Jared Aaronson was a College of Charleston sophomore when he was first diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. At first, he was scared. "The worst part was not knowing what would happen to me," he says.
One of the most defining aspects of Aaronson's character, however, is the ability to radiate positivity, even when the world seemingly falls apart. "My experience was a walk in the park compared to so many other people," says Aaronson, who graduates this month. "Chemotherapy sucked, but I knew my chances were good. I realized it wasn't just me suffering, it was all of us — my family and friends suffered with me."
After six months of chemo, Aaronson was declared cancer-free — but Hollings Cancer Center couldn't keep him away for long. An avid music lover, DJ, and member of CofC's a capella group, Chucktown Trippintones, Aaronson was determined to use his musical talents to touch the lives of those dealing with cancer. He worried, though, that bringing a DJ into a hospital might not be a popular idea. "I was nervous," he explains. "I wanted to be respectful of everyone's situations, and I didn't want to upset anyone."
Aaronson didn't need to worry. The hospital welcomed the musician when he showed up one day with his a cappella group and later on with his DJ equipment and a metal hang drum. "I played a really careful set," says the DJ known for his lo-fi and melodic, atmospheric beats. "Afterward, I had a guy come up to me, look me in the eye, and say, 'I know you can succeed with this.' I couldn't believe it — the hospital actually wanted me to bring my music back."
Because of the overwhelmingly positive response, Aaronson not only made his Hollings visit a regular occurrence, but he also recently began planning a two-month audiotherapy tour to cancer centers across the country. The amount of public support he has already received is a testament to the DJ's ability to reach people. In the first three weeks of launching a GoFundMe campaign, Aaronson had already raised $11,500 toward his $20,000 goal.
Aaronson believes that music can be a powerful, healthy force if used in the right way. And that positive vibe is exactly what he aims to take with him on the road. "I think the biggest way the audiotherapy tour is going to help people is to alleviate some of the negativity that is inevitable among a room of people being pumped full of nasty chemicals," he says. "Unfortunately, every one of the people in those rooms getting treatment is not going to feel so good when they leave the centers. It's my hope that these sets will bring them positivity to hang onto during their difficult process. I'm hoping I can put a smile on their faces, on the faces of friends and family there supporting them as well as the nurses who devote their time to battling this disease."
Whether in a hospital room or a nightclub, each set is spontaneous and creates an uplifting experience. "Whether it be recommendations or music I happen upon, I'm looking for music that I can identify with, music that resonates and inspires feeling. It's all about building a collection that allows me to play to whatever atmosphere I find myself in," Aaronson says. "The most successful sets are when I'm feeling excited, and there's nothing like the feeling of mixing two or three songs together for the first time into a cohesive, interesting piece of music to bring that about. I like the idea that, because the sets aren't planned out song by song, it allows the crowd to become a part of the sound and therefore makes it a lot more of an intimate experience."
Aaronson says the biggest difference between his sound in hospitals and other places comes down to delicacy. "In hospitals, I want everyone to be as comfortable as possible," he says. "I'll keep it very mellow and smooth throughout the whole thing. I'm not trying to play anything too intense or depressing. In a party environment, I'm more likely to experiment a little bit and try to turn heads."
No matter what, Aaronson plans to use whatever resources he has to reach others, and he's willing to put in the miles to do so. "I want to take my music as far as I can — definitely to the West Coast, maybe Seattle," he says. "I was given a picture of a hospital room in Omaha, Neb., and it made me really want to visit them, too. I want each place to get the time they deserve from me. I'm trying to line up my audio-therapy sets during the day and then other shows where I can really let loose at night."
When he isn't working as a DJ, Jared is studying for classes at CofC, carrying out one of his two jobs, or working at his internship at Hollings. "Currently, I produce music just about every day and DJ about twice a week," he says.
Jared recently decided to bring another local DJ and videographer along with him for the tour. Paul Schmidt will be documenting the events of the audiotherapy tour while also sharing van-driving duties. "Having Paul document it at the caliber he's capable of is going to provide an overview of exactly what we accomplish on the road," Aaronson says. "It's my hope that other people will be inspired to follow their dreams and give back where they can."
Collective Disparity's Audiotherapy Tour is set to launch in September 2016. Those interested in donating, sponsoring, or speaking with Aaronson about setting up a tour stop can go to gofundme.com/kx9uz7qf or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.