4 Days of Intensive Workshops and Intimate Concerts

The Creative Music Studio’s second 40th anniversary workshop took place between October 7 – 11, 2013 at Full Moon Resort, nestled streamside in a valley 30 minutes west of Woodstock, NY. Twenty participants interacted day and night with 14 Guiding Artists, including Vijay Iyer, Peter Apfelbaum, Steve Gorn, Tom Rainey, Tony Malaby, Tom Buckner, Mark Helias, Kirk Knuffke, Kenny Wessel, Harvey Sorgen, Omar Tamez, John Menegon and of course Creative Music Foundation co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso.

Following is a brief summary of the week:

Monday, October 7

Despite tornado warnings, torrential rains and even a five-hour power outage, the CMS Fall Workshop kicked off. After cocktails and appetizers, Karl Berger invited the group to explain who they were and why they were attending the workshop. Participants came from Europe, California, Virginia and Japan, among other far-reaching places. After a wonderful dinner, the group went to the Roadhouse for the first of four intimate concerts. Open/Loose, a trio with Mark Helias, Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey kicked off the concert, with stunning duo and trio work, playing microtones and macro grooves. The trio was joined later by Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, Cyro Baptista and Peter Apfelbaum. It was a rousing launch for the week ahead. Later in the evening, participants joined in various combinations, jamming until late in the evening.

Tuesday, October 8

After Savia Berger’s body awareness/movement class, Karl Berger’s Gamalataki Rhythm Training and Ingrid Sertso’s Voice Training classes, Guiding Artist Cyro Baptista got to work, though ‘play’ may better describe his approach. “Home Depot is my favorite musical instrument store,” said Cyro during his morning workshop. “I love making up my own new instruments because they make new sounds.” Using a huge variety of instruments, from berimbau to the cashishi, many he learned to play from CMS Guiding Artist Nana Vasconcelos, Cyro involved the participants in a variety of rhythm games that included clapping, dancing and singing. He talked about Westerners feeling music in their upper bodies while Brazilians use their whole body, especially the lower parts, to connect with music viscerally. He also talked about the struggles artists need to create great art. “You have to be uncomfortable as an artist,” he said, sharing anecdotes about Herbie Hancock’s unflinching desire to make art, even if it means half the people in the concert hall leaving. He quoted Herbie: “I play for the people who stay.” Cyro also talked about first coming to the United States to study at CMS and how he learned the Gamalatki rhythm system and would wander NYC streets using it to keep rhythm as he walked.

After lunch, Tony Malaby, Tom Rainey and Mark Helias, the Open/Loose Trio, lead a workshop that focused a lot on being purely in the musical moment, not playing self-consciously and letting the music come to the musician. ”Technique is what allows us to express ourselves,” said Helias. “We need to absorb technique into our muscle memory so it’s available in improvisations intuitively, analytically, and instinctively integrated into our sound.” After some exercises with duos, trios, quartets and quintets, Tom lead an at-times heated discussion about not avoiding playing pretty grooves. “You’re not playing free if you’re consciously avoiding grooves, melody or harmony,” he said. “Find a way to add to these things and explore all colors; don’t avoid them.”

Peter Apfelbaum began his afternoon workshop, rhetorically asking: “What makes a successful improvisation?” and answering with, “Getting out of your own way, not thinking, not wanting, just being in the music,” a refrain often heard at CMS workshops. He invited participants to explore exercises in controlled improvisations and setting limits, asking them to compose and improvise using only two notes. “How free can you be using certain limitations?” He encouraged participants to use dynamics to “add drama, and a broad musical vocabulary to add variety, contrast and suspense in improvising.” He continued with this koan: “If you’re playing really free without a reference point, then how will other musicians or the audience know just how free you’re playing?”

In other workshops, Harvey Sorgen lead the group on how to breathe with the music, into the music, and how to breathe music out of one's body and into one's instrument, from drums to voice. If you’ve ever seen him play, you’ll understand what he means.

Thomas Buckner spent his workshop focusing on more open and free vocal improvisations, allowing anything to come in, not editing. Through playful vocal exercises, the group loosened up and created marvelous sounds. After, they worked with Tom to ‘compose’ an improvised piece for the evening’s concert program.

