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Jul14ThuGuitar program helps The Salvation Army's Medicine Hat Community Church reach out to their neighbours. July 14, 2016 by Ken Ramstead
The Salvation Army corps in Medicine Hat, Alta., was filled to overflowing in April, with more than 300 in attendance. People were clapping and stomping their feet to the music, as guitar group after guitar group debuted on the stage.
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Though they played like seasoned pickers, many of the musicians had never played a guitar before attending Major Murray Jaster's Guitar JAM (Jesus And Me) sessions—let alone stepped inside a church.
“Guitar JAM was created to help people craft their God-given talent,” Major Jaster says.
Before becoming a Salvation Army officer, Major Jaster had been a musician who'd headed up a successful band.
“I was travelling all over and playing in places that I should never have been in, but it was destroying my marriage and my life. Fortunately, I was saved and while I quit music for a while, it was always a part of me.”
Murray and his wife, Annetta, became Salvation Army officers. After they were transferred to Edmonton, he formed a Christian band called Risen From the Ashes and started getting back into music. “God drew people to our church,” Major Jaster says.
In 2004, he coached a group of young people to become a worship band. He brought the idea with him when he and his wife were transferred to Medicine Hat. Guitars were bought, refurbished and donated, and Guitar JAM began.
A Real Jam
Guitar JAM operates twice a year and works on a six-to-10-week cycle.
Each week, the group meets for two one-hour sessions led by qualified guitarists who teach beginner, basic, intermediate and advanced levels. The courses cover guitar knowledge, music theory, melody and rhythm, with customized handouts after each lesson. There is a 15-minute snack time in between that prompts fellowship and the building of relationships.
The age of the students ranges from seven to 78 and with many repeat participants. Some of the students have even become instructors.
“When I learned to play guitar as a youth, there were no websites or DVDs,” says Major Jaster. “I learned with friends, listened to records and watched guitarists at concerts. Guitar JAM is not a substitute for private instruction. It's better! It's learning by jamming with friends.”
Bigger and Better
The highlight of each season is a recital, where the students showcase what they have learned.
Each year, Major Jaster lines up a big-name musician as a draw. Past years have included the likes of Caleb Quaye, a renowned studio musician best known for his work with Elton John, Mick Jagger and Hall & Oates. This year, Tommy Cash, the younger brother of music legend Johnny Cash, was the highlight of the evening.
But the crowd didn't just get to hear music. Tommy Cash also gave his testimony, and people were listening.
“It was exciting to see people who had been in attendance at the recital seated in church the next morning,” Major Jaster says.
A Musical Tradition
“Music is a common denominator, especially for the Army,” says Major Jaster. “With Guitar JAM, we're attracting people to church through music.
“Many of these people do not attend church on a regular basis, but they will come to this event. We've become their church family without them realizing it, and now they see it as their home.”
Medicine Hat Community Church's congregation has shown an increase in attendance thanks to Guitar JAM.
“I enjoy playing guitar because music is the language of the soul,” concludes Major Jaster. “I believe we all have the gift of music. It just needs to be tapped and explored.”
To see Major Murray Jaster's Guitar JAM in action, watch the video at youtu.be/tlNqYSGbHJ4.