of thinking, we all seemed to take our time, slowly building and defining the intricacies of what was being shaped by our cooperative efforts.  There was a genuine respect and well-mannered exchange of ideas that you could sense as the foundations were constructed, layers were added and branching, conical spires stretched upwards towards the star-speckled sky.

Once we climbed all the way up there… it’s like we didn’t really know what to do.  So we all just kinda did our own thing.  It was strange, and yet it made a lot of sense.  Afterwards, Josh said that the ‘Air Jam’ was his favorite.  I think the ‘Fire Jam’ was Colyn’s.

We took another break, a longer one this time.  We could sense that the evening was coming to a close.  It was time for the ‘Water Jam’, or ‘Aqua-Jam’, whichever you prefer.  It was during the final jam of the evening that I finally felt the music take hold of me and really move my hand.  There was a moment of pure bliss, a sensation that cannot be described by any one artist’s musings because it is exclusively a shared experience.  It is something that can only happen when several individuals all come into genuine accord and begin to ride on the same wavelength.  There is a pulsating power that starts to guide you and the world drops away as time ceases to exist.  It is in those absolute moments, those pure, indescribable moments, when you see each others’ essential beings come forth.

Plato believed that in order to become one with the universe and rejoin with the essence of God, we had to first be purified through a filtration process that included all of the prime elements.  Perhaps, in a way, that is what we were doing all along. Maybe, just maybe, for a fraction of a nanosecond, we were all vibrating at precisely the same frequency.  As time ceased to be, our spirits, bodies, minds and hearts came together and coalesced and I think we were all aware of it.

The jam session ended.  The cognitive and meditative project was complete. Once Michelle has a chance to photograph the paintings themselves I will post them here.  In the meantime, consider this: If individuals of different practices can commune in an unequivocal way such as this- simply by doing what they most love to do, does that not go a long way in proving the importance and validity of interdisciplinary art as a form of bridge-building and interstitial communication?  Does it not perhaps suggest that art is something that, despite all of its esoteric and idiosyncratic mysteries, might be a key to unlocking the true nature and meaning of our existence?

What a profoundly sublime experience.  I am grateful to have been a part of it.


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