Steve Gorn’s early evening workshop focused on the grammar and architecture of ragas, using singing and listening as tools to dig deeper into Indian classical music. He talked about the “yoga of sound and how music resonates inside us physically and emotionally” and took the group through a variety of calls and responses, using an evening raga as the focus. He also explained why a drone, in this case a tambura, is used in Indian music. “It’s important because every note in the architecture of a raga takes its place in each drone.” He went on to explain that while the ragas are ancient, people can improvise over and around them, constantly renewing and reenergizing classical ragas, making them contemporary.

Before opening the evening concert with a solo flute raga, Gorn talked emotionally about the role of artists passing their art to the next generation. He then played a gorgeous raga that set the stage for the rest of the evening’s concerts. Next up was Thomas Buckner, who lead eight participants in a wonderful vocal improvisation, something they had worked out in Tom’s workshop earlier in the day. That was followed by a concert featuring Karl and Ingrid, Peter Apfelbaum, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, guitarist Kenny Wessel, drummer Harvey Sorgen, Mexican guitarist Omar Tamez, vocalist Tom Buckner, and bassist John Menegon, along with workshop participants joining in at various times. It was another night of splendid music in the intimate and rustic Roadhouse at the Full Moon Resort.

Wednesday, October 9

“Voice is the gateway to the heart,” Karl began morning rhythm and vocal practice. “When you sing, you feel sound in your body.” It set the stage for Ingrid, who talked about voice being ‘our first instrument’ before taking the group through a variety of playful and insightful vocal exercises and practices.

Karl segued to rhythm training: “Music needs to be played by heart. Thinking is much too slow.” The purpose of the Gamalataki rhythm training, he explained, is to feel the music with beat-for-beat attention. “Let the music come to you. If you wait, it will come. Don’t push or be impulsive. Waiting and not playing helps the music.”

Cornetist Kirk Knuffke’s spent half his workshop sharing about his experience in Butch Morris’s orchestra, taking the group through some nifty exercises that asked participants to improvise on rhythm, not melody, by using just two notes. “You don’t have to have fully formed ideas to come in. Just play,” he said, echoing other CMS Guiding Artists. “Improvising is leading, following and getting out of the way,” he concluded.

Feedback CMS received after its May workshop made it clear that nearly everyone wanted to have more time playing in Karl’s Improviser’s Orchestra. So, for the fall workshop, we scheduled three sessions. Playful as always, Karl started the workshop quoting a Don Cherry koan: “Always think of another note when you think of one note.” He went on to discuss the principles of dynamics, tuning and harmony, taking the group through tuning exercises first with voice, and later with instruments. “We need to tune into the sound and remember that every note contains every other note,” one of Karl’s mantras. He continued: “Even if you’re not playing, you are part of the orchestra. You’re playing the orchestra, the orchestral sound is you!” With that freedom as the foundation, Karl conducted the orchestra in two long pieces with everyone getting a chance to solo.

Omar Tamez, the Mexican guitarist, lead a workshop that focused on getting rid of ‘right and wrong’ and about commitment to music and sound: “Play something like you’ll never play it again.” He also encouraged the group to practice compositions from every point of view, even backward and upside down, as a way of getting inside the music and letting the music get inside you. He led the group through a variety of exercises. Summarizing, he said: “If someone knows even just one note. He can change anything with that one note.”

The day’s workshops concluded with a ‘Listening to the Sound Disappear’ meditation, a teaching Karl and Ingrid received from a Tibetan Buddhist lama.

Concerts that night included Karl and Ingrid, along with Kirk, Omar, Harvey Sorgen, John Menegon, and guitarist Kenny Wessel, as well as jams with participants and late night jams among participants themselves.

Thursday, October 10

After morning movement awareness, rhythm and vocal workshops, and 90 minutes of playing in Karl’s Improviser’s Orchestra, Guiding Artist Vijay Iyer commenced his afternoon workshop in the rustic, spacious Barn. “Music is a way of connecting people,” he began before launching in to an extended discussion about ‘embodied cognition’ - musical rhythms that activate parts of the brain. Of course we should have expected this from someone with a PhD in the cognitive science of music! He moved the discussion from brains to heart, explaining that music is in everyone, “every breath, heartbeat, step we take, our speech, they’re all rhythm. Music comes from us; we don’t go to it. Improvisation is what we do with our bodies. Rhythm synchronizes our actions.,” said Vijay. Then he moved from the theoretical to the practical: “When you’re playing, part of you needs to be an observer who’s listening. This helps us avoid imitation or following another person.” He also played some recent recordings he made with Afghanistan and Iraqi war veterans revealing the personal toll war has taken on their lives. “The artist is honest and courageous,” he declared. “Music provides an environment to tell the truth, a place to hear tough stuff.”

