Steve Coleman, Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph Wow Participants at CMS Spring Workshop
June 13, 2016 – Guiding Artists Steve Coleman (2014 MacArthur Fellow), Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph, along with a host of other world-class musicians, enthralled participants at the CMS Spring Workshop 2016. Joined by Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, Hamid Drake, Ken Filiano, Taylor Ho Bynum, Angelica Sanchez and Omar Tamez, Tani Tabbal and Harvey Sorgen, the workshop was a study in rhythm.
CMS Spring Workshop 2016
Full Moon Resort, Big Indian, NY
Notes by Janine Nichols
Monday, June 6:
THE ROAD TO THE ROADHOUSE: DAY AND NIGHT 1
People with and without instruments arrive all day. Around 5pm, we gather in the Valley View House to eat, drink and introduce ourselves. More than a few are from Mexico. Someone has come for a second time because last year she was a one-handed xylophonist with a broken arm. Some have been to four or five workshops, many never before. Omar of Planet Earth pledges lifelong fealty to Karl and Ingrid. Gus from down the road is here for the third time, to explore the silence. A vocalist has returned for the 5th time because “everything I learn here has improved all the difficult music I play.” Several are members of Adam Rudolph’s improvising orchestra; Karl notes that New York is one of the few cities that can support multiple improvising orchestras.
Maya, a music therapist, is “picking up [her] trumpet again.” Karl responds, “You’re playing the trumpet here?” Crowd wants to know if he cares to rephrase the question, but Maya doesn’t flinch. Yes, she is. Later, they speak on the porch. She didn’t know about the connection between CMS and Don Cherry. But her father was a trumpeter who worshipped Cherry and so does she. Just the other day, she was talking about Cherry in some café when Lonely Woman came over the speakers. She took it as a sign she’s only now reading.
Karl and Ingrid give a brief history of CMS, its beginnings in a motel with 5 buildings, the crisis that accompanied the election of Ronald Reagan and continued as the country became more and more conservative. Don Cherry and Nana Vasconcelos insisted it be re-established, and Karl praises CMS executive director Rob Saffer for what he is calling CMS 2.0, drawing in new artists, a new generation, a rebirth. He encourages everyone to take a copy of the two books on the history of CMS, to appreciate its place in the musical continuum, Music Mind and All Kinds of Time, both by Robert Sweet, a CMS participant for decades.
After dinner, we will convene under the Roadhouse timbers to play some music.
It’s a rustic, peaked pine lodge with a wonderful sound. Many lingered at dinner, and wander in at their leisure. There is no pressure to take the stage, but it is wonderful to see one after another setting up: Angelica Sanchez (piano), Hassan, Ingrid, Omar (gtr, perc), Ken Filiano (bass, eyebrows*), Harvey Sorgen (drums) Omar, of Mexico and PlanetEarth here for his 5th workshop, has pocketsful of tricks. So much depends on color.
Adam and Hassan unleash a headlong groove, others step onto the moving sidewalk/flying carpet. Hassan begins to sing, trance swelling now. Omar now with a string of shells in his fretting hand, then whistling into the hand, making birdcalls; the groove moves on and from his shirt pocket comes a string of tiny brass bells, later, a lone maraca. Barely acknowledging his guitar.
Karl, in jaunty cap, on melodica and vibes, Adam Rudolph on box drum (cajon), bass (Ken Filiano) bowing with Hassan, Harvey Sorgen (traps)…. Angelica covers a tempo change. She is the bridge-builder, bridges like the ladders in one’s dreams, in which the rungs vanish behind you, having served their purpose. Hassan, whose daughter with the impossible eyelashes, lies asleep in her mother’s arms, is the constant, the trance never sleeps. Now there’s whalesong coming from somewhere, but where? Turns out it’s songing from the bass; Ken has many, many colors. Omar continues to surprise, pulling a harmonica out of his pocket to augment Karl’s melodica. Angelica keeps spanning the changes.
Adam is now still and listening. The sound is spare: bass, drums, tempered vibes, Hassan rests.
I look at the audience, composed mostly of workshop attendees, but the show is open to the public, too. Many are smiling, some are agog, others nodding, seeing with eyes closed, every foot in motion, lots leaning in to see how that sound is being made…One man is reading the new book about CMS, All Kinds Of Time.
Karl solos, Angelica provides thought-full commentary, weaving lines, connecting players, musics.
Do I hear an ocarina, a slide whistle? It’s so small I can’t see it, but I hear wolves calling. Underwater.
“The End,” says Ingrid.
A second piece:
Almost immediately, like a magician, Omar produces a kalimba. Adam wakes. He looks away from Omar, mostly because that’s what the cajon requires, but also as if he prefers to watch with the eyes in the back of his head. Sanchez takes her first solo, pushing the notes out in clusters and flourishes. Karl taps in strict time on the edges of the marimba making a sound like a succession of passing trains.
“The End,” again!
Ingrid recites, Karl on piano. Comes bass, hand percussion. The song goes something like this. The words, when you’re not sure, are what you think they are.
“Music is an energy, like the sun…….The constant movement of the waves……The ribbon of the butterfly and the drone of the earth….. Music space and silence. And in its color, color like a rainbow, magical, magical sound…………. There is a bell, at the dance, and all I want to do is dance with you. Here there is music, the ? fruits of the universe, it was law of ________ and rhythm. And mind and body intoxication: Music.
-----------------beyond words. And there is a singer and a song. All I want to do , All I want to do is sing, please let me sing………All I want to do is sing. Please let me sing, please let me sing……..Music is an energy, like the sun. Expression deepest is oneself. Is music is music is music is music is…….ditditditditditdit---------- Conflagration a rhythm. Intoxication……..Music is an energy like the sun…….The constant, constant, constant movement of the waves, the waves……….
Music is an energy like the sun
Congas, talking drum, vibes.
Angelica, like a chiming clock, then dividing the time, piano in the foreground, background, seamless, changeable, she is a deep listener. Omar palming the opening of a PVC pipe I mistook for a digeridoo and later find out he calls a “piperidoo” (much easier to get past the TSA than the real instrument). He can make is whistle too. Rudolph with small Tibetan bowls atop two congas. Piperidoo now like the foghorn I first expected. He follows by trapping a clave between pipe and thigh.
Melodica reclaims the melody with stabbing piano commentary. Sudden ending.
After a small break, the listeners take the stage. Many, but not all, have been to the workshop before. Electric mandolin, violin, two guitars, two vocalists, drums, euphonium. Chuck, the geologist for New York State, who “uses [his] voice as an instrument” contains curious multitudes: Beatnik poet, cartoon characters, percussionist, Foley artist, R2D2, a conversation heard through a wall. He sings as much with his hands as his voice; he does not hold the mike so as to leave them free. When he is not singing, he is gesturing.
Now the vocalists enter into a conversation in a private language you used to speak when you were a child and now apprehend as pure sound; nothing lost, something recognized. The stringed instruments want their turn. They are swarming; Yatsuke is singing into her mouthpiece. Those still bellied up to the bar suddenly break out into applause.
Yasuno on Euphonium leads, languid. Hillary sings, language unknown, universal. Accompaniment reduces to a pulse. Her song began as a lament, possibly religious in nature, but now returns to dialogue and to Earth. The strings want back in; the drummer has wandered off. Volume rises and falls. Ken Filiano, of bass, silver hair and diabolical yet welcoming black eyebrows, scrutinizes the players, taking their measure; he is smiling. For the first time I notice he is wearing short pants and am charmed. He asks the drummer why he is not playing, then heads to the stage and picks up his instrument. The drummer returns, but the cymbals have gone. Still, let’s finish this thing. They establish a bottom, as is their wont. Chuck has a spirited convo with Ken. Hillary sings in half-Indo-nese. Everyone makes a solitary comment. Is any of them the ending? Not yet. Hillary goes full Yoko, a delirium of strings. Comes a melody from the euphonium again. Fever sets in, subsides. Strings want to stay up, talking frenetically, all night, but the bass wants to play whole notes. Mando chimes while Hillary chatters. Electronics invoke a countdown. I am the one left to applaud. Everyone else is onstage!
*All hail Mike Shore for the wholly original observation/attribution.
Tuesday June 7
CMS Basic Practice
The day begins with Savia Berger leading everyone in a series of movements designed to improve body awareness. In the morning, most bodies feel stiff, perhaps still tired. Her gentle sequence of exercises and movements was designed for musicians but anyone would benefit from the practice. In the morning, the movements will loosen your limbs and focus your energy, prepare your body to make music; performed before bedtime, the same movements will help you to sleep well and deeply.
She knows from experience: dancer and Pilates instructor.
She does not ask that you remove your shoes, so as to encourage you to do any of the movements at any time of day. Her description of the movements follows:
“Make your feet parallel to each other. You should be resting on all three pads of the foot, ankles not collapsing in or out. Soften your knees and drop your tailbone. Place your hand on the top of your head and press your hand UP to the ceiling, creating space between the vertebrae.
Take big breaths, filling the sides and back of your lungs especially and let your belly expand. Check your feet again to see that they are still parallel.
Lower the eyes and scan the body starting from the bottom up, beginning with the feet, ankles, calves, thighs. Become aware of what is happening in each place. Your knee should be over the middle toe, but that can take some time to achieve and will come with time as your alignment improves. Let it be a goal. If your bent knees become uncomfortable, straighten them for a time while keeping your abdomen flattened.
Oxygenate! Inhale through your nose, with hands on belly and chest, filling the belly first, then the chest. Hold for a moment. Exhale in reverse order. Do this 5 times. Deep breathing can make you dizzy, so take it easy. Check your feet again.
Now do joint rotations, head to toe. These are especially great to do in the morning.
Turn your head to the right, roll the chin along the chest, left crown toward the ceiling; reverse. Now, place your hands on the trapezius muscles of your shoulders behind the head and, pulling down for support, roll your head left and right, eyes on the ceiling.
Neck rolls: Head up, arms at your side. Squeeze the shoulder blades as if you were grasping a pencil and raise shoulders to your ears, back and up and forward and down. Reverse: forward and up and back and down. Really pull up, you must feel a big difference.
Elbows: Bring arms out to the side. Make fists with the top of hand facing forward. Bring fists to center and make circles in both directions, keeping upper arms still, with knees bent, feet parallel. Now isolate the wrists. With arms straight out in front of you, turn them in both directions.
