This 3-day workshop at Greenwich House Music School, NYC (April 27-29) will feature masterclasses and workshops by Jen Shyu, Jason Moran, Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso and Billy Martin.

Friday 1pm-10pm
• Billy Martin, Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso (light breakfast and lunch included)

Saturday 9am - 10pm
• Jason Moran, Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso (light breakfast and lunch included)

Sunday 9am - 10pm
• Jen Shyu, Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso (light breakfast and lunch included)

CMS Workshops at GHMS feature three days of intensive workshops, master classes, intimate concerts and informal jam sessions that inspire active listening, personal expression, improvisation and musical exploration. Musicians of any instrument, including voice, are welcome as are non-musicians. Adults who played music earlier in their lives can benefit from this lifelong learning opportunity that offers participants a once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn from and play with music masters, and simply spending time with them in an informal, personal setting. The non-traditional atmosphere of the Creative Music Studio Workshop encourages participants to experiment, push beyond limits, genres and categories, to take risks.

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Arturo O'Farrill, Anthony Coleman, Ingrid Laubrock, Peter Apfelbaum, Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso To Lead Spring 2018 Workshop

June 11 – 15 Workshop Features Intensive Workshops, Jam Sessions and Intimate Concerts in a Spectacular Mountainside Setting

Arturo O'Farrill, Anthony Coleman, Ingrid Laubrock, Peter Apfelbaum join CMS co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso as Guiding Artists for the CMS Spring 2018 Workshop intensive, June 11 – 15 at the ear-inspiring Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY.

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April 27-29th 2018
• CMS 3-day workshops at The Greenwich House Music School with Jen Shyu , Jason Moran, Billy Martin, Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso.


June 11-15th 2018
• CMS 5-day workshop retreat at Full Moon Resort, Big Indian, NY with Arturo O'Farrill, Anthony Coleman, Ingrid Laubrock, Peter Apfelbaum, Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso.


For more info:


Monday, Oct. 2

October 2nd was a perfect fall day in this secluded valley in the Catskills. Surrounded by only hills and sky, there is nothing to distract one from the business at hand. Attendees came from around the Hudson Valley, NYC, L.A., and from Argentina, Italy, and Denmark. The music began almost immediately; as you walked around the grounds you could hear fragments of melodies coming out of windows and from behind stands of trees, which gave the impression of an orchestra warming up and added to the feeling of anticipation.

Cocktails and Orientation

It quickly became clear that for many attendees this was not their first rodeo. Many had come to workshops since they restarted in 2013 and/or to the original workshops in the 70s and 80s.  The enthusiasm of these return musicians was matched by the first-timers, and there much talk of the benefits that this kind of total-immersion workshop provides.

After the attendees introduced themselves, Karl and Ingrid told the short version of their story and of CMS’s founding. They went on to set the mood for the week, something they're probably naturals at but also have perfected through years of teaching. They emphasized the importance of listening and of thinking as a group. Karl told an anecdote about a Tibetan musician being asked to come perform in the U.S. and responding by saying they'd have to get at least one other musician because to these Tibetan musicians, the "music" was not what one person played but the interplay between multiple people. They also reminded the attendees of some of the things that students need to hear from the Master's mouth at the outset of musical journeys like this: "Believe in your mistakes," "Doubt comes and goes in waves," and "Study never ends."


Just a quick note about the food at Full Moon- it's really good. It's hard to quantify the benefits of eating a good meal in the company of friends, but for both mind and body, and especially for strengthening interpersonal and musical connections, it does wonders. The food feeds and fuels the body and the conversation feeds and fuels the mind. It's a detail that if overlooked could do more to slow the momentum of the day than to build it, but luckily that's not the case here.

Monday Night Concert

The performance the first night was held in the Roadhouse, Full Moon's small club venue. It is an intimate setting where attendees have the opportunity to see and hear the guest musicians up close, and then later in the week perform themselves. The opening night lineup featured Karl on vibraphone, Ingrid on vocals,

photo by Rick Warren

Omar Farouk Teklibek on vocals and different-sized Turkish ney (ancient open-ended flutes), Tani Tabbal on drums and Ken Filiano on double bass. This introductory concert showcased both the players’ skills and unique voices on their instruments, and also demonstrated what everyone here came to work on: listening to each other and playing together as a group. They played three improvised pieces that achieved both of these goals.