Jason Hwang’s workshop seemed to magically incorporate a bit of every workshop that came before. It tied together so many bits and pieces and in a way, really unified all the disparate ideas Participants experienced with so many different Guiding Artists. After getting to ‘know’ the Participants by asking each of them to play for 30 seconds, Jason began talking. For Jason, life and art are synonymous: “Tie your sound to your life experience. It’s not about music. It’s about life. Music is about life.” He also encouraged the group to take chances and to “make a mistake every time you practice.” Summarizing eloquently and building on Vijay’s workshop, Jason concluded by explaining how “music harmonizes the brain which in turn harmonizes life.” Could there be a more fitting conclusion?

As it was Thelonious Monk’s birthday, the evening concert focused on interpreting Monk tunes, with Karl, Ingrid, Jason, Omar, Harvey and John Menegon taking the stage and inviting Participants up at various times to play. It was a fitting end to a wonderful week.

Participants' Quotes about The Fall 2013 Workshop:

This is a workshop for musicians of all backgrounds to come together and make music that exists solely in the moment. It’s a chance for a musician to free themselves from the bonds of musical style and just play, while keeping their voices fully intact.

Workshop content was brilliant, visceral, challenging if you wanted it to be, worldly and very interesting.

The conversation is stimulating. The atmosphere is great and the people are friendly. It’s an opportunity to be heard, but also be a part of something bigger than oneself.

I started learning some new tunes and relearning some tunes in new keys, I noticed that my playing was freer. My wife, Kathy, seldom comments on my practicing, but a couple of days ago I was practicing improvising on Body and Soul in G. She called from the other room, “Wow, what was that? That was beautiful.

I love the jams. And I like that there are two spaces, so if one jam is playing real book stuff I could go to the other hall and try something else. The absolute freedom for us to play what we want and how we want, and for as long as we want, is wonderful.

The CMS workshop was a really amazing experience for me. The amount of insight, sheer number of new ideas, concepts, and considerations that I gleaned over the week is truly immense.

I think that the time is really, really right for CMS right now; there's a generation of young, college-age-and-twenty-something musicians like me who came up through the growing 'institutional music system' who are looking for a low-dogma space to… be themselves, learn about MUSIC without being weighed down by historical trappings of "correctness," experiment, and learn. CMS could well be that environment for them.

I was very satisfied with the whole experience. I came in with little expectations. Took it all in, and it turned out to be a life changing experience, albeit a short one.

Being a part of Karl’s Orchestra. It’s a feeling unlike any I’ve experienced during both my classical and pop upbringings. Being a part of something that’s random and indeterminate can only work with the right leader. Karl’s conducting was a revelation for me, as it surely must be for countless others.

As an emerging artist and teacher, I left the workshop feeling hopeful and inspired. As an improviser who was surrounded by Conservatory-minded fanatics for so many years, I felt less alone and more at home with kindred folk. I feel that the CMS approach to music should be a part of mainstream music education, and this experience reminded me of one of the fundamental aspects of music that eludes even some of the most seasoned virtuosos: listening.

Nothing was boring. Some concepts were already familiar, but they need to be continually revisited and rehearsed. I thought that overall the sessions were able to meet everyone at his or her level.

To be at CMS for those four days and to have nothing else to do but play and absorb music was like paradise.

But what I got, and always have gotten from CMS, is validation that being a musician is simply a way to exist in the world. It has nothing to do with whether or not music is your profession; it really doesn’t even have to do with whether you’re “good.” It was vital for me to hear Karl reaffirm that expressing notes and tones is an act of compassion.

This is an extraordinary and unequalled opportunity to come face to face with yourself as a musician and to bask in an atmosphere in which whatever is uniquely your own expression is given higher value than it’s likely to receive in any other learning environment.

The content was challenging – not hard in the sense that organic chemistry is hard, but the best workshops challenged your preconceptions and encouraged you to explore new ideas and concepts and rethink your approach to and relationship with your playing.

I really enjoyed the opportunity during the jams to stretch out with fellow participants and to try to use and develop some of the things we learned in workshops during the day.

Creative Music Studio’s 40th Anniversary Workshop Recap: Four-day Intensive Features Workshops and Unique Concert

 Engaging workshops and groundbreaking concerts in a breathtakingly beautiful natural environment. And, the food was great!