Now place the feet wide, bend knees, pull hipbones up, and sway side to side, then front to back. Is one hip tighter than the other? Try to keep them level. Now rotate hips in a circle.
Knee Circles: Bring feet closer together. With right heel up, rotate foot in both directions. Do the other foot.
Ankle Circles: Balance on one foot as long as you can. It’s been said that if you can balance on one foot you will live a long life.
Bend to side and slightly forward; you might want to slide hand down the top of your leg; raise the other to the ceiling. Stay centered on your feet. Keep back extended and breath deeply. You should be able to look forward, not down. Lower your body with every exhalation. Pull yourself up by lowering the raised hand. Now reach the other arm to the ceiling and repeat.
Abdominals: Hands on waist and belly. Inhale, feel the hands rise. Press into belly to exhale completely. Now widen your feet, arms out at your side, palms forward, and twist your body around in both directions. Let your legs do whatever they want.
With feet parallel and arms wide, swing the arms backward and forward, higher and further each time to your own limit. Backward is most important direction because it is source of flexibility. Let your knees bounce.
Shake out the body. Imagine your body filled with dried lentils. Shake everything, making a joyful sound.”
Karl: “When we came to Woodstock, I asked myself, ‘How can we explain how we make music and why it works? How can we help others discover the music journey they want to be on, release the music that wants to come out? ‘
We all have completely distinct voices; voiceprints are more reliable than fingerprints. People hear their voice on tape and think there’s something wrong with the recorder. I’ve heard that Sinatra didn’t like hearing his voice. It takes some getting used to. But the mistakes I made in trying to copy the music I wanted to play I now hear the music that is mine.
Let us forget about style. Let us concentrate on what is common to ALL music. What is rhythm, what is sound?
When we concentrate on rhythm and voice, everything starts to sound more in tune. In music school, a C is a C, an A is an A. It’s true and it’s not true. The last C you played is different from the one you’re playing now, in terms of context and harmonics, so different that you can never repeat the same sound again.
The proof? Assign an image to the note and then try to sing that image again. You cannot. Sound has a rhythm, a particular vibration. Physicists found the more they looked, the more they found, until the parts were so small they couldn’t see and had to theorize. Einstein said he would not have conceived the Theory of Relativity without music.
So what we are doing in practicing voice and rhythm is to lay the ground for getting to the place you want to go. So take them seriously. We are facilitating what I call the Music Mind.
Voice is the first instrument, and it could be our last. We are wary of singing-----we keep it in the shower---but tribal societies are singing all day long. We will be getting used to the sound of our voice here. We’ll be playing. It’s not work, remember, it’s play.”
Now Ingrid Sertso addresses the class.
“The voice is first. Even playing an instrument is a way of singing. The Sufis say that no sound is more living than the voice. The sound of the words comes from the way we breathe, prana. Breathing is the most important element, because breath is life-giving. If we don’t breathe, we don’t live. Let’s sit 3 minutes and breathe. Air goes into the lungs like water into a cup. No effort.
Next, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. 3 minutes.
“Now add a sound in the mid-range of your voice. “Ah” is first syllable a baby makes, simple. Ah…..”
The room swells. Every note seems represented.
Next, singers, the higher voices, improvise over top.” The singers start.
“Wait, start again. We need a tonic. We started much too high. Some of you must stay with the tonic. Start again, a woman first.” The tonic sounds. Voices rise.
“Now stand. Walk in place.” She sings a phrase. Everyone repeats it. She adds another phrase. A new voice, high, chimes in with her own phrase. Now others. “Don’t be afraid,” Ingrid says, drawing voices toward her…
“Stop. Pick a word,” she says. “Love,” someone suggests. “That’s a big one,” she laughs and starts walking in time. “Wait,” she says, “this tempo is too fast for love!” She walks from one to another, doubles the word for the first voice, singing it as a deep long note for the next, making her way around the circle, giving everyone their own take on the word. “Pay attention to the tuning,” she says. Karl begins to tap on a homemade hobnail xylophone. “Louder,” Ingrid says. The rafters begin to fill, the quiet. It is done.
“Now we will sing a South African song. These are the words.”
We are going.
Heaven knows where we are going.
And so do we.
And we will get there.
Heaven knows that we will get there.
And so we will.
Yes, we know we will.
And we know we will.
The group works on the melody for awhile, with Karl playing it on the xylophone. The class sings it several times. We are done.
“When you give sound to your voice, your breath expands. It gives life, sound does. Also, when you sit for 3 minutes without doing anything, much unwanted information comes in. Meditation teaches you to acknowledge thoughts and let them go but with sound. Notice that as soon as you make a sound, involuntary thoughts are banished. Sound quiets the mind. You can do this all day long. Hum. Sing, whenever you can, wherever you are. Make the sigh of relief.
Don Cherry said if you want to learn a song, learn to sing it first. When you practice your instrument, sing the part before and during. It you don’t play a breathing instrument, sing along with your piano.
Patterns. I say to pay attention to each beat. It’s a journey that never ends, but as someone said to me, who wants it to end? We always start from scratch and it’s always fun. Don’t think you’re too advanced for this. Always go back to basics.”
Now he has a small drum on his knees. “Every music tradition that I know starts like this,” he says. “Every rhythm is a combination of odd and even, 2s and 3s. Why do we count, 1-2-3? To access the other side of the brain,” someone says. “Yes,” he says, the rational side.”
“Don always had a shortwave radio in his ears, listening to music from all over the world. He loved a piece in 5, ga-ma-la ta-kee. They can combine to any rhythm. Even 4/4. We are used to thinking of it as even, but it is odd and even, say, 1+3, a downbeat.”
His hands rest atop his thighs. “Ta-kee,” he says, lifting a hand at beat. “Now chant ga-ma-la. What did we do?”
“We created a feeling of 5,” someone answers. “Where did the 5 start?” Karl asks. “At ga. But it could have started anywhere. Five is very powerful. They say the planet is ruled by 5. Now add a clap to ga.” Everyone tries.
“What is happening? We are speeding up. In 5 minutes, we’ll be going twice as fast. The way to control tempo is to see it as a matrix. To play fast, you have to feel slow. You stabilize by hearing the whole matrix. Hear double and triple tempos below. We’re training your attention, not your technique.
Don’t try to think the beat. Thinking is too slow for that. It only deals with what is in the past and in the future. Just be with the note; then you can be with the notes before and after. You want to feel like you are on a train. You might fall off. Wait for the next train. Don’t run after the train.
When you are nervous, you try to make up time, you feel disconnected so you play more, trying to cover up for being lost. But that music will be forgotten in the next moment, no matter how impressive the technique. But if you play from the heart, that music will not be forgotten, it connects with the heart of the listener. That performance from 20 years ago that’s still in your heart? Yes?
As improvisers, you can start slowly and be drawn in. You can also stop, create space, appreciate the sound of silence.
Attend how you move your hands. Don’t strike down on the beat. GIVE THE SOUND AWAY. Lift your hand on the beat. The sounds goes up and away. You see it in great percussionists and drummers; the hands move away from the drums. The longer the hands, the sticks, are on the drum, the shorter the sound.
‘I’m speeding through this process, but keep practicing. Look for the beat that you play and the beat that you don’t play. Give the sound away. When you lose focus, just stop. The next train is right behind. Start….shift the emphasis…..emphasize two beats over the other…Now favor one of them over the other……Lengthen one, either one….”
Ingrid begins to circle the chairs, giving a singing assignment to each participant. The rafters fill again.
“That’s all we do today!”
MASTER CLASS WITH STEVE COLEMAN
“Controlling the Elements of Sound”
“How many singers do we have here? 7-8. Is there a singer who doesn’t play any instrument at all at any level? It’s good for singers to play something and vice versa.
I think of music as organized sound: Wind (rhythm, timing, when something happens) and Where (vibration, how high or how low something occurs).
Get some control over those elements. A lot of musicians don’t have control over timing and pitch. What is control? It’s when you can manipulate it, do it on demand.
Pitch: You want to be able to recognize a sound, hear it in your head, and make it. Most instrumentalists cannot play what they hear. They don’t even know what they hear. You want to be able to make a sound without fishing around for it on your instrument. Most of us have to develop rhythm and pitch. We’re not born with it. Most of the songs we had sung to us as children, we heard it, but that understanding goes away. Music schools teach that away.
By jumping in the deep end and just doing it, you will find your own way. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study, but I’m self-taught, you can do that too. I think the best thing is DOING. That’s how you learn to ride a bike. Explaining the aerodynamics does not help.
(To the cellist) “Play this pitch. Listen for it…. Good. Now describe the process you went through to find it.”
Cellist: “As a player, I’m used to ADGC, so I recognized the tone relative to you.”
SC: “OK. If you know your intervals-------that’s important. There’s no such thing as C, C#. We made them up, just like money. If you’re the last person on earth with a trombone and a million dollars, it doesn’t mean a thing.
The more you practice, the easier Wind and Where become. You won’t have to think about the mechanics. When you’re speaking, you’re thinking about ideas, not conjunctions and adverbs. If you’re still doing that, you haven’t practiced enough.
There’s always something more complex than what you can do. So, we’re always students. Most things that are difficult are difficult because they’re unfamiliar.
Know where you want to go. If you don’t know, you will waste a lot of time. Know the types of sounds you’re attracted to, the people who are doing the kinds of things you want to do. You can’t do everything.
My concentration is ‘spontaneous composition.’ Some of you call it improvisation, but I think my term is more accurate. It’s like conversing. Say I’m talking to you. This exact conversation has never happened. I could have had a conversation like this, but musically, I’m composing in a group setting, and I have to have control over my part of the language so I can understand and respond and communicate. Most musicians have their hand over the mouth. They hear a vague shape and respond with a vague shape.
Sometimes musicians can be speaking different languages and still understand each other. Then, instead of telling a story that’s like one you’ve heard before, you’re now telling a brand new story. All improvisers have some things worked out, that’s the truth. Some people concentrate on performance, memorization of songs, those are skills. But the greatest ones can create on the spot what they hear in their head.
When you’re a kid, the first language is emotional, mama learns to understand the child. Then nonsense talk comes, and some of that stays your whole life. Then words come. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Scales, keys, rhythms ----- all have their place, because they help you to organize the sound. Some people resist that, but I think that holds you back.
