JamKazam: Playing Chamber Music Over the Internet – For Real!

Left to Right: Valerie Matthews, Susan Alexander, Michael Casassa, Mike Garrahan

Is there a big, depressing hole in your life where playing music with other people used to be?  There was in mine, but in April I was fortunate enough to be pointed to JamKazam, and I’m now as busy playing chamber music as I was pre-pandemic. I know, you’re skeptical.  But unlike Zoom and Acapella, JamKazam’s mission in life is to enable musicians at different locations across the Internet to play music together in real time.  Thanks to this platform, I can be teleported from DC to Tennessee to play piano trios Monday morning, and easily be back in time to virtually visit Colorado for Bach arias with a singer and violinist Monday evening.

I’ve greatly enjoyed meeting new people and reading great music with them, but what I love most of all as a chamber musician is plumbing the depths of a piece through regular rehearsal and coaching.  When my regular JamKazam quartet first formed, I wasn’t sure whether this level of seriousness would truly be possible.  Would we actually be able to rehearse?  We were pleasantly surprised to find that, although there was some initial awkwardness about starting and stopping (to conserve bandwidth we work using audio only), and there were many jokes about mind-reading (we sometimes call ourselves the Carnac Quartet), as experienced chamber players, it was really not that hard to adapt our ears and rehearsal techniques to this medium.  Eventually we felt good enough about our process to work towards eventual performance.  We lured a coach to join us– his first time on JamKazam– and had an excellent session.  It was edifying for us, and a game-changer for him: “I never would have thought I would get to coach a live chamber ensemble from my living room, or even just be able to listen to live music-making from there either.  I didn’t realize how much I missed live music making until afterwards, and this opportunity has left me wanting more. “

JamKazam was originally designed with rock bands in mind, and today there are just a few of us classical musicians out there. Our numbers are growing with each skeptic turned evangelist though, and I can envision the day when there is a vibrant on-line chamber music community– reading, rehearsing, refining, and performing together.  

In service of that future I’ve enlisted the help of DC Chamber Musicians, a Washington-area chamber music organization, to allow me to spread word about JamKazam more widely and to create some needed infrastructure. While JamKazam has many virtues, documentation has not been one of them, and the tool’s ability to search for compatible musicians is very rudimentary.  To fill this void, DCCM agreed to host a searchable JamKazam-capable musicians directory and has opened it to classical JamKazammers everywhere.   

I have also posted this Guide to JamKazam on the DCCM website. It includes step-by-step instructions for JamKazam set-up, complete with screen shots for each step of the process. Click the highlighted blue “Next” button at the bottom of each page to be directed through the process:

Achieve good audio quality

Play in a session

Find people to play with 

Additional resources

For starters, you can get JamKazam up and running with some wired headphones (you can start with a simple pair of earbuds if that is all you have) and the built-in microphone on your computer.  To reduce latency (the lag between when sound is created and when you hear it) enough to actually play with other people, you’ll need to access the Internet directly, by connecting your computer to your router with an  Ethernet cable.  If your router is far from where you like to play, Ethernet cables are inexpensive, and available in many lengths.  The FAQ – Basic gear section of the help guide has lots more information about this. 

Your experience will be better if you invest a small amount in a good microphone and an audio interface. To help defray some of this expense ACMP has cleverly negotiated a custom discount with Sweetwater!  Log into the ACMP website and visit the members-only “Member Benefits and Discounts” page for information on how to take advantage of this deal.

Here is a comprehensive list of what you will need to optimize your experience on JamKazam:

  • A computer running Windows 7 or higher or Mac OS X 10.7 or higher, 64-bit (if you have a computer more recent than 2011 or so, you’re probably fine)
  • Broadband Internet
  • A wired (Ethernet) connection to your router – if you need one, you can buy a long cable like this on Amazon. You may need an adapter, too, if your computer has no Ethernet port.
  • Wired headphones – if your cord is too short, you can buy an extension cable like this.
  • A microphone, ideally plugged into an external USB audio interface (not a complete list), and thence into your computer (but the built-in sound card could maybe work if there’s not too much latency– depends on how fast the computer does the audio processing).
  • A JamKazam account — sign up at https://www.jamkazam.com/signup
  • The JamKazam software, which you can download from https://www.jamkazam.com/downloads
  • The JamKazam server needs to be up in order to establish a session for you.

I am one of a growing group of ACMP members in the new “Technology Task Force.” My contact info and that of a number of other ACMP members prepared to offer technical support for virtual chamber music is available on the new Technology Task Force page on the ACMP website. Once you are up and running, in addition to listing yourself in the DCCM directory, please add your JamKazam name to your ACMP profile as well. 

I hope you’ll join our growing community.  Go here to get listed in the directory or to learn more about how you can use this technology to fill the big, depressing hole in your life.

Tags: 

Online chamber music

Remote chamber music

JamKazam

COVID Safe Chamber Music

DCCM Directory

Music Technology

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