The Creative Music Studio’s first 40th anniversary workshop took place between May 20 -24, 2013, at Full Moon Resort, nestled streamside in a valley 30 minutes west of Woodstock, NY. Twenty five participants interacted day and night with 15 guiding artists, including Marilyn Crispell, Don Byron, Dave Douglas, John Medeski, Steve Gorn, Tom Buckner, Mark Helias, Steven Bernstein, Ken Filiano, Oliver Lake, Harvey Sorgen, Tani Tabbal, Kenny Wessel, and of course Creative Music Foundation co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso.

The following offers a short, daily recap:

Monday, May 20

The CMS 40th Anniversary Workshop at Full Moon Resort is underway. Storm clouds cleared and we started with hot, humid weather, especially for the western Catskills in May. After refreshing drinks at the open bar and all kinds of tasty appetizers, Karl Berger gave a short orientation, welcoming the guiding artists and participants, sharing some CMS history, some anecdotes and then asking everyone to introduce themselves and why they came. One person said that he came to 'go beyond genres and to learn and feel and play pure music.' Karl responded, "Perfect." We went to the cafe for a wholesome, tasty and filling dinner and then walked up to the Roadhouse to hear a concert. It started quietly, with Karl playing keyboards, Mark Helias on bowed bass, playing microtones. Tani Tabbal came in with mallets on tom toms and a Ingrid Sertso fit in beautifully, offering sounds that meshed with the musicians. Then Oliver Lake joined in and the energy really picked up. The group played for 90 or so minutes, fully improvised gems. A lot of the focus was on our special guest, Oliver, who doesn't come to this area too often. He mentioned how great it is to be in such natural beauty, in a place really suited for music. After the concert, various participants picked up their instruments and started long, democratic jams where people were listening as much as playing, learning about each other as players. What a great start to the workshop!

Tuesday, May 21

If there was a common thread through today's remarkable slate of workshops it was: Find your voice, play your music. After morning body awareness lead by Savia Berger, followed by a gamalataki rhythm and voice workshop Karl and Ingrid conducted, guiding artist John Medeski led the group first through exercises to help develop musical conversation and transitions, and followed with an exercise based on Karlheinz Stockhausen. Oliver Lake lead an afternoon workshop first by playing a solo performance, and then instructing the group on orchestral pieces he had written. Mark Helias urged participants to take note of what's unique in their playing, to write it down as their own 'self-orchestral language.' He also shared thoughts on when to be self-judgemental and when to let it go (hint: when you're performing). The workshops ended with a Tibetan bell 'listen to the sounds disappearing' meditation.

Tonight's concert featured Karl on vibes, Ingrid vocals, Mark on bass, Tani Tabbal drums, Bob Selcoe guest trumpet. Later Sylvain Leroux sat in, as did participants from the workshop.

Special thanks to videographers Don Mount and Robert O'Haire, and Matthew Cullen, our sound engineer.

Wednesday, May 22

Today was very special. After morning body awareness and a really deep gamalataki rhythm and voice training session, Karl worked with the group on finding a group sound, on dynamics, on listening. "Every note contains every other note," was his mantra, truly freeing the group to play with greater openness. He talked about getting out of the rational mind and into the creative mind, a sentiment echoed by special guest guiding artist Dave Douglas who gave an afternoon workshop. After sharing his deep gratitude for being a musician of sound mind and body, of being able to be together at Full Moon in nature surrounded by great musicians, and of having so much music passed down through the generations, Dave jumped in to his composition workshop, offering the group a variety of exercises to inspire composition. His bottom line: stay really focused and give yourself tight limitations to work within. The group liked this very much and then everyone played their compositions. Marilyn Crispell joined him, offering her own insights into composition. Later in the afternoon, Kenny Wessel gave an insightful presentation and demonstration of Ornette Coleman's theory of harmolodics while Tom Buckner taught a spirited improv class.

The fireworks at the evening concert were even greater than the lightening storm that lit the sky; Dave Douglas, Steven Bernstein, Marilyn Crispell, Karl Berger, Harvey Sorgen, Kenny Wessel and John Menegon tore through a bunch of Ornette and Don Cherry tunes (also Coltrane’s “Cherryco”), electrifying everyone in the roadhouse performance space. It was truly memorable and 'historic,' according to Bernstein. We agree.