Start by singing. Place the sound in different areas, keys. The beginning of spontaneous composition is variations on a theme. Let’s begin with Happy Birthday. But let’s keep control over the timing because that produces the form. Time used to be very different. People didn’t live by minutes and seconds. There were church bells….
I think we improvise all day every day. But spontaneous composition is different because I want it to stand on its own. People give a speech, a comedian has a routine, they can improvise within it, handle the heckler, smoothly go in and out. And you can’t tell where unless you have seen them more than once, many times. Spontaneous composition doesn’t have to be based on something pre-existing. Let’s not dwell on the details, it’s just making stuff up.”
Q: “Is it replicable?”
SC: “Depends how good your memory is. Or you might be interrupted and forget what you were trying to say. Part of the reason why musicians can’t remember what they played is because what they played was random.
Humans organize according to some kind of reference: Nowadays we call it the Tonic. We relate all other tones to that. We have that with rhythm in terms of pulses, like the heartbeat. Everything has its opposite, there is polarity, and humans perceive it, it’s our way of looking at nature. It’s the 5th in our system.
Thesis and Arsis, anyone know what that is? Downbeat and upbeat.
He sings a phrase, adds a rhythm. “The last note needs to be on the beat. Don’t think about it. Just aim, that’s how you get there. Plan things so they will happen in the moment. Throw the ball where the guy’s gonna be. There’s a moving geometry. We don’t think about it when we do it all the time.
About the pitches I was singing. Anyone know the notes, the intervals, the keys? I recommend them all. Draw the pattern in the air. How far up and how far down? This is a whole other level of complexity that requires another language to describe. Intervals might be best. Most people who know intervals know scales, but not always the other way around. You need to speak a shared language if you want to be specific with the shapes.” He asks several people to describe the phrase he played.
SC: “ Nope.”
SC: “Yes! But if you don’t call the last note 1, then all the numbers are different. Let’s call the last note 3. Now what are the numbers?” He waits until someone says, “a minor.”
“That’s right, a perfect minor.
Now describe the phrase using whole step and half-step; I use tone and semi-tone. But with that language, there’s no reference. It stands alone.
Remember: Everybody sounds like crap in the beginning. The doctor doesn’t hit you and you’re born playing Giant Steps.
Let’s go back to Happy Birthday. Here are the numbers:
56517 56521 53176 43121
Let’s play it backwards, I can do that as long as I know what One is.
Now when I say the melody, I’m including the rhythm. Kids get the geometry, but not always the pulse. When people sing this song, it gets all out of shape.”
He plays first phrase of Happy Birthday, sings “I have a dry reed.”
Improvising around room. Maria Grand, his student and sometime Five Elements bandmate, plays it first. The next player plays it in a different key. She tries again. Still in a different key. Third try is the charm.
“Now pass it along, keep it moving.” A singer makes a small hole in the form. “Don’t do that,” he says. The next person adds a phrase at end. “That’s not going to be helpful to next person; set it up for the next person,” he says. Fourth person drifts in pitch and time.
SC: “The thing is if you can’t hear it and sing it in your head, you’re not going to be able to produce it on your instrument. In fact, if you can’t sing it, it’ll be even worse on an instrument. So SING ALL THE TIME, with focus on what you’re singing, the tonal and rhythmic qualities. Start with simple songs. Don’t try to run before you can walk.
He looks at his watch, says, “I don’t want lunch. So if you want to stay here with me, please do.”
He works through lunch, meeting with students, not eating, just teaching, demonstrating, mentoring. The circle gets smaller (people are hungry), more intimate, deeper, listening to his transmissions. He takes them through various exercises based on the human pulse/heartbeat, varying the patterns.
SC: “We want to be more creative. This means looking at things in a variety of ways, backwards, upside-down. Change the frame, loosen it up.”
MASTER CLASS WITH STEVE COLEMAN - Afternoon Session
“The Rhythmic Content of the Octave”
SC: “Humans can identify octaves and they’ve been hearing it for a long time, hearing intervals for a long time. I have never found any other creature that does this.
An octave is a note whose function is so close to another’s that we call it the same thing. We do the same thing with rhythm because humans like cycles: the sun and the moon, the movement of the planets.
If you cut or fold a cycle in half again and again, what happens when you fold a single octave in half? Generally speaking, any chord can be substituted by its tri-tone.
But if you fold it again, you can function within the minor third.
You can have a whole universe in 12 notes, we’re used to that. You don’t play them all, but they’re available to you. But you can have a universe in 3 notes too.”
(He uses hands and feet to demonstrate a rhythm) “I’m moving the downbeat around. What am I doing exactly and how? I’m skipping one beat, then starting the pattern again. It’s an arrhythmia that comes from relating rhythmic cycles to tonic cycles.
The point is one movement is dominant and the other is subdominant. Which is which and why? In chords, scales and keys, there is a dominant. But those are all different measures; The same chord plays a role in several keys. If we’re in key of C and go to key of G, is that dominant or subdominant?”
There are votes for both.
SC: “Can we come to consensus? I don’t care what it is; I just want you to agree. Whether you start from the perspective of the origin or the destination changes the dominant/subdominant relationship.
I say to forget about triplets because when you’re thinking about triplets you’re thinking in twos. I want you to think in threes. The three is like the weak left hand. That’s why I advise you to practice hearing and playing in threes.
Think about this. C Mixolydian to F Ionian: What is the difference? To move from Mixolydian to Ionian modes we either keep the same starting point and change the pattern, or change the starting point and keep the pattern. Moving the downbeat changes the way you hear the same pattern. Most people can only play one rhythm at a time. Most horn players plat on top of the section but not inside the rhythm.
We’re trying to get to the rhythmic version of tone, which is modulation - exploring the two semitones in each scale. The tonic or rhythm becomes the pulse, like the ground wire for electricity.'
As we move around the circle of 5ths, only one semi-tone changes at a time. Amin has the same semitones as C major but it plays different roles.”
This is heady stuff and Steve’s spent countless hours trying to understand all of it.
“Now when I say “melody,” I’m including the rhythm. Kids get the geometry, but not always the pulse.
Assigning pitches to rhythms adds details to rhythm that we are not accustomed to having. We have lots of ways of describing pitches, but few of describing rhythms. “Just feel it” doesn’t help instruct us, doesn’t give us a map.
In ancient times, there was no concept of dominant. It was called the “preparation,” it prepared your ear for the next sound.
I’m trying to help you get out of your western ears, to hear and think differently. Concepts about musical modes, about anything, come from humans, they're man made. Giraffes don't hand down modes. These concepts are illusions - humans exist on illusion.
These musical maps I’m showing you help us locate where we are in tonal and sonic space, where things are musically. They’re general principles that underlie all music.”
A hand goes up.
Q: “Isn’t the structure transferable from one Ionian octave to another?”
SC: “No, because the structure depends on where the first pitch is, which determines where the semi-tones are, which affects the rhythm when pitches are assigned to beats.
Emotion is crucial. Different keys have different feels, they make me, us, feel differently. You can feel a shift, that something has changed. You want to be conscious of these glitches in the octave so that you can control them and you can glitch where you want!”
He begins to play.
SC: “What song was I playing?”
There are a few answers before the right one.
SC: “All The Things You Are. Those of you who could identify it could fill in the blanks and know what it was.
In my head, I have a whole lot more going on than what I can play on a monophonic instrument. I have a whole band playing in my head. When you play with me, you’re trying to hear the same thing that I hear in my head because that’s what will keep everything together. That’s when things get strong, when you can fill in the blanks.”
He plays duet with Maria. “What song was that?”
No one can say. He removed more information from the song that he did with All The Things You Are.
SC: (smiling) “You’re not going to understand any of these things this afternoon. You will teach yourself. The repetitions have to happen on your own. You can’t learn anything by just talking about it. Repetition builds skill, strength. Nature gave you a brain, dreams, intuition -- use them. They will open you up.
The players that matter to you: Look how they breathe, how they move, put their horn together. That’s what you can learn from other musicians.
I’m not much into strict methods. I like to improvise. I have some warm-ups, but I try to create new warm-ups all the time. I want to be better at creating because I want to be creating all the time. I don’t find I get better at creating by practicing the same thing all the time. I give making up stuff priority; not so much the master technician.
My sloppy technique thing is aesthetic, mostly about who I listened to, Von Freeman’s raggedy sound that I loved so I tried to put it in mine. We’ve called it the “professional beginner sound.” That’s what I hear in Charlie Parker, a childlike quality I want to have. And not everybody likes Charlie Parker.
You know about the Five Pentatonics, right?
C D E G A
C D F G Bb
C Eb F Ab Bb
C D F G A
C Eb F G Bb
Why do these things exist and why were they developed independently all around the planet at different times? Now you’re studying yourself.
I’ve had people argue for ignorance. I don’t have to know about keys, whatever. Then why are you here? Do you want to move forward? Do you want to learn, see what you haven’t seen before? Many times they’re just intimidated by how much there is to know. What you know will always be very small compared to what there is to know.”
He begins a gorgeous riff on 3 notes in the last phrase of Happy Birthday, Suddenly, there is a dramatic cloudburst. First rain, then hail. It’s loud on the barn’s tin roof. The drummer Aaron Latos starts playing along with the weather patterns. After a few minutes Steve joins him and they’re off. Everyone gathers around, listening, watching this spontaneous meeting. After ten minutes Maria joins in and it really sings. After some time, the rain and hail stop and all that’s left is music.
IMPROVISERS ORCHESTRA WORKSHOP – Karl Berger
Karl: “We should all spend part of our day fine-tuning our senses.
Like Steve said, there’s no such thing as C and Eb, etc.
Asks for an A from piano. Now a chord with an A in it, then another chord with an A in it.
Close off one ear with your finger so you can hear your voice inside when a new chord comes. What happens? Notice anything?
The first thing is that you change the pitch depending on the note’s role in the harmony. Every note IS a harmony, even on a single note instrument. You have to understand the harmonics to be in tune. Even a fixed tone instrument like a piano, you play other tones with it in order to tune it.
In a big group like this, you listen to look for a place to tune in. A note is not a note, it’s a sound, and it can’t be repeated, as I said this morning. Let’s see what kind of tolerance level we can get.
I’d like horns and strings to play a long tone and stick to it. Try to play the note so that it works harmonically with what you’re hearing. Good. The note is also vertical, there are dynamics. Dissonance is artificial if you always try to harmonize.
Now come right in on cue. You don’t hesitate. You come in. Boom.