The first piece started with a theme played by Omar on the ney, which was restated throughout the almost 30-minute piece. This theme was developed and explored by Omar and Karl in a conversational style and was punctuated and embellished by Ingrid's "Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire-scat," which can really only be described as sounding like Ingrid Sertso. She has a remarkable ability to vocalize and convey feelings and ideas that are suggested by the other instruments, by both her use of pure sound and through her word choice. Ken played a contrasting solo section using the bow and effects pedals which gave the impression of a large string ensemble. Both Ken's and Tani's playing, while often taking on traditional supporting roles, were much more involved in the conversation the others were having than is often the case with bass and drums, in part because of the equal distribution of responsibility for the harmonies and timekeeping. The conversation continued until Karl brought the music to a climax that showed both his skill as a vibraphone player and as a masterful crafter of melodic lines.

The second piece began with an improvised melody on the vibraphone that Ingrid, and then Omar, decorated with vocals, over a repeated bass figure and drums played with soft mallets. Omar and Karl together sang variations of the melody, which was then taken up by Ingrid. Next Karl again demonstrated his virtuosity on the vibes, which was followed by an equally exciting arco solo by Ken that included sul pont passages (bowing near the bridge to get high, nasal harmonics) and microtones that were answered by Omar. The piece ended with a restatement of the main theme and Ingrid singing "The end ... the end … ."

The third and final piece began with an ornate, trill-filled melody in 7/8 played by Omar, with Karl punctuating the rhythm on vibes, Tani playing a rolling drum part with mallets, and Ken sustaining a low pedal. Omar and Tani each took solos (Tani switching to sticks) and then Ingrid sang as Karl and Omar clapped the rhythm and counter-rhythms . Karl then took another blazing solo which outdid his previous two in terms of intensity, before finally ending with a wash of sound created by gentle glissandos on the vibes.

The concert illustrated how a group of musicians can collectively and spontaneously build compositions. It's obvious that Karl and Ingrid have a near-telepathic connection and often seemed to finish each other’s musical sentences, but the other musicians, through good listening skills and a deep knowledge of the rules of the game, all played together with a feeling of cohesion that gave this completely improvised music direction, form, balance, and that magical something that can be achieved when a group of sympathetic musicians are all on the same page.

Tuesday, Oct. 3

Body Awareness

After breakfast each morning, attendees gather in the barn for a 30-minute body awareness session led by Karl and Ingrid's daughter Savia Berger, a professional dancer and Pilates instructor. Everyone was first instructed to stand with their feet pointed forward, instead of their natural stance with the toes pointed slightly out, which relaxes muscles in the legs and hips that are usually contracted. The main stretch, which was repeated throughout the session, involved imagining a string going down from the tailbone and another from the top of the skull, and then gently stretching as if the strings were being pulled in opposite directions.

As this is "body awareness" and not just "stretching for musicians," Savia had everyone concentrate on their feet, ankles, legs, and on upward, to bring the attention to all parts of the body. She pointed out that since people generally have a dominant hand and foot, you might be able to raise one arm or leg higher than the other, and that this initial step of self-evaluation is important to see what needs work. The importance of focused, deep breathing and core strength was also taught. Core strength plays a major part in control of the limbs, balance, and breathing, and focusing on breathing is essential for proper stretching as well as for singing and playing wind instruments. Working from the top down, everyone slowly and deliberately rolled their necks, shoulders, and hips. Then after first balancing on each foot she had everyone rotate their ankles, knees, wrists, elbows and shoulders. Next was a motion similar to using ski poles, then side stretches, torso twists, and toe touches. Finally everybody shook out their limbs while vocalizing in a final push to awaken any spots they might have missed.

Basic Practice (Rhythm/Vocal)

This morning’s basic practice session did not require any instruments, aside from the voice. Ingrid began by talking about how the voice is everyone’s first instrument and had everyone exhale while making the most comfortable sound in their speaking voice, without any intention of "singing." Next she had everyone sing through the vowels starting with “Ah,” arguably the easiest vowel to sing. Once the vocal chords were warmed up, she told everyone to tune to the person next to them, and then for about five minutes she conducted the group as it sustained a continuous sound which at times gave the impression of an orchestra or a church organ as much as a choir. After this she connected the voice with the movement of the body by having everybody walk in place and then crowd-sourcing a word, "Yes," which she had everyone sing in time with the left foot. Soon "Yes" was transformed to "Yeah-Yeah-Yeah" which was then layered to sound like a kind of free-form round. Ingrid ended the vocal part of the lesson with a beautiful song from South Africa.

