Band Buddies: Music Meets Mitzvah

Steven Patton graduated from Drake University with a music business degree because, he says, it was safer than a performance degree. “You have the business minor to fall back on.” Be that as it may, there he was, 22 years old and in a band called “Andrew’s Ave.” (short for avenue) with three of his college buddies. So – business, schmizness. They moved in together, practiced a lot and played every gig they could get from their home base in Omaha. They decided to move four years ago because they had actually done every reasonably sized venue in Nebraska. And Iowa. “We hit the road,” he remembers. “We set up a tour across the country to find a new place to live.” When they got back to Omaha, it was a tie between Portland and Austin, TX. With only a week left on their lease, Steven might have used the business skills he gained at college to analyze the situation and make a measured decision.

Instead, they rolled the dice. Portland won in more ways than they could have anticipated.

At first they were a real-life sitcom, with the four of them living in a tiny three-bedroom apartment, working at various part-time jobs and knocking on doors to line up gigs for the band. Steven was a bike delivery guy. Aaron delivered pizza. Adam was a teller. Jason was a landscaper. But Portland funk-rock lovers quickly discovered what a swath of the Midwest already knew: Andrews Ave. had four amazing musicians who made great music together. First it was a regular Wednesday night gig at Mt. Tabor Theater on Hawthorne. Then the theater owner helped them find other work. It wasn’t too long before the band got busy. They even cut an album called “The Yellow Line.”

But, as happens in every long-running show, eventually it became time to make a change. Today they have chosen to do one show every three months but at a larger venue. They spend their practice time developing new material. And they have real jobs. Steven got a job as the assistant patron services manager at the Broadway Rose Theater, making sure customers are pleased with their theater experience. He also has a part-time job as an instructor at PDX VOX, a local nonaudition a cappella performance class. Steven teaches Monday nights. Andrews Ave. bandmate Aaron Elliott teaches Tuesday nights.

“I love everything about it,” Steven says. “Sometimes when you teach music, the people aren’t there because they want to be. At VOX everyone wants to have fun, but they also want to learn and improve their skills. I go there, tired from work, maybe not up for teaching, but I leave in about as good a mood as I could possibly be.”

Another exciting change is also in the works for Steven. This fall he returns to school full time to pursue a degree in Music Therapy. (VOX students: don’t worry. He will still be there Monday nights.) For Steven, it is a natural progression.

Steven has always wanted to find a way to help people. “This was important in my house growing up, where we volunteered at a shelter as a family and were taught that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.” At their Reform congregation, it was common for people to bring non-Jews to services. “We were encouraged to explore other cultures, traditions and faiths.”

As he grew up, he knew he wanted to do something in music because it was his strongest natural skill, but he wasn’t sure what profession would feel, as he puts it, “important enough to do every day for the rest of my life. So to find a field where I can use my best skill, music, to help people feels perfect to me.” Steven will teach a pilot class this fall that straddles Andrews Ave., PDX VOX and music therapy: Band Buddies. To do it, he is teaming up with PDX VOX Director Marie Schumacher. Marie has seen plenty of evidence that music can have all kinds of benefits in addition to making people better singers. “People often say: VOX got me through a tough time. I knew that no matter what I was going through, though, I could show up at rehearsal every week and sing with my friends. It allowed me to forget my problems and immerse myself in the music.”

“Steven and I are on the same wave length,” Marie says. “We love music because it gives us so much joy, and we are eager to share that joy with as many different people as possible. Steven is particularly involved in making music accessible and in using music for healing.”

In the Band Buddies pilot program, 8-12 students will meet once a week for four weeks to make music together. They will use real band instruments (from the famous Andrews Ave. band!). Students can sing, play guitar, rock the percussion or just be part of the fun. Half the students will be adults with disabilities; the other half will not, and they will serve as what he calls “student helpers.” Steven believes they will all learn and grow from the shared experience. If it is successful, he and Marie plan to expand each session from one month to three.

“I went to West Hills Music Therapy a few years ago, and music therapist Angie Kopshy let me sit in on her group class for children with autism. I was blown away by the skills music can help enhance: impulse control, starting and stopping of rhythms, doing things in a group rather than on your own and sharing an instrument for starters. I found it to be inspiring.”

Angela Jarvis-Holland, executive director of the Northwest Down Syndrome Association, agrees. She believes in a more inclusive civil society and making music more accessible in set- tings supportive of diversity. “I am looking for the day when it’s not a big deal for people with disabilities to be a part of all that other people are a part of.” Band Buddies looks like a great big step in this direction.

Francis Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy tossed a coin in 1845 to decide what to name Portland. It turned out great. The Andrews Ave. musicians rolled the dice to decide whether to go to Portland or Austin. Lots of Portlanders are benefitting from that roll.

Portland seems to be a very lucky town.

For more information: Band Buddies: Andrews Ave.: (You can buy or listen to the CD.) PDX VOX:

Liz Rabiner Lippoff is a medical marketing consultant, freelance writer and community volunteer. She also sings soprano with her awesome friends at PDX VOX.

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