Note from KB to guitarists, Play softly. Or, STFU. Excuse the word “shut.” OK. As soon as the sound comes up, you try to weave around it. It can’t be a long tone, because that’s what they’re doing. It’s just about listening. You don’t all have to play at once. You can be exchanging.
Singers: Try to figure out where there is room in the range for you. You don’t have to sing loud. Once you’ve found it you stay there.
I can hear that you’re all trying. Don’t try, play. Then you can make adjustments.
If we are all too much in the same range, you have the option to hop an octave up or jump down. Again.
I forgot to talk to the keyboards. You do what the guitars do, you play around what you hear, in that harmonic range, but not in long tones. You might explore extreme octaves. Listen for where the holes are.
Now we will experiment with creating a piece of music. I will show you the hand signs I will use. This is a long tone, a long tone that extends a little out of range. (Points at ceiling) Really extreme range. Short, staccato. Glissando. That’s it. I’m taking the cues from you.
This evening I want to learn a piece of mine called Five Feelings.”
Ingrid: “We recorded it once with Nana Vasconcelos.”
He plays a phrase, and the band learns it by ear. He lengthens it. They learn it. Now he plays another phrase. They learn it. They connect them. They roll it around until everyone has ownership.
Karl: “Now let’s just hear the rhythm. To drummer: You have to give us the One. In such a big group, without the One they will become disoriented.
Now, play as if we are playing in Carnegie Hall. We either make a lot of money or we lose our shirt.
Breathe. Watch the conductor. Points at cello, violin. Voices begin to explore the harmonics. Silence. Signals to rhythm section. Asks for the front end of the phrase from horns and voices. Sax solo. Now he asks for the whole phrase. Trumpet. She takes a brief solo, then plays long notes against the phrase. It’s holding together; the instrux to the drummer made a huge difference. Bass solo. Asks for new notes from the chorus. Ingrid adds a phrase. Now he solicits a solo from a guitar, then a violin to play with her, trills from the chorus. It is all very spare, light. Then a sudden chattering erupts, voices and strings. A just as sudden silence; piccolo sustains. Guitar and lightness returns. Asks for shivering sounds from strings, whole notes from chorus. The players are growing in confidence, as individuals and as a band. Their hesitation is disappearing.
Now, we gather for meditation.
Karl explains that this instrument was designed by drummer Jack DeJohnette to produce a healing tone. It’s made by Woodstock Chimes whose owner used to attend CMS in the 1970s along with Jack. We will have a minute of silence and do a practice called ‘listen to the sound disappearing.’ That’s all.
It soon begins to rain, adding to more sounds to listen disappearing.
ROADHOUSE PERFORMANCE: Tuesday June 7
Expect the unexpected. Tonight at the roadhouse there are a half dozen red-robed monks in the audience, from the monastery in Woodstock where Karl and Ingrid study. There are also more, many more members of the public than last night. In fact, it would be considered a near-full house anywhere on a Tuesday night and the night is young. Mostly it is the teachers on stage; the students are likely still absorbing all they heard and did today. The adepts display a lot of pent-up energy; their playing is intense right out of the gate.
The evening begins with a quiet reading of a poem by the lama, Trungyam Rinpoche.
With peaceful clouds wrapped round her shoulders
The surrounding air
Is filled with love and peace
What is going to be is what is
What is love?
There is no fear or leaping into the immeasurable space of love
Fall in love? Or are you in love?
Such questions cannot be answered
Because in this peace of an all-awaiting presence
No one is in
and no one is falling in
and no one is possessed by another
A moment later, the band launches into another song-poem, this time in high velocity. As the song and the evening rolls on, there is one solo and one soloist after another at which to marvel, moments of synchronicity.
We are honored to have Ingrid’s fan club here, indicating the red robes. We invite her fans to the stage to do a quartet they have prepared for the occasion. They climb up but there is a delay because their instruments -- singing bowl, wooden flute, hand cymbals, small temple bells of wonderful clarity, are in the car. “Our music is aspiration of rain. Just close your eyes……….” The room is silent, everyone intently listening to the lovely combination of percussion and Trungyam’s soft, clear flute playing.
Omar’s got a Jew’s harp. It’s going to be a duet with Ken Filiano on upright bass. Bells on a string, a chime, wolf calls, night birds. Ken has so much to say and so much technique he can say all of it. Now it is very late, and the young Swiss saxophonist, Maria Grand, steps in. She is a student of Steve Coleman and he brought her here to help him demonstrate his ideas. The woman who flew here from Cologne just for the workshop is playing the piano and Omar has picked up his guitar. Authoritative and beautiful.
Karl: “I want to introduce Hassan Hakmoun now. Adam Rudolph will join him. Hopefully. We will see where it goes from there.” I decide to close my computer and go for the ride………
……A mighty groove surfaced, and suddenly I was having the old dream again, galloping a white horse across a desert, into the wind and sand and heat. This is a dream dear to my heart and it is seeming very real .I am in a trance, of course, and I am not the only one. The room is transfixed. Gnawa.
Off we go again. I close the screen again. The groove is insane. I gallop along, all the while trying to apply concepts I heard and tried all day (I can’t be the only one doing this) ---- about 5s and trying to hear the band in the musician’s head, about spontaneous composition and assigning pitches to beats, fine-tuning your senses, singing all day. It may be making sense. Coleman can resist no longer and joins the two. The music is perfect, each musician complementing each other, each sharing their personality. It’s a stellar performance, one that really only happens at CMS workshops.
At the close, Hakmoun, beneath the Full Moon banner, explains: “This instrument has over 200 names. I call it sintir. It is the ancestor of the banjo. Originally it had 2 strings, but then the wife and the husband strings had a baby and a third string, a half-string was added and it acts like a drone, just as in a banjo. The third string was a student’s idea. I made this instrument in America but it took me 30 years to do it, to get all the right parts. I wanted wood mechanics, not metal, because they don’t cut the strings. They were hard to find. I use nylon strings now instead of gut because once I was playing in Thailand and my strings went down at the sound check, from the humidity. I asked for some fisherman’s line and they were so flexible, it led me to change strings. I shouldn’t really be playing these strings with bare hands; eventually your fingernails will cut them. The body is made of oak and it is electrified. That’s why I added a metal bridge. I was playing a concert near the border between Morocco and Mauritania and someone had an instrument with a metal bridge and I said, where is that sound coming from? When you add metal to an electric instrument, you get more sound. We’ll talk more about it tomorrow.”
Steve Coleman has decided to cancel his plans so he can stay for the rest of the workshop. “It’s nice here, the vibe is amazing,” I heard him say amidst endless conversations with other guiding artists, Karl, Rob, and many participants.
Wednesday June 8
CMS BASIC PRACTICE
Voice Practice begins with Ingrid Sertso begins with 5 minutes of ‘meditation.’ “I really don’t like to use that word,” she says, “because this exercise is very active. A teacher I had once described spirituality as a calm mind. Our creativity comes from our just being present, from our open heart. You are saying, “I am here.” Yesterday, you just sat and breathed and let the thoughts go. Today we will listen to every sound you hear, ignoring other thoughts, just listening……..
I am convinced that music emerged first because even when there is no sound there is sound. The man who created the sound chamber was expecting to hear nothing amazed to hear the sound of his own blood pressure.
OK. Now we will explore the basis of music, the OM. You breathe into the O first. Everybody can do it, everybody can sing, believe me, so please take a deep breath and start with a low note. It doesn’t have to be the same note, you can harmonize. Any note is fine, suit your voice. (all sing) Keep it going……
Good. Beautiful. Now we will sing into the M, the ma. (all sing) Beautiful. Now, whatever you hear, improvise over it (all sing, she listens) Gorgeous. Don’t be afraid, keep it going….”
The volume rises dramatically before subsiding. It is the sound of growing confidence.
“Beautiful. You know, when we don’t like our voice it undermines our creative expression. Even Vincent Van Gogh, think of the purity and innocence of those colors and he cut off his ear! It’s so important to make friends with your voice.
“Now we will sing these sounds in one breath in this sequence:
Ah….Oh…. Oo…. Ee…Eh!”
She asks everyone to stand. “Take a deep breath. Shoulders down. Always go at your own pace. Push out the air, empty the lungs at your own speed. We don’t have to finish at the same time. (All sing, she listens) Good. You know, when I was in acting school, they said to lie on the floor and put books on your abdomen. They had to move when you drew breath. It works! Try it.”
The group intones the sequence, again and again, volume growing.
“So good. Tomorrow we will do something that is therapeutic. For now, let’s turn our attention to rhythm. Walk in place. Everyone can do this, you’ll see.”
She begins to walk. She sings a phrase, voices repeat it. She adds another phrase and a few pick that up. The sound is growing more complex without becoming self-conscious. Some begin to improvise on their own. Ingrid is smiling; everyone is smiling. It sounds so beautiful. This is the kind of feeling they hoped to have when they signed up.
“I recorded with Don Cherry an album called Multi-Kulti. I had 10 minutes to learn the song. I looked at Don and said, ‘I can’t do it.’ He wouldn’t have it. I did it in one take. I was exhausted. I saw him later, and he asked how it went. I told him. He said, ‘I knew it.’ It means so much for a teacher to believe in you. And I tell you, you can all do it.’
Let’s do another song. It’s an African song.” She sings a much longer phrase; it seems too much too much to remember. Karl begins tapping it out on the hobnail xylophone, not so much to accompany the singing, but to plant it in everyone’s mind while while Ingrid breaks it down. It comes together, beautifully.
“You sound so good. So many more harmonies!”
RHYTHM PRACTICE - Karl Berger
“I’m asking: What were we doing yesterday? Gamala takee, yes. And being on the train, yes. The moment we say ‘This feels great,’ we fall off the train. You can’t be your own listener. Listen to everyone ELSE. Ideally, you don’t remember what happened at all. Get out of the self entirely.
We need to learn little techniques to help us stay on the train or get on the next one. When I came to NYC in the 60s, I was eager to hear my heroes. I wanted to see the drummer Billy Higgins, who played with Mose Allison, a blues singer. I thought Billy must be needing some money. Why would he want to play a repetitive blues rhythm all night? I thought maybe he would switch hands to keep himself interested. But no, he played with full attention all night. He would leave out a beat, sometimes too, but no one would notice because once you’re used to hearing a beat you hear it whether it’s played or not. And he had this great smile; he was high on the music.