Karl took over for the rhythm portion, first expressing the desire to approach rhythm without any considerations of musical style, then defining three different levels of rhythm: pulse, the most basic; language rhythm - "Melody is language translated into tone"; and finally formal rhythm, as in, "This piece or this concert is too long."

The rest of the lesson was spent working on what Karl calls “GaMaLa TaKi.” It is a way of counting musical time using the syllables Ga-Ma-La (for three-beat rhythms) and Ta-Ki (for metrical multiples of two) instead of numbers, which use a different part of the brain. "Don't count to seven ever again, it's just two TaKis and a GaMaLa," he told the group. First he had everyone sing GaMaLa TaKi while taping it out on their legs, but, after reminding them to always project music outwards, he had everyone raise their hands off their legs to count, as a way of liberating the arms from their usual muscle memory. Then he cycled through different possible combinations of accents and finally repeated the process in 7/8, which can be counted as 2-2-3, 3-2-2, or 2-3-2. Karl said that if you lose track of the time "the best way to get back into the flow is not to play. Another train will come by soon, and you can jump on that one."

Master Class with Omar Farouk Tekbilek

As it turns out Karl's rhythmic practice was ideally timed before the extensive study of Turkish rhythms that began Omar's master class. After a brief biographical sketch and overview of Turkish folk and classical music, and discussing Turkey's unique position as a geographical and cultural bridge between the East and the West, Omar laid the foundation for his rhythmic studies by stressing the importance of the paradiddle. He showed that through practicing paradiddles one can attain greater equilibrium between the right and left sides of the body, particularly by feeling the fourth beat as a sort of turnaround; as you bring your hand down on 4, the other hand rises in anticipation and the pattern is reversed. Then, as Karl had done earlier, he had everyone raise their hands up instead of tapping them on their legs, and then went on to have everyone "tap the air" with their arms stretched out in front of them, down at their sides, and by moving individual fingers to further liberate the body from the usual clapping motion used to count time.

Next Omar systematically discussed the many different time signatures used in Turkish music. 3/4 and 4/4 were touched on briefly, but the main focus was on 5/8, counted as 2+3 with the accent on the second beat of the 3 section; 7/8, counted as 4+3 in Turkey and 3+2+2 in Greece; 9/8, counted as 6+3 as opposed the western perception of 3+3+3; 10/8, counted as 3+2+2+3; 11/8, counted as 4+3+4; and finally 15/8, counted as 8+7. Omar demonstrated each rhythm using his voice and a hand drum, and by the end he had done a good job at undermining the feeling of 4/4 as the "default."

He next turned his attention to the harmonic and melodic structures of Turkish music, which had an equally undermining effect on the attendees’ perception of consonance and dissonance. Using a baglama (a three-stringed Turkish lute also known as the saz), he demonstrated the different sounds produced by the use of quarter tones and showed how the perceived tonality of a scale (called “makams” in Turkey) can be changed by simply emphasizing different notes. He then taught the group an old traditional folk song called “Dere Geliyor,” which gave everyone the chance to practice playing in an odd time signature and using quarter tones. He concluded by discussing and demonstrating three different variations of the Turkish ney.

Improvisers Orchestra and Listening Meditation

Karl began the Improvisors Orchestra session by saying, "Don't think of notes as notes, but as sounds. Because of the overtones, you never play the same note twice." The orchestra consisted of five vocalists, eight guitars, three double basses, two keyboards, two flutes, two trumpets, one tenor sax, one baritone sax, one cello, two drumsets, three percussionists, and Karl on melodica. As Ingrid had done earlier, Karl first had everyone "harmonize" (in quotes) but using their instruments instead of their voices. The goal here was not to all tune to one another, but to hear and feel the sound of the group. He then introduced some simple gestures he would use to conduct, and taught them the theme that would be the foundation for the day’s improv - a 16-bar riff in four sections.

The piece began with everyone playing the theme in unison, and then one by one Karl directed individuals to take a solo. Each player generally played over the theme for a few passes, then Karl had everyone except the soloist lay out for the first three of the four sections, and then

photo by Rick Warren

everyone came back in and played the four section together. After everyone took their solos, Karl began layering the soloists until about half were improvising and the other half were playing the riff. He then brought the music back down and took the final solo himself on the melodica.

After this, Karl led the group in a 10-minute listening meditation session, where he directed everyone to "listen to the sounds disappearing" as a struck a Tibetan singing bowl.