Thursday, May 23

Today was like an anatomy lesson. Steven Bernstein lead the morning master class, explaining the 'science, spirituality and language' of music, and emphasizing the importance of daily practice rituals, or 'the practice of practice.' Don Byron taught the science of composing, editing and rewriting. On the spot compositions were critiqued and analyzed, themes were reworked and tunes reshaped - the anatomy of composition. One piece, written in minutes by CMS alum Bob Selcoe, caught Dony’s ear and was later played in his evening concert. Steve Gorn taught us the anatomy of a raga, and opened the evening concert playing flute ragas backed by  Marilyn Crispell on tambura. Don Byron's set followed with Karl on piano, Ken Filiano on bass and Harvey Sorgen on drums. Don played tenor sax and clarinet and the group ended their set with a Tom Dorsey gospel tune, an unusual but apt ending to a CMS gig. Spirited sets of jamming followed, ranging from a euphonium, guitar (Ken Wessel), drum and bass quartet to groups including an iPad, tenor and alto saxes, bass clarinet, African flute, piano, guitar, trumpet, voice and more.

The week was a heavenly experience that most of us will never forget. Thanks to Full Moon Resort for being gracious hosts who fed us well and made us feel at home. And, special heartfelt thanks to all the musicians who generously gave their selves and their wisdom to the participants. And, of course special thanks to Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso and Rob Saffer of the Creative Music Foundation, for putting all of it together.

Quotes about CMS 40th Anniversary Workshop May 20-24, 2013

“It was a life changing experience, which opened windows on a variety of modalities of music improvisation. The jazz idiom was central, and most participants were fluent in it, but it was not the only idiom. World music (which could have been developed further) and contemporary classical music lurked around in everything we did.”

“Striking to me was the human, and almost spiritual aspect of the workshop, as incorporated in the music practice and the relationship between participants and some of the guiding artists. “

“I was challenged and inspired by the different approaches taken by the guiding artists, and I thought all were outstanding. I also enjoyed meeting the other participants and sharing in their ideas, experiences and perspectives.”

“I will most remember the incredible music played by the guest artists. Great to hear time played with such virtuosity, feel, and originality. I can't express it clearly, but there is something about this way of playing that gets to the heart of things rather than just recreating a style. No museum music here. There were moments when the hall lifted off the ground.”

“I'm revisiting the GAMALATAKI material with renewed vigour, even using it to improve my swim stroke. Try doing the elementary backstroke in 5/4. it works! I've learned that the approach to the down stroke - sweeping your arms up from your sides to above your head - is just as important as the down stroke itself, which is just what Karl emphasized in attending to all aspects of the pulse equally.”

“This was a very rewarding experience for me! I enjoyed being in nature and around people of like mindsets – no ego, no notions of what music is or isn’t. I was very excited and left so inspired, filled with encouragement.”

“The CMS 40th Anniversary Workshop was an experience that brought meaning behind the notes your playing , beyond the technique and into playing beauty.”

“I liked the way that workshops seemed to be geared to just about everyone in the room. So a professional might gain as much as an intermediate player. Getting to immerse myself in the thinking and practice of playing more freely gave lots of knew ideas that I am already using in my practice (and trying to incorporate into performance).”“The improvising orchestra was not only a highlight of the workshop, it was one of the most engaging musical experiences I have ever taken part in.”

“The entire workshop was a plus. So many engaging sessions, opportunities to talk with the guiding artists, hearing them play and hanging out over good food with participants and faculty all combined to make this a great experience. “

“I wanted to start to understand how musicians who play more freely (for lack of a better term) prepare to do what they do. I got that and more.”

“I have attended many jazz music camps, CMS was the most intimate and engaging. I learned things that I am sure I will continue to try to apply for a long time. “

“I certainly picked up some practical pointers, especially attention to dynamics and the importance and utility of spending more time on composition. I also really enjoyed having the opportunity to play with experienced, talented musicians dedicated to improvisation and seeing how I could contribute to and become part of a collective musical expression with them; it was rewarding (and, at least to some extent, validating), and I can already sense the effect that experience is having on my playing, both individually and with others. There's also the sense that I was able to touch (or at least get closer to) something both more abstract and more fundamental about music, both through the GaMaLaTaKi workshops and the duo and larger group playing opportunities; that's something I've been recalling unexpectedly over the last week or so, which suggests to me that the workshop was more profoundly affecting than I probably realized while it was happening. My personal takeaway is that I feel that I have a closer relationship with music and my role in it than I had before, which may not have been exactly what I was looking for when I signed up, but which I'm delighted to have.”