Later I realized he was retuning, whenever he fell into an automatic beat, he did something to change it, to refresh it. It’s all very quick. When you do something automatic, your mind will wander. Improvisers have a lot of freedom to refresh, retune, but you can do it with written music too.
When you practice, don’t just practice scales. Practice things that you develop yourself. Write your own phrases and practice them. Create your own exercise material. You want to practice your own music.
“What else did we talk about yesterday?” soliciting answers. “Right. Give away the beat. Think of the beat leaving you, you are giving the music to the listener, the audience, the world. Don’t underestimate the power of that.
Let’s practice some rhythms we don’t play. Practice the 5 that I showed you yesterday; it will make the evens even easier to play. Today we’ll do a 7. How many ways can 3 and 2 make 7? 2-3-2, 2-2-3, 3-2-2.
In the east they will often start on the ta-kee. It’s as if for the feet, to allow for the dancers to turn. I like to explore the numerology, the power of numbers. How many of you think about that? Five? Maybe we can have a numerology table at lunch?
One is the start. Two is a helper. Three is a collection of 2 and 1. Four enters into a social sphere; it is also a square. The five is the number of the planet Earth; you will find it very natural if you practice it. It gets you out of the square. The six is both odd and even, 2x3 or 3x2. A person who is a 6 may be a person who sees both sides of an argument. The 7 is the day God rested; this is where you start to doubt whether this makes sense. It is the moment when the painter throws the painting into the fire, when the composer tears the paper. It is a moment to get through, past. That moment of frustration ALWAYS comes up in the creative process, you need to just sit and wait and relax. The 8 governs the finishing of things. They become real. The 9 is a state of transition. You are done with something and now need to begin another.
Our weeks should be 9 days and not 7, a mistake was made.”
Q: “What about 0?”
A: “Zero is not a number, it is an idea. We are not counting zero, we count on the 1.
Now 7 has a certain feel to it. All the numbers do. We’ll do the dance form of it, tah kee tah kee ga ma la.” He demonstrates.
“Now just kee and ma,” reducing dependence on the chant.
“Now just kee and la.”
Ingrid begins to walk around the circle, singing to them, encouraging them to replace gamalatahkee with a melodic phrase, feel the 7 in a more musical way; make the kee short and the ma long, for instance.
IS: “shigading, shigadingding, ma…………”
KB: “Use your voice, all the time. That’s your instrument, all you need to get a quiet start. It takes 49 times to be remembered and then you’ve changed your habit. You don’t have to make a spectacle of yourself in New York City, just hum.”
MASTER CLASS WITH HASSAN HAKMOUN - Morning Session
A video screen hangs from the rafters. Hassan Hakmoun is getting ready to tell us of Gnawa, a very ancient music tradition of trance music. The excitement in the room is palpable. Hassan’s transporting performance with Adam Rudolph and Steve Coleman at the Roadhouse last night had everyone still abuzz this morning, the possibility of learning from and playing with him.
HH: “Hello. Amazing to see all the family members of this instrument [his sintar] coming out. I want to show you 10 minutes of this little film about this instrument and why it makes the music it makes. We will learn something we can play together, maybe two songs, maybe half of us at a time, or maybe all of us at once and the house will fly away.”
(Looking at the screen. There is no sound; he provides commentary)
“I was born in Marrakesh. This is a ceremony of trance music. It’s used for healing and to bring people together. No invitation is needed to these kinds of performances.
(We see flowers and hundreds of burning candles). “This is the “7 Colors” performance, which is for the 7 spirits.”
(All are now entranced by his story and the images)
HH: “You see people trancing. If you ask them later, they don’t know what happened to them. From now on, every time they hear that particular song they will go into trance. The young ones always have an older one holding them to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. This is 2002 near my home. Some of these people are no longer with us.
I started playing at 14. You have to know all the songs, when to stop, how to stop. If you stop in the wrong place and the people who are trancing are not ready, you can hurt them, cripple them. The musicians follow the trancers, not the other way around. The trancers use certain movements, like putting their hand to the ground to say, “I’m done.” Tempo changes mean different things. Ceremonies start at 9pm and end the next day at 1 or 3pm.
Sometimes people from other countries come and they fall down without understanding what’s happening to them. What you bring to the performance matters, maybe someone has died. I’ve seen people jump out a windows and not get hurt, cut themselves with knives and no blood comes out. Trancers can identify unbelievers and they will show you the knife and show you how they do not bleed. It can be very scary.
This music is mostly supported by women in Morocco. At first, the music was played by the slaves for themselves, complaining about conditions. Now more people can play it, learn to play it: Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Yusef Lateef, Don Cherry, Peter Gabriel, Earth Wind & Fire, now Marcus Miller. Their interest has popularized it; playing this instrument is a ticket to see the world. That’s another reason why people are learning it. For me, the music was in my family. We were not allowed to attend the ceremonies as children, there are many ceremonies where children are not allowed, especially those where people eat raw meat. It is very scary.
There are other traditions. They go into trance, they drink hot boiling water, pour it on their skin and it turns cold like ice. This man (indicates film) has POWER.”
Q: “Do you worry that this sacred music would be misused because people know about it around the world?”
A: “We don’t publicize, but still the outreach still has helped so many musicians. They see the world, they own houses. They are not Gnawa, but they use the instruments. Many players are women now. It’s amazing to see.”
Q: “Is there conflict with other religions?”
A: “Of course, there is always conflict. Here is Republicans and Democrats. But the first person to be freed from slavery by the prophet Muhammed was the originator of this music.”
Q: “When you sang last night, was that a vocal improvisation?”
A: “No, all the Gnawa songs have singing, all have words.”
Q: “Is there cross-pollination with Haiti, Bali? I see similar activities here, with knives, boiling liquids…..”
A: “The answer is simple: Everyone came from Africa. Haitians, Brazilians, Balinese……you can play this music with people all over the world. All people are family, but some of them were kidnapped. Thank God they took their music with them to keep them company. When I play with people around the world, it is as if we are a reunited family, the trust is immediate.
Music is what keeps us apart from politicians. Without music, we would only be thinking about which country we will take over next.
OK. I want to give you some instruments. (Distributes brass castenets) Everyone should have two, one in each hand. We start with the rhythm so you have the feel, you will know where to come in when the music starts.”
The first rhythm is like a gallop, and he shows how the feel will change of itself over time. He kneels before a person having trouble, loosens her grip, places his hands over hers and shows her. Then he turns to the group and accelerates the tempo. The next rhythm canters, rather than gallops. Another is a kind of call & response. Adam Rudolph makes his way around the room, tapping on shoulders to demonstrate the tempo.
HH: “All singers please come close to me.”
Now it’s cooking, people are figuring out how their instrument fits in this groove, the volume is rising as confidence grows. After 10 minutes, who can say, the groove draws to a close.
HH: “So you can see how this can just go on for a while. Just one or two notes, just relax and let the river run; don’t fight the water. You don’t need a lot of notes.” (He makes like a flashy guitar player).
HH: (In answer to a guitar question): “I tune the strings to EAE or GDD, lower, to protect your voice.”
He lays down a new rhythm. Shows a new part to the strings, another to the drums. At some point he puts down his sinter to clarify a rhythm by tapping it out a rhythm on a drummer’s shoulders. The room swells with music.
HH: “Wow. That was good. Now it’s lunch, but we come back soon. Time lunch, not lunch time!”
MASTER CLASS WITH HASSAN HAKMOUN: Afternoon Session
Feeling Gnawa, Playing Gnawa
Before the lunchroom has fully cleared, Hassan has begun teaching the singers, seated in a small circle, a new song. He teaches another part to the horns, the strings, the drums. People are still trying to get comfortable with the castenets. It’s a fascinating thing, teaching a completely unfamiliar, utterly entrancing groove to enthusiastic learners. It’s way harder than it looks but everyone is deeply committed to figuring it out.
HH: “If you follow my feet, that will be your “1”. It’s like jumping rope, you have to know when to jump in and not get caught in the rope. (to guitarist) Don’t leave spaces between the notes. I’m always playing, hitting something.”
The first song launches. Before too long, the violinist has left the planet. Hassan’s head drops back. It goes one for countless minutes.
HH: “OK. That was good. Do we do another song or do we do another song? This one has a really beautiful melody.”
The melody rolls around and around while people become comfortable with it. Then Hassan begins specifying parts to different instruments.
HH: (giving out songlines) “Let me know if it’s too much food.”
Meanwhile, the air is full of voices. The singers ask for quiet so they can write the lyrics phonetically. Hassan sings, handing out paper and pencil. Turns out it’s simpler than it sounds, the same words stretched differently over the melody. He sings, they write. The songs begins. Time passes without measure. When everybody has it, Hassan accelerates the tempo. Again, he distributes songlines to the various sections. Coleman and Rudloph have walked in.
Q: “Did we just change keys?”
HH: “Yes, because you know the melody so I changed the lock! You will fit all the melody into less space, just like luggage. You push it in.”
There’s a performance tonight. A decision is made to rehearse the first song again. Everyone is afraid they’ve forgotten it. They haven’t quite forgotten it, turns out. The rehearsal is over, the learning continues, the performance is tonight. Hassan makes his way around the room to shake every hand.
IMPROVISERS ORCHESTRA WORKSHOP - Karl Berger
Karl wants to talk about changes in pitch. He offers three options: the octave, the semi-tone up or down, and the tri-tone. He advises everyone to listen to the fuller sound, not their own, when making their choice. He listens as the players make a continuous long tone. He gives the signals for extreme octave ranges. He walks to the singers, eliciting tones. He turns to the horns, again asking for extremes. A singer solos, then the violin. Stop.
Karl: “Let’s learn a line by heart. You’ve been doing it all afternoon, so let’s learn another one. Take this scale. In the variation, we always go one step up and two steps down.”
Everyone’s concentration is intense. Everyone is using their ears now, not so much their eyes, most of which are directed toward the floor. That will change as the session proceeds and attention must be paid to Karl’s signals and gestures.
“Let’s do this in 7, since we practiced that this morning.”
It goes well. Everyone remembers this morning’s 2+2+3=7.
“So, about the performance. People will solo. Much of the orchestrating will come from your not playing, you understand, the emphasis from one section to another, one soloist to another. OK?”