Tuesday Night Concert

Tuesday Night's concert began with two songs by a student ensemble featuring Mary Enid Haines on guitar and vocals, Bill Wright on guitar, Phil Pottier on vocals and Omar on percussion.  Mary sang the classic jazz standard "Skylark," and then the group was joined by Susan Larkin on violin for a humorous and sonically beautiful ballad featuring Phil's spoken word.

The guest musicians then took the stage - Karl on piano and vibes, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Maria Grand on tenor sax, Ken on bass, Billy Martin on drums, and Omar on percussion and ney. Compared with the more free-form music of the previous evening, tonight's concert more closely resembled a traditional jazz session, but one with incredibly sympathetic and creative musicians who were never in any danger of just going through the changes. Propelled by Billy's constantly changing drumming and decorated by Omar's equally intricate percussion, the group first played an unreleased composition of Karl's called "Lines and Spaces" which featured solos by all the members, and after the restatement of the head ended with an expansive, free soundscape.

The second piece was an improvisation that centered around a gently falling and rising theme played by Karl on the piano and Ingrid’s reading of the poem "True Love" by Chogyam Trungpa. Ken's use of arco and sul pont, Billy's use of the brushes, and embellishments by Mary, Maria, and Omar all contributed to the ethereal feeling of the piece. The music built to an ecstatic climax then returned to its initial calm, meditative quality.

photo by Rick Warren

The final piece of the night was a blistering version of Monk's "Bemsha Swing." Karl and Ingrid shared the first solo, followed by Maria, who displayed great creativity in her ability to play with the melody, then a scat solo by Omar which turned into a percussion duet between him and Billy, who had only first met a few hours earlier but who sounded like they had played together for years. Next Mary took a solo that easily lived up to her weighty accolade of being "NYC's least predictable improviser," even in this more straight-ahead setting. Finally Ken took a solo which turned into another duet with Billy, and the song ended with a restatement of the head. Afterwards even some non-smokers in the audience were overheard expressing their need for a cigarette.


Tuesday, Oct. 3

10 p.m. - Roadhouse Performances (Continued)

photo by Rick Warren

By the time I drove up the gravel drive of Full Moon Resort, the performances had already been going for over an hour. I rushed to the Roadhouse, walked in to hear Ingrid Sertso finishing a duet with Ken Filiano on string bass. She whispered softly into the microphone, her hand cupped around it as if she were telling it a secret.

photo by Rick Warren

Next Chuck Ver Straeten danced and swayed, elated as he scatted and bubbled his infectious voice out into the room. A guitar player, Rick Warren, mirrored him, sometimes following and sometimes leading. A few performances later, Ken Filiano again took the stage, joined by Billy Martin on drums, Maria Kim Grand on tenor saxophone, and Mary Halvorson on guitar. I moved closer, sat as close as I could, because I had a sense I was about to see something that I wouldn’t want to forget. Mary tuned as Billy caressed the edge of his ride cymbal with a bow, and ghostly overtones filled the air. Then Maria closed her eyes and played, as Ken laid a firmer foundation. Soon the sound went liquid and loud, Maria weaving her throaty saxophone wail in among Mary’s intricate intervalic latticework. Then Billy began beating his drums with straw broom-heads, and they settled into a deep pulsing drive. They soared. They returned to earth. They cooked on a sound that thrummed with anxiety, almost panicked, until suddenly: an explosion. Apocalyptic. A fever dream, a bomb, a forest fire - and then the aftermath, the post-disaster meltdown, and a slow decrescendo all the way down to a perfectly timed ending.

photo by Rick Warren

Then Ken, Ingrid, Omar Tekbilek on ney, and Karl Berger on piano took their places. As the others played, Ingrid repeated “Lonely moon / sad and happy / coming together,” sometimes lingering on one phrase, sometimes another. I heard the lonely moon and the sad moon, but not the happy one until finally, at the very last moment, Karl hit an almost-major chord, proving that if you wait long enough, the happy will arrive after all.

Then Karl and Omar alone, the dénouement, milky ney vibrato over assured, simple phrases on the keys. When it was done, I walked out to stand by the fire a while, then came back to my room, still smelling wood smoke, my face aching from smiling.

Wednesday, Oct. 4

I woke up to silence so thick I could hear the pulse of blood in my ears. Full Moon is as great a place for silence as it is for noise, something that would come back to me in the days to come, as Karl stressed the importance of silence, of waiting, of space. After breakfast and some excellent body awareness work courtesy of Savia Berger, we settled in for basic practice.

