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My View: Deep bonds develop while sharing music

By Karl Shallowhorn

We live in a digital age and the way we listen to music has been one of the most widely utilized vehicles for this movement. Being born in the early 1960s, I’ve lived through the transition from analog to digital platforms.

The first LP I owned was the Jackson 5’s Greatest Hits. As I grew older, my musical taste evolved to include such diverse acts as the Canadian power trio Rush, the legendary reggae group Black Uhuru and alternative radio favorites the Pixies.

In my college years, my musical taste was influenced by my friends. I was also a DJ at the Buffalo State radio station, WBNY, and Rude Boys Roots Rock Cafe.

I have fond memories of spending time back then with my friends Dan and Mark, listening to the latest hits from trend-setting musical groups.

But I got older and moved on. Music was still a big part of my life, however, I missed the camaraderie I experienced with my college buddies.

When I got my first “real job” as a counselor at a local addictions clinic, I met Tim. We hit it off immediately, primarily because of our mutual interest in good music. He and I both especially enjoyed the work of jazz great Pat Metheny. I’ve seen Metheny in various iterations about 10 times, and each time it has been with Tim. Tim also has the distinction of having been at Woodstock.

So while we were becoming acquainted, I proposed getting together to simply listen to music and share what we were into. I invited my college friend James to join us. This was around 1994. James was a huge Jimi Hendrix fan and had seen him twice at the Fillmore East. The three of us would assemble every four to six weeks to enjoy whatever we felt the others would appreciate.

I later moved on to work at Buffalo State, where I met the next member of our group, Dave. He was new to the area and had a history of working as a college music promoter. Like the rest of us, his musical interests were wide-ranging. This was reflected by his collection of more than 3,000 albums.

We later invited another friend of mine, John, whom I had met when we both lived at the same apartment complex. Most recently, John invited Pat, whom he had met while searching for used records at a now defunct Buffalo record store, to join our group.

But there is more than just music involved. In the 23 years we’ve been gathering, there have been many major life events. There have been births, deaths, serious illness and job changes. While we’ve each had our own set of life challenges, we have been there for each other. Over time it has evolved into a musical support group. The bonds we’ve developed are deep.

These connections are a testament to the power of mutual support centered around a theme – in this case music.

When my father passed away this past September, we gathered shortly thereafter. I brought the album I played for him as he transitioned, John Coltrane’s “Coltrane Plays the Blues.” We all remarked about what a great record it was and several of the others mentioned that they owned the same album.

In this day and age of streaming music delivered via cellphone and computer, there is a sense of isolation when listening, often with earbuds or headphones. But our group has found a way to commune through a shared experience that you cannot get elsewhere.

As I’ve said many times, “Music is my salvation,” and I’m glad to have others in my life who feel the same way.

Karl Shallowhorn lives in Amherst and is director of Community Advocacy at the Mental Health Association of Erie County and Compeer Buffalo.
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