He gets ready to conduct, then stops himself. “Wait. I forgot the most important thing, dynamics. That’s the most important thing in music. When the notes go up, the overall sound rises and the other way around.” He sings and draws pictures in the air. The band plays the same thing as before, this time with dynamics. It’s very different.
With his impossibly gentle hands, Karl coaxes a vocalist who has been hiding to sing. She accepts the microphone. She has a lovely, breathy, high voice and takes a long solo, surprising herself. He turns to another and another who have not been heard from. He stops the band and keeps them singing. They can’t believe how good they sound. He signals to the piano, the mandolin to provide a little support. A sweeping gesture activates the horns. The singers keep it going. Not having held the mic, no one is now eager to give it up.
Karl takes the mic stand and places it in front of another singer not yet heard from. She displays great confidence, has a rich contralto, and scats trilling figures that come right out of the Gnawa session with Hassan Hakmoun a half hour ago. Now Karl pairs her voice with the breathy one.
Karl wants to hear what the electrified mandolin can do. He is taking notes, as a painter might consider what he can do with certain colors. He encourages the two flutes, then the clarinet, asks the chorus for a long tone, the drummers for drama. Then he stops everything, and hands the mikes to different singers and Ingrid. Small percussion, and the next thing you know everyone is in, everyone is out.
Basically, he is walking the band through the hand signals and gestures, teaching them to respond immediately, make musical turns on dimes. All are surprising themselves.
Following the Improvisers Orchestra Workshop, Karl leads the group through a deceptively simple meditation practice he learned from Buddhist monks: listen to the sounds disappearing. He strikes a gong and asks the participants to listen to the sound disappearing, which they do, eyes closed, bodies aligned in their seats. He strikes it again, and the mediation deepens. This is part of CMS basic practice, too: listening.
Wednesday night, June 8
The temperature has dropped precipitously and a few people are building a fire in the stone fireplace as people file in. The first performance is by more musicians than could fit on the stage, meaning everybody in the workshop and Hassan Hakmoun. But the public is well-represented; there are plenty of people to appreciate, dance, applaud. Everything learned in the day’s sessions with Hassan is to be performed this evening. Singers and guitar players spill off the stage along the walls. There are several guitar players in what would otherwise be the front row. The singers consult and share phonetic crib sheets and everyone is humming and running the melody on their instrument.
Hassan climbs onstage wearing black with a brilliant blue scarf and what appear to be tap shoes. He thanks Karl and Ingrid and Rob Saffer and all the participants, then launches the first song into immediate overdrive. Everyone snaps to full attention, players and listeners alike. There’s a reason they call it trance music. One woman leaps from her seat and begins to dance, shedding the winter coat she was wearing. The room has gone from cool to hot. The sound builds and builds like water put on to boil. When it gets to boiling, Hassan looks at his wife and child, both also wearing tap shoes, and they run up and dance in front of the stage. His young daughter, maybe 3 years old, kicks the groove up even higher. When it is over, no one can believe what just happened.
So they do it again! The second tune is just as groove-y, sinuous songlines in pidgin over a relentlessly propulsive beat. It’s just thrilling.
How to follow that? As luck would have it, Hamid Drake has arrived from New York City, fresh from the Vision Festival. He and Adam Rudolph have known each other since they were 14 years old. They met in a world-famous drum shop in Chicago one afternoon and have been making music together ever since. They do an improvisation with Karl and Ingrid, Angelica, Omar, the musician/magician.
The clarity and power of the drummers’ collaboration is nothing short of extraordinary; it’s been a long while since they were 14 years old; they know each other. Of particular beauty is the intensity and content of the glances Drake sends Adam, sidewise. Adam’s glances are surely just as communicative, but he is wearing sunglasses, not that that matters to Drake. Drake is a drummer of rare power, on a level with Blackwell and Haynes, both mentors, it turns out. He is surely one of the best drummers in the whole wide world.
Hassan has left the Roadhouse, which is too bad, since people were hoping he’d play with Adam and Drake. Turns out they were only putting their daughter to bed, because Hassan is now back in the room, watching from the front row, mouth agape. Here it comes. Adam and Hassan are longtime collaborators; Adam and Hamid have been close since childhood… You get the picture. It’s hard to describe the power of the sound they made, but it’s likely you would not have been able to afford the front row seat to hear such a trio in a commercial venue. The benefits of participating in a CMS workshop are many, unpredictable, and enduring.
And it shows: the participants take the stage, many of them playing beautiful, original, creative, spontaneous, instantaneous music until 4am.
Another special day at CMS.
Thursday, June 10
Following the body awareness session, we do five minutes of meditation, sitting still, letting thoughts come and go.
VOICE TRAINING – Ingrid Sertso
Ingrid: “When you worry that you won’t measure up, I think of this story. Dollar Brand, Abdullah Ibrahim – student crying after workshop. I can’t do this. Abdulah tells him: You have pulse, heartbeat. A natural feeling for rhythm, but you grew up with march music. You’ll feel it.’
The group moves into a circle for “tuning,” arms around each other’s shoulders. One or more people stand in the center, to receive the vibrations. Everyone in the circle intones, first, the same note as the first that emerges, then whatever note feels comfortable. Those in the center move about, absorbing the vibrations of everyone’s singing throughout their body. The effect is incredible.
We sing the South African song, We Are Going, three times, adding the harmony after the first time through. Ingrid speaks of the power of the speaking voice, which is the basis of Indian singing. She believes it is the most communicative vocal range and advises building the strength of those tones.
She also reminds all that everyone in an audience is sensitive. They are sensitive to different aspects of sound, performance, but everyone is sensitive, everyone can detect a performer’s level of honesty, integrity, effort, etc. Never underestimate the audience’s ability to discern. They wouldn’t be an audience if they weren’t discerning.
“Sing together every morning,” she advises. “Any simple song.”
“Do they still sing the national hymn in school in the morning? They should. It could bring about the end of war.”
RHYTHM TRAINING – Karl Berger
Karl begins by exploring the 7 beat further, moving the downbeat around, changing emphases.
Next, he wants to do a listening exercise. “When you play in ensembles,” he says, “ you need to learn to listen to everyone around you, not just yourself.
When you practice rhythms, you should start out slowly. That’s true with anything. I once knew a great classical pianist who would play his whole program at half-speed in the afternoon. So his 2-hour concert would take him 4 hours to practice.
I advise you use metronomes, because we have a false perception of time and though it’s not the same as the mechanical, the mechanical is a start. I had a friend who was a romantic, 19th century style. I advised him to practice his rubato with a metronome, so you’re not practicing a rhythm with a rubber band.”
Now the group resumes beating out the 7, only this time, everyone is advised to step off the train, drop out of the pattern for at least one bar, and listen in order to find a way back into the rhythm.
Ingrid has never counted on One. You need to know where the One is but you never need to accent it. Ma, la, kee are more interesting to me than the Ga and Ta.
Your sense of “now” is a musical sense, not a thinking one. Thinking is too slow for music.
Q: “Losing One is usually when I fall off the train. I’m always chasing the One to get back in. Is that true for everyone?”
A: “Yes, because mostly the way we are taught music in schools, the focus is on the One. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Always, just wait for the next train.”
Ingrid closes the session with a joke.
“A bus driver and a Buddhist teacher died. They go to the Gate. The Gatekeeper takes the bus driver in and disappears with him for a long time. When he comes back, The Buddhist says, you make me wait? I spent a lifetime helping people, spreading the Word, and you let him go in first?”
“Well,” the Gatekeeper replied, “When you were teaching, people fell asleep. But when the bus driver was driving, people were praying.”
MASTER CLASS: GUIDING ARTIST ADAM RUDOLPH
“Let’s get started. We have an hour and a thousand things to do. The first thing a musician needs to learn is to be on time!
My first tour with Yusef, I showed up 9:10 for a 9am call. Yusef was sitting there. Next time I came at 9 and he was sitting there like he’d been there all night.
The “Ostinato of Circularity” is one of my orchestra’s guiding principles.
Rhythms that sound complex ain’t necessarily so. If you can sing it, you can play it.
So. Violin’s gonna play it, then we’re gonna sing it”. All sing. “Everyone sorta, kinda got it? OK!”
Everyone tunes to concert G, up a whole step, up a whole step, up a whole step, a minor third. Reverse. OK. Instruments down. “Now we’re going to fly. I want you to sing it until you can play it. Then you’re sing and play at the same time, and when you can do both, then you’re going to play without singing. After that, we’re gonna do all kinds of things with it.” The group plays it a hundred times.
“The tune is called Walking The Curve. Why are starting with it? Because it contains all the ideas I want to talk about. First, does anyone recognize anything about it? It’s a 15 beat cycle against 10. It’s a pentatonic scale. Those things matter to me.
Here’s the thing. When you change your thought patterns, you can advance. But what do you practice? Everyone comes to music because of some kind of style that called them them. I call it the What. Then there’s the How: how that music was made, how you could do it. The Why is the mysticism of music and that’s a whole day, a whole lifetime’s discussion. But let’s say it begins with the moment of intention, the un-struck sound, and the struck sound, making a vibration.
When you get past style, you’re dealing with elements. When you master them, you can play any kind of music. Everything is composed of elements. Physicists postulate 11 levels. And the laws of physics become simpler and simpler, when they are discovered, uncovered.
Musicians are alchemists of vibration. We are born spiritual, but we learn “religion,” the mystery.
Sound, timbre, harmony, melody: All are one element of the dual manifestation of vibration. The other element is motion, time. You have to have control of the elements to do what you want on your instrument. Your ideas lead your technique. I’m mostly self-taught., though I did study with some great teachers. Mostly I taught myself so I could play what I could hear in my mind.
Let’s talk rhythm for a second. There are 3 aspects: language, dance, math. Math is the skeleton that allows me to hang the clothes of any style on it. Math is simpler than we think. The complex polyrhythms from around the world? All of them have both male and female qualities. The male energy is the 3; the female is 2 or 4. The Dogon people of Mali say that every rhythm is “a marriage and an interplay” between the male and female energy.
You can look at rhythm vertically and horizontally, the 2 one way and the 3, the other. The dimensionality gives a composition its form. Now, 10 against 15 is 3 against 2 three times. So let’s make sure everyone can pat 3 against 2.”
The group practices.
“Now drop out the 2, strike the right hand only.”
“Bring them hands together again”
“Now drop out the 3. Way harder, right? And does the tempo seem to slow down? The 2 and the 3 are female and male; the 3 speeds up, the 2 slows down. Now, switch the tempos to the other hand, drop out the 2 and the 3 in turn. I’ll cue you.”