10:15 a.m., Basic Practice - Ingrid Sertso

We began with meditation. Ingrid described it as a “simple help for our daily survival,” and lamented that even though simply breathing and being aware should be simplest thing to do, it gets ever harder every day. “If we don’t breathe, we die,” she said, “So we better do it.” It sounds so obvious, but when Ingrid said it, it had the flavor of a deep truth, something brand new and sparkling.

She also described meditation as a way of accessing our true selves, the child joy we all have inside of us, the joy of a three- or four-year-old. I thought of my own four-year-old, how he walks from room to room whispering to himself, how I catch him cupping his hands over his ears, opening them, closing them, just to experience the difference in sound.

After meditation, we began voice work. First open sounds, and then a song, a variation on Osibisa’s Woyaya: “We will get there. Heaven knows when we will get there, and so do we …” The harmonies were as reassuring as the lyrics. Next we formed a tight circle and held hands as five students at a time took turns standing in the center. Ingrid told us to blast the center with our chosen sound and good intentions. The result was a temple of sound, a force strong enough to feel in your chest and belly and toes. It’s the oldest song, I think, that collection of human moaning. It reminded me of my wife during labor. Of church organs and bagpipes and monks. Of war and sex. When it was my turn to stand in the center, I closed my eyes and walked around. I cupped my hands over my ears, opened them, closed them again, just like my child taught me to do. Karl speaks about how every sound is different from every other sound ever made, but hearing those voices, hearing how they changed depending on how I situated my body, it occurred to me that every sound is different from even itself. Its many aspects are revealed by the listener, and position, and time.

10:45 a.m., Basic practice - Karl Berger

We began with a refresher on GaMaLa TaKi, the directive to experience each beat individually, to hear every beat even if we don’t play it, to subdivide. Then we talked about listening, and Karl told us how he was recently travelling over the Manhattan Bridge on the subway when he heard music in the screeching and clacking that was exactly the same music he’d heard decades before from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s massive machinery, in the very early days of synthesized sound. He encouraged us to approach all listening this way, to just notice sound, to hear it as music. The rest of my notes on this session require no additional context. Karl’s voice speaks more eloquently about these things than I ever could:

"Switch from scheming to listening. Don't comment, just listen, and suddenly you feel you're a part of the whole process."

"Don't play the beat in. Play it out. It's a giving. I see some of you still playing the beat on your leg. Don't play the beat down,” he said, emphasizing the outward motion of his hand. “Gravity pulls you down; you want to be up. You need to grow an inch while you play.”

On practice, he said, “Record yourself, and then listen. It's painful, I know, but it's painful because you have your own way of playing and you've never heard anything just like it before, so you think: how could it be right?" It was a reassuring thought.

11:30 a.m., Master Class - Mary Halvorson

We got out our instruments. Mary introduced herself, guitar nestled in her lap atop legs crossed so comfortably it looked like she was born that way. She began by telling us that she creates her own practice exercises. “It lets you develop things that come naturally to you.”

Her exercises? Intervallic work. Mary told us about how she came to work so heavily on intervals, explaining that she saw it as a way of breaking habits her fingers had developed over years of playing. She focused for a whole week on just doing minor seconds, up and down the guitar. Then she spent another week on seconds, another on minor thirds, another on thirds, all the way up. Each interval has its own character, so playing only in a certain interval can lead you to compositions or solos that make use of that character. The key, she said, was to practice until each interval became ingrained.

We began with a minor third. Despite the familiarity of the interval, it took some time for us to all to play the interval all the way up and down without hesitation. Then Mary created groups of three or four musicians at a time, who would play the intervals and take turns soloing with the interval in mind. When we moved from minor thirds to tri-tones and minor sixths, it grew much more difficult, but the difficulty was, I think, precisely the point. It didn’t come naturally to most of us to hear a minor sixth, but this is why the work is so important. Learning wide intervals opens you up to new sounds, and, as Mary explained, practicing them is a great way to train your ear.

Mary ended the morning session telling us about Yusef Lateef’s Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns, and then suggesting a few other practice techniques. Choose a melody you know well, and play it in every key. Play a steady stream of eighth notes, sixteenth notes, or triplets, without stopping. Don’t consider anything a mistake, because hitting a “wrong” note might reveal something you couldn’t have heard any other way.

2:30 p.m., Master Class - Mary Halvorson (Continued)

After another warm-up from Savia, we sat again with Mary. She told us a little about her path to being a working musician, said that when she first came to New York she took an office job. After a while, she asked herself if she was OK having an administrative office job for the rest of her life. The answer was yes, which meant that every chance to play was a bonus, one that she understands could one day go away.

Mary said that at one point when she was recording herself, she sounded like a “nervous talker,” playing too much. So she made it extra sparse, with gaps and silences that felt awkwardly long while she was performing, but on playback it sounded right.

We worked hard, then, on learning a couple of pieces she brought with her, P#2 and Trio No. 15. Her unpredictable melodies, over pedal tones, gave us a good but challenging foundation upon which to improvise. Everything we spoke about in the morning was put into practice, and the power of her methods was made abundantly clear.

5:15 p.m., Improvisers Orchestra - Karl Berger

I wasn’t here for the first session last night, so I missed the tutorial on hand signals, but that didn’t matter. Karl’s movements are intuitive, his encouragement palpable, so as we began an open improvisation I had little trouble finding my place. The tuning was impeccable from the start, the ensemble sounding as though it had played together several times before.

photo by Rick Warren

Then it was time to learn a song. Our task for the evening was a piece based on the phrase “Time is in this if,” an additive rhythm that, in its full form, is heard as the following (using “•” as a rest):

Time • • is • time is in • time is in this • time is in this if • time is in this • time is in • time is • (repeat)

Sound simple? At first, it was, but then Karl laid the sequence over a steady 4/4, and we all had to adjust to the challenge of thinking of the phrase beyond words, and making music out of it. In time, we did, by adding dynamic change and relying on another drummer to accent the beginnings of each phrase. Then solos arced out over the ever-expanding and contracting rhythm.

8:30 p.m., Roadhouse Performances

The performances began with a double bass duet, chopsticks bouncing off the strings of both instruments, played by Leigh Daniels and Jeff Schwartz. Then Chuck joined them, adding his distinctive scat to the mix. Next came a trio of Marty Gottlieb-Hollis on trumpet (he was a popular addition to many ensembles over the course of the workshop, with his beautiful tone and spot-on instincts), Lee again on bass, and Phillip Pottier switching between hilarious spoken word about the day we’d all just shared and the squeaking of a trumpet mouthpiece. Then Marty stayed on, Chuck returned to scat, and Enrico Pulcinelli shared in the fun with a percussion style I can only describe as intensely passionate and remarkably physical. Enrico works his collection of bells, shakers, and blocks like he’s running a marathon, and by the time he was done he was soaked through his shirt. Soon after, Bill Horberg got help performing a composition in honor of the childhood friend who first introduced him to Thelonious Monk when he was in the eighth grade and, therefore, set him on his path to CMS.

photo by Rick Warren

Soon we were all treated to a performance by Ingrid, Karl, Omar, Billy, Ken, and Mary. A powerhouse combination, such incredible force in each of them, but they made room for each other just as Karl has been encouraging us all to do. Ingrid intoned her trademark poetry, Billy drove a hard swing - cymbals crashing, snare thwacking - while Ken climbed the walls on bass. Karl, on vibraphone, moved like a man half my age (and I’m only in my thirties), one foot routinely rising from the ground to swing in the air as he hopped on the other foot. Mary moved blindingly fast on her fretboard, and yet she was always controlled, always perfectly composed.

Then, a second tune, of Omar’s choosing. His beautiful voice brought the whole room back a century or two, and the piece ended with Ingrid saying, “And there is always a singer … and a song.”

Billy, Mary, and Maria improved on their collective work of the night before, if such a thing is possible, with a piece that was more raw, less tentative, and more joyful and furious than the magic they’d worked with Ken on their first collaboration together. Then more incredible student work, and an unforgettable composition by Maria, entitled Sing Unborn. With Mary on guitar, Maria’s impeccably formed phrases on tenor sax built to violence before giving way to a vocal performance, with original lyrics addressing an unseen child living in the sky. Her voice was so clear, almost reed-like, that it hushed the room down to the floorboards. “I love you,” sang Maria, “no matter where you came from. No matter who you came from.”

Thursday, Oct. 5

10:15 a.m., Vocal Practice - Ingrid Sertso

Today’s meditation tip: count up with each intake of breath. If a thought enters, go back to one, and don’t cheat. Once we completed our meditation, we again sang the “We will get there,” beauty from the day before, and learned another African song that Ingrid loved for how it’s melancholic, falling melody is reversed at the end, with an uplifting major rise.