“Switch back to the right hand. Practice this all the time! You can’t play music without being able to do this, play the 3 against the 2. Practice with a friend. Mirroring is fun.
“Sound, usula. The USULA. Low to high is tension; high to low is release. Put that in your pocket and don’t forget it.” He demonstrates the difference on different size drums. One or the other becomes dominant.
“Use a metronome. Always play something relative to something else.
Everything is based on the series of harmonic overtones. All the intervals, timbres - just as is the vibration of the universe. Recently, I’ve been thinking that the harmonic series is generated the same thing as how music is generated. The first harmonic is the octave, then the 5th. That’s dimensionality, because every 5th has a 5th, generating a spiral.”
Steve Coleman is sitting quietly, listening to Adam, head down, outside the circle, tapping out a rhythm on his lap. Other guiding artists are there, too, trying to learn more: Omar, Angelica, Ken.
“People who live close to nature tend to make music on the pentatonic scale. If you could play 3 against 2 insanely fast, what would you hear? The Fifth! 3 and 2 makes 5. The relationship of 3 against 2 is the basis for most of the music in the world, odd and even, vertical and horizontal, up and down, light and dark, you get it. The 2 OR the 3 is a pulse. When you add the other, you get dimensionality, you get a rhythm.
The more simple the rhythm, the more you have to deal with language, phraseology. What distinguishes the greats – Miles, Ornette, Yusef ----- is command of the language.
The triangle within the circle defines the touchstones of the division. You have to know those.
Now play the double times on your lap and the triples with your feet. This is profound! You have to learn it. Hard, right? Practice!
A trickster walks through the village in a multicolored hat. People say, did you see that stranger with the green hat? Other people say, he had a red hat. I know what I saw! Now the trickster walks back thru the village the other way, everyone seems the other hat.” Dimensionality.
So, after lunch, we’re gonna do some spontaneous combustion, some composition. We’re going to look at little pieces of paper, sorry. Set up in rows, horns together maybe, so I can conduct you. OK. Lunch!”
People head to the dining room, heads spinning, ears open. Coleman sits under stairs leading up to the barn’s loft. He’s working with the euphonium and violin to try out what he was tapping out on his knees a while ago. It’s not what 50 other people in the room were playing in unison at the time. They play, others listen and then join in. Another spontaneous composition.
MASTER CLASS: GUIDING ARTIST ADAM RUDOLPH
“Everybody should have 3 pages: the inter-valid matrices, the cosmograms, and the Ostinatos of Circularity. Get out your matches; we’ll burn this written music! Only kidding. Many people like to look at paper and I respect that.”
He indicates a whiteboard with two waveforms, the two and the three, which would produce a fifth if vibrating fast enough. Ken demonstrates on the string bass, dividing the strings in halves and thirds. Adam demonstrates the simple hand signals he will use to conduct the ensemble: across, back, soft, louder, low and high ranges.
“Let’s look at the matrix, #3, the Symmetric Hexatonic. It’s what Messaien called “modes of limited transposition,” half/half/whole. There are 3 tonics. Improvisers love it because it has tonal ambiguity, you’re not on lockdown, regardless your instrument. Once improvisers moved past using harmonic intervals, they started inventing new systems. But there’re only 6 intervals. But look at the Rasa, the Indian term that describes a desired emotional coloration. Once you’re inside an interval system, you’re free.
Play the chords from left to right along the top line. We can make thousands of combinations and never repeat, “deconstructions.” When you get to the end of the line, turn around and go back. Don’t repeat the last note, just turn around.”
The band plays the line vertically, then one side of the band goes horizontal and the other vertical. Something’s cooking.
“How else could we make it interesting? Ideas? No, no diagonals! Everybody asks that. That’s another philosophy, one I don’t subscribe to. My music always resolves to emptiness.”
He assigns sections to play the same line forwards and backwards, up and down. Four sequences simultaneously.
“OK, now we really have something going on. Let’s do it again. This time, we’ll start with one instrument,” he says, beginning to arrange the composition, explore individual voices. He turns to the percussion. “Half of you will play a pattern of three, fast, medium or slow. Have an intentionality to what you do, don’t vary it. Here we go……….OK. We got a vibe.
Messiaen’s book, The Language of my Musical Technique; highly recommended. Later, I would be happy to talk to you about how to make your own matrices.
Let’s look at #, Nu Clustonic. Clustonic is a concept based on two intervals and all the notes between them. So we’re going to play along the periphery of the box, make a square. I want more sound variety from the percussion, in 5; short and long tones from everyone else. Here we go….
Let’s start with percussion this time. Drummer: Put down your sticks. You have lots of sound possibilities in front of you. Play with your hands. Don’t be afraid to play fast; everybody’s choosing medium tempo too much. OK, everybody ready? Here we go….
Let’s do another, still in 5. Strings start this time…. Beautiful. Let’s shift gears. We’re touching on things.” Turns to whiteboard. He draws a triangle. He wants to talk about the ambiguity of the triplet.
“Let’s play 3A, first variation on the triplets. Two notes. Play them exactly. A thousand drummers could be playing two beats and one of them will be making your hair stand on end. Don’t be him.
3B. Much harder! Again….. OK. Something started to levitate there. Let’s try 3C….
Everything from Bach to James Brown comes out of the Pygmy forest. In my opinion. I’ve done a LOT of research.
What is virtuosity? It’s vastly overrated, first of all. It originally referred to people who looked through microscopes. You could become a virtuoso of anything; that’s up to you. If you want to master everything about your instrument, then you can be free. Coltrane said so.”
Another piece. “The Collective Us’m. In this system, you can hold a note or leave out a note. What you cannot do is get lost: You cannot break the pattern! It’s challenging. All right? Let’s see…. OK. I’m going to ask the percussion to drop out; everyone’s relying too much on the percussion. And I want some of you to leave out some notes, give this thing some shape. Start slowly….”
Drummers come in too loud. “Stop. Be musical, drummers. Don’t be a drummer. Spoken as a drummer.
The pattern is in your head. Whatever notes you leave out, if you keep to the pattern, it’s valid. And your neighbor, doing the same thing with her pattern, through her choices, sonorities emerge, quite lovely sonorities, I might add. This is gonna be a new thing because we’re going to have different patterns going at the same time. No kick drum, now; hands. If I can’t hear the singers, you’re playing too loud. Here we go….
OK. That was beautiful because we were hearing the three sides of the triplet. Fold it into what you do in your own way. Is it really 4:20? And we only go to 5:00? Wow.
OK. I’m talking to the drummers. Everybody else, we’re going to help the drummers out. Let’s all sing this rhythm while they play it. It’s called Dance Drama Pt. 3. Here we go; 4 times, then the break….” Demonstrates with his hands. “See? Not as crazy as it seems. Just three 5s and three 7s. Go….
OK. Not as hard as you thought, but now we add the groove.” He stamps it out on his foot. “Here we go….
Before we start having too much fun, I want to see if we can put some things together. I gotta show you this. Meet the Triple Diminished Cosmogram. Forget the dishwasher. Put it on your wall, don’t leave home without it.” Laughs.
“I have an ambivalent relationship with western music; I came up playing hand drums on the street. But you gotta make friends with it. This Cosmogram is a gift beyond 1000 golden doubloons for you to take home. There are 5 possible cosmograms, in fact, all based on interval systems, which if you understand, you can start anywhere, anytime. For instance, clockwise – up a whole, up a whole, down a half. You go clockwise and you never skip a note.” He divides the band in half, each playing a different thread. “This is GREAT for singers, incidentally. Learn this with a piano. GUITARISTS! The first three notes in any string produce incredible voicings.” They try, and they are beautiful. “See??”
They explore several petals of the flower-shaped cosmogram. The voices are astonishing, as promised. “Singers!” he says.“Do not be the kind of singers musicians don’t respect. Know your way around a keyboard. These matrices, the cosmogram, they will really help you. The way to practice is, in essence, look at the matrices, don’t be confined to lines, you can make turns. Find something that sounds good to you. OK, once again….”
Surprised at how quickly the time went, Rudolph is concerned about how best to spend the next 15 minutes. Karl Berger sees what’s going on, generously steps in and proposes that he surrender his Improviser’s Orchestra workshop slot so Adam can continue with the group until 6:30. Offer accepted. This barn ain’t big enough for TWO improvising orchestras! Is it?
After a 10-minute break, a flute player returns with a gash on his upper arm, cause unknown, and Taylor Ho Bynum, cornetist from Anthony Braxton’s band, is now sitting in. Talk about making your presence known.
Back to the piece. After once through Adam wants to talk about dynamics again, observing that “soft is more powerful than large. Why?” he asks. “Because soft CONTAINS loud. Got it? Again….
That was good! Drummers: Good Metal Housekeeping Award for improvement.
“OK, let’s move on to something else. An Eb pentatonic Blues.” He distributes lyrics to the singers. “This is based on Sri raga. It’s from Neitszche, an excerpt from an opera I wrote. It’s about the Dreamer. Singers: You have to be strong. You’re in charge of dynamics too. You have microphones. This song demands passion. You have to be commanding.
This is not boogie blues, right? This is on-your-knees blues. Here we go….
Wow. Beautiful. Bravo. OK. Let’s revisit Walking The Curve, the first thing we did today; make sure everyone remembers it.”
Not everyone remembers it exactly. “OK, let’s sing it again. Then we’re going to play and I’m going to cue portions of the band.”
Concluding remarks of deep wisdom: “This music is for you, not to pass around. The more you work on it at home, be inventive with it, you are welcome to contact me if you have questions about it. Singers: All those intervals are perfect for you. All right. Thanks everybody. You guys are badass.”
Karl thanks everyone, invites questions and, getting none, indeed only receiving thanks, asks everyone to stay in touch and come back soon. He talks a little about the history of CMS and his hopes for how the organization might grow. He marvels at the influence of executive director and board member Rob Saffer, who he says is not a player but is certainly a musician. Ornette called Rob a composer. In fact, Karl says Rob knows more about more kinds of music than he does. It is certain that Rob would dispute this, but no matter. He has done great things for CMS and it’s just getting started. He’s always pushing. In fact, Rob’s not even here to hear Karl speak about him; he’s outside meeting with Taylor, already planning 2017 workshops that may include Braxton and his disciples. Stay tuned.