10:45 a.m., Rhythm Practice - Karl Berger

The theme of the session was flow - Karl’s sense of the word, and Don Cherry’s too. He spoke of our natural ability to react faster than we can think (you swerve to avoid an accident, shoot out a hand to stop a child from falling of a jungle jim), and how important this is to performance, and in every area of life. What’s more, flow isn’t just for improvisation. “Preconceived music should always sound like you’re making it up,” he said, and then he laughed as he continued, “And improvisations should sound more like you know what you’re doing!”

Then he shared his three keys for achieving flow in performance and life. 1) Waiting. Not playing brings in the flow. 2) Listening. Switch from scheming to listening. Listen. Listen more. Seriously, listen. 3) Using your voice. Sing or hum, loud or soft, and your mind will be forced to quiet itself. “If the U.S. Congress started the day by singing, they wouldn’t be fighting so much.”

He took questions, and the conversation turned to how technical practice fits in with the form of expression we’re all trying to learn at CMS. Karl made clear that flow is not a substitute for technical proficiency. There will be periods, he said, when your practice will focus solely on technique. He made equally clear, however, that technique is not the point of practice. “There is an element of virtuosity which is impressive to people. These are effects. They go away. People remember performances because of flow, not because of effects. … When you perform, get into a flow state, and act like you don't even remember your own name."

11:45 p.m., Master Class - Billy Martin

Billy started by telling us about his earliest musical memories. He did tap dance routines with his mother for years, he said, as he laughed. “Maybe it went on a little too long …” Despite the element of embarrassment, tap instilled rhythm and coordination in his body from before his memory began. It also shaped what he heard, as a child. His mother played him records of Ellington and Basie, show tunes and other dance standards. This, combined with the influence of his brothers (soul and funk and rock), and the music of his concert violinist father, was potent medicine. “I wanted to be a part of all of it.”

Once we were acquainted, Billy began his lesson. “You have to think of yourself as a composer right away. Develop your own unique way of saying things.” Billy’s method for finding his own unique voice? Begin each practice with a solo. It could be two minutes, or twenty minutes, but solo first. Record it, and listen back later. Figure out what you were doing after you’ve done it, not before.

The second practice technique he shared was phrase work. You play a short phrase, then wait in silence - for much longer than you think you need to - and then play another phrase that is as close to the opposite of the first as possible. The silence is what gives you perspective on what you’re playing. It should also stop you from scheming. We went around the room, trying this out. Billy pushed us to be as radical as possible. “Is that even music?” he said, laughing. “That’s what I want to be asking. What was that? Was that even a guitar?”

Another tip about this exercise: keep the phrases short. “It’s a phrase. It’s not a sentence. It’s I love you. It’s shut the fuck up. It’s not, Oh hey I wanted to tell you about this thing that happened to me the other day …”

2:45 p.m., Master Class - Billy Martin, Continued

The afternoon session was built around Billy’s Stridulations, a word that he picked up from the sound crickets make when they rub their legs together. Billy’s Stridulations are graphic scores of rhythms he’s gathered from around the world, combined with ones he’s made up or edited. The graphic notation is intuitive, with Xs marking a played beat and dots marking a silent beat. We were each given five lines of phrases on a page, each composed of a total of 12 beats. The first phrase was a clave, or key, which looked like this:

x • x • • x • x • x • •

The second was a symmetric beat, which looked like this:

x • • x • • x • • x • •

Play on the x, rest on the dot. The clave tells you where the “one” is (the first beat of 12) because it repeats only once in a cycle. Hence key. Play the first phrase, and then the second, and you’ll hear that the first sounds like it’s in something like 6/8, while the second is a straight-up four-on-the-floor. Play them together, and you have a polyrhythm. These multiple senses of pulse characterize the West African rhythmic traditions that informed Brazilian and Latin American claves and musical traditions.

At its heart, the Stridulations system is a way of experiencing multiple rhythms at once. Our exercises were aimed at getting us to hear how those rhythms lock together. The sensation of finally hearing how the disparate phrases spoke with one another as a whole was deeply satisfying. Once the basics were covered, we set out to make music. First we worked on the “closed” Stridulations, where there was a common beat. After having fun with that for a while, we played the Stridulations “open,” where each player could combine their chosen phrase, melody, timbre, tempo, and style however they wished. We were encouraged to avoid a groove, to sit in silence more than we play, and to think of ourselves as crickets in a field or stars appearing in the sky.