Then we close our eyes and listen to the sound disappear 12 times. Dinner!
CLOSING NIGHT AT THE ROADHOUSE
Thursday June 9
Karl rings a bell. “Let’s get this festival started,” Karl says into the mic. ‘There’ve been a lot of after-hours and between-sessions music-making going on. Tonight we’re going to hear the fruits of all these new musical alliances and friendships.’
“This is Piece #176,” Karl says. “Shall we read a poem by Ornette?” Ingrid asks him. “Of course,” comes the reply. They begin. There is Karl and Ingrid, Ursel (pno), Omar (gtr), Ken (bass), and the drummers Adam Rudolph, and Tani Tabbal, who played with the Arkestra while still a teen, Taylor, of Anthony Braxton’s band, just arrived this afternoon and he uses his mute (including a battered felt hat) to create a feeling of uneasy nearness to some very big and angry jungle cats, even as he quotes Miles’ Bitches Brew. Tabbal, has traveled from nearby Woodstock but Ursel is here all the way from Cologne. Germany. When they finish, Taylor says to Adam about Tani, “You guys got some history.” You can tell. They’ve been playing together for decades.
Next, an improvisation among Sam (mando), Alon (drums), Jake (gtr) and Taylor that showcases the vocalizing skills possessed by Chuck, a NY state geologist capable of unleashing Robin Williams-level torrents of vocal sounds at a moment’s notice. It is a remarkable gift and there’s probably not much call for it down at the geology office. CMS workshops are very dear to him. Alon is playing traps and his room key. Yay, sound!
During the next changeover, Karl sits at the piano and plays a quiet ‘I Remember Clifford’ by the sax player Benny Golson in memory of Clifford Brown. It is a very rare thing to hear Karl play a straight song on solo piano and the room goes quiet to listen. When he finishes to great applause he seems surprised anyone was listening. “I was just playing an interlude while you finish setting up,” he says. Lucky us.
Now that they’re set up, Sana Nagano (vln), Raoul Morales (gtr), Ken and Karl play Raoul’s composition, which he should immediately send to Ken Burns because you never know. A very tender melody, Raoul explains it’s about “saying goodbye to someone or something and knowing you’ll always have it.” Which is a good thing to think about tonight when everyone is saying goodbye for now even as they make plans to play together again somewhere, somehow, sometime soon.
Soprano Saxophone Colossus pairs Lee Odom and Gene Coleman, with Ken on bass and Royce Froelich on drums. Afterward, Lee tells Rob Saffer how much the CMS workshops have done for her (this is her second). “Last year, I was searching; my eyes were bulging out of my head. But I went home and practiced and practiced and this time, I’m really learning.” She hopes to come back in the fall if she isn’t recording in Paris. It’s good to have options.
All the singers in the house fill the stage for an improvisation justifiably called, So What Is The Plan? Chuck, Jolene, Hilary, Miriam, Mariana, Maya – so many Ms – and Ingrid, of course. Actually, Ingrid was feeling tired and was thinking she wouldn’t sing, but curiosity and her generous heart got the better of her and all are better for it. She is a truly inspiring teacher, which may be a trite thing to say but the hour is late and it’s unarguable.
What follows is the Macedonian Blues, in a key signature of 19/8. You heard that right. It was in the repertoire of The Colours, a cover band Alon was in back in Sydney. The very accomplished American blues guitarist in that band (explaining why the band was not called The Colours) had a student from Macedonia who simply could not learn a 12-bar blues. He preferred to play in 19 and 23, numbers like that. This was in his honor. Jake played guitar, Ursel, piano; Ken on bass, Sam played mando. Maya and Lee soloed on trumpet and sax. It was in F, For Sure.
Karl and Ingrid wanted to play again before heading out and chose to honor the absent titans, Don and Ornette, accompanied by Ursel, Ken, and Tani. Don Cherry’s Art Deco, his only arguable hit, came first. The lyrics are new, perhaps not as recorded. Don didn’t like his own lyrics, Ingrid said, so he asked her to write new ones, which she did, for Lady Day. They segued into Ornette’s When Will The Blues Leave, which Karl, citing the previous number, opined is clearly never. Ingrid closed the little set in her signature manner, “The End.” That’s not old-fashioned; it’s just totally her thing.
Miriam (accompanied by Sana, Alon, Raoul, Lee and Ken) vocalized a stunning lament in her beautiful contralto that resolved into the thought, “I’m Just Waiting for Something Beautiful.” The combination of Gabriel Dresdale’s cello, Alon’s soft percussion, Mariana’s voice and Sam’s mandolin is worthy of further investigation. They’re making plans for July in Woodstock. Later a rhythm and blues revue, with several guitarists (Rick Warren leading) sets out and Jolene just lets loose wailing, crying, singing, letting it rip. It was the cherry on top!
At closing time, there was a little guitar summit of Raoul, Jake and Rick Warren, his first time on stage tonight. By this time, everyone was saying goodbye, exchanging cards and CDs; there may have been some tears. Jake will be living in Sam’s old room in Harkness Hall at Oberlin next semester. What are the odds? What are the odds of any of this?
Notes from Rob Saffer, CMS Executive Director
This was a magical week. All CMS workshops are. But this was special. We had a larger group than previous workshops: more diversity of instrumentation, musical background, age and gender. Word is spreading; our workshops change not only one’s music, but also one’s life. The anecdotes keep coming – these workshops are often described as a ‘coming home’ – a place where musicians or even just fans can get back to the basics of music, feeling it in new ways, connecting with other like-minded people in an intimate, stunning setting. And, the food’s great.
Taking a five thousand foot view, this week was about rhythm. Steve and Adam shared insights about using rhythm to drive melody and harmony – the secrets rhythm can unlock. Hassan continually played with rhythm: changing, rearranging, pushing, pulling, slowing, and speeding. And there’s the rhythm of a day at CMS – basic practice, master classes, improvising orchestra, mediation – it all makes sense, it all works. It feels right in body, mind and heart.
I want to thank our friends (now family) at Full Moon – Amy, Michael, Henry, Dylan, Adam and everyone else who makes us feel so welcome. Thanks to our tireless crew of Matthew Cullen (audio), Geoff Baer (video), Janine Nichols for scribing the week’s proceedings, Michael Shore for his Tweeting, Marc Epstein for helping work cameras, Karens Levine and Wolfe for taking photos, and all the participants for creating an intimate, cooperative musical community in which everyone can thrive.
Thanks of course to the Guiding Artists who gave so generously throughout the week - Steve Coleman, Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph – and to the other artists who were on hand playing, mentoring, and sharing their wisdom: Angelica Sanchez, Ken Filiano, Taylor Ho Bynum, Hamid Drake, Harvey Sorgen, Tani Tabbal, and Omar Tamez. And we can never forget Karl and Ingrid for having the passion and insight to create CMS in the first place.
Our next workshop is September 19 – 23 with Milford Graves, Steven Bernstein, and Fabian Almazan, among others. Stay tuned.
CMS Spring Workshop 2016 - Participant Testimonials:
“My scholarship let me immerse myself in music in a way I haven’t been able to do outside of my work and parenting for over 15 years. Everything I gained will help deepen my work as a music therapist, my own music making, and inspire who I am in the world; energized, vibrant and with a wide open heart.”
- Maya, music therapist, singer, trumpeter
“A great learning environment for methods and processes you would not normally encounter in more traditional music seminars. The guest artists are always so very helpful and generous with their time, even outside the regular sessions -- during meals and student performance sessions.”
- Gene, reeds
"Because I play music nearly every day, I can get stuck in ruts in my thinking and playing. This workshop gave me a refresh and recharge. As Karl Berger reminded us, no two notes are the same. You play a G and then you play it again, and the sound waves are always different. If through the power of listening we can tune into this, then we will never hear the same note twice. There will be no ruts to get stuck in. This is why I play music. I’d like to thank the donors and sponsors of Creative Music Studios for their generosity, as they have provided me with this incredible opportunity to reconnect with my musical purpose, and to study with some of the greatest musicians alive in the world today.”
- Gabriel – cellist
“A powerful week of music-making with a wonderfully diverse and talented group. The faculty introduced a lot of great ways of thinking about sound. I'll be processing and playing with these ideas for many months. Beyond the musical experience, CMS was remarkable for the great sense of community it fostered -- unique in the openness and mutual exchange between faculty, guiding artists, and participants. Undoubtedly, friendships made at CMS will continue on both musical and social levels.”
- Sam – multi intsrumentalist
“Thank you to the lovely people who donated, allowing me to attend the CMS Spring Workshop on scholarship. I think CMS more than any organization today is committed to developing new modes of music-making while exploring the possibilities of speed of sound communication!”
- Noah, percussionist
“There are many things I got from CMS, musical stuff to life stuff. I learnt the importance of art and creativity. I always knew these things were important, but as a young musician in a materialistic world, it was hard to actually feel it. The guiding artists seem to take art and creativity incredibly seriously, so when they play, they sound so convinced and honest. Karl taught us that music really heals and changes the world, by showing us how to quiet our mind and listen to what's really important. That so many passionate people are involved in CMS makes me realize it is my important duty as an artist to keep making more and more honest and creative music.”
- Sana, Violinist/Composer
“Being a part of the CMS community has helped me grow as an artist and as a professional. Playing music with people has a way of softening and blurring the lines between generations, socio-economic groups, races, and genders -- this is why supporting young artists and musicians like me through generous donations to CMS is so incredible, because it helps bring the full potential of music into being!”
- Sarah, vocalist
“Thank you to all the donors because you are a very important part of this kind of experience. Life wisdom can show to all of us that we all need each other in very different aspects. One of the great things about CMS is that it is a community of sharing. Great things can come from this kind of workshops. Learning to listen to others before playing and learning to be in silence before trying to make music is something that we and the whole world needs.”
- Raul, guitarist
“I really enjoyed all three guest artists. Steve Coleman was particularly generous with his time -- during lunch breaks, one-on-one and in small groups. Adam Rudolph made it accessible to students like me with only an elementary grasp of theory, while presenting a wealth of information that more advanced students could draw on. Hassan Hakmoun was spectacular as a teacher, musician, facilitator, and as a human being. He got all 33 of us playing Gnawa music together in an incredibly short amount of time. We could have spent all day or all week just working with Karl and Ingrid, since what they offer is so deep…”
- Hillary – vocalist