5:15 p.m., Improvisers Orchestra

Karl introduced the students to two different games for Thursday’s orchestra. The first was built around the phrase “All we can do is all we can do.” Another beautiful, simple affirmation turned into challenging additive rhythm. In this case, each word got a chance to take up two beats instead of one, in succession, except for “is,” which is so important a word that it got four. (“Aaaall we can do is … all weeee can do is … all we caaaan do is …). The result was a phrase that felt roughly like eight bars of 3/4 followed by two bars of 4/4, but of course, as Karl pointed out in the morning session, “You have to break free of those bars, they’re like a jail.”

The purpose of the song was to again reinforce the attention to every beat, to explore the multiple pulses, and to make beautiful music.

The second exercise was even more complicated, based around four variations of a melody that swung up and down, with each variation resting different portions of the phrase. This one proved a little more troublesome to remember, but by the end we again “changed our shirts” when we were done practicing it, and made a little music. Then it was time for the final listening meditation, and final words of wisdom from Karl, Billy, and Ingrid.

8:30 p.m., Roadhouse Performances

Tonight’s performances had more of a party flavor. There was a good old fashioned blues-based barn-burning organized by Gus Mancini, a reggae-infused bop led by Lorin Roser, a sing-a-long (Blue Moon, accompanied by the collective howling of the entire workshop) led by Mary Enid Haines and featuring Susan Larkin on Violin and Rickie Lee Kroell on vocals , and several more jams that had the feeling of old friends enjoying each other. Such a warm way to end the workshop

When it was Karl, Omar, Ingrid, Maria, and Ken’s turn to speak their piece, the results were electrifying. What struck me most about their collaboration was how each member got the chance to shape the rest of the band in his image. This was not trading solos over an established beat. It was a seamless transition between multiple modes of playing, each player’s personality shining through with the help of the others. So much flow. So much listening. And, crucially, so much laying back and listening until the need for more sound was felt.

A string quartet, made up of Jan, Jeff, Ken, and Lee, provided a holy-sounding combination of chest-melting low drones and wonderfully overtoned bow work. Then, a duet by Karl and Ingrid: What a Wonderful World. Ingrid’s voice was so filled with pain and hope that I wanted to cry. Karl’s choice of chords and intervals was equally powerful, equally emotive. After it was over, Ingrid said, “We need that. The world is so messed up. So messed up …” Perhaps she was being specific - that we needed that song, that message - but I don’t think I was alone in hearing it as a justification for the entire CMS workshop experience.

I stepped outside to sit by the fire. When I heard music that I knew could only come from Billy Martin, I stepped back in and watched as he and Enrico danced on stage, hands vibrating, fingers bouncing across the heads of tambourines. I knew it was what I wanted to hear as I walked back down the hill to my room, so I gathered my things and headed out into the quiet of a full moon night.

— Mark Ferguson

Notes from Rob Saffer, CMS Executive Director

photo by Rick Warren

Mark and Luke have marvelously captured the sights and sounds of the CMS Fall 2017 Workshop.  I don't have much to add, but since this was their first CMS workshop, they wouldn't have been able to see and feel something subtly different than other workshops: the distance between Guiding Artists and Participants, while usually quite thin, grew even more non-distinct. Artists and Participants interacted in ways I hadn't seen in the past ten workshops we've conducted. Whether it was mingling at meals or mingling during evening performances, it was hard to tell who was who and who was teaching whom.  This was best exemplified Thursday night, perhaps the most musically diverse and thrilling yet; the night culminated with Billy Martin and Enrico Pucinelli playing a percussion duet that (d)evolved into what seemed like children alternately fighting, playing and exploring together. There was so much physical and sonic movement it was hard to tell who was doing what. And, it didn't matter. This was a four-armed, four-legged creature, singly focused on playful, creative sound.

As always thanks to Matthew Cullen (sound), Geoff Baer (video), the entire Full Moon Resort staff (and whoever finally found the secret recipe for strong coffee), all the wonderfully talented and loving Guiding Artists and the equally talented and loving Participants who made full moon at the Full Moon so special.



CMS Ensembles To Perform at Woodstock’s Maverick Concerts (September 2) and at the Drum Boogie Festival (September 9);

Scholarships Now Available for the CMS Fall Workshop with Billy Martin, Mary Halvorson, Omar Tekbilek and Others

 The revamped Creative Music Studio™ will present “in the Spirit of Don Cherry’ at Woodstock’s legendary Maverick Concerts, Saturday, September 2, at 8:00. Performed by the all-star CMS™ Improvisers Octet led by Karl Berger, ‘In the Spirit of Don Cherry’ will explore Cherry’s compositions as well as music inspired by him and will use those themes as launching pads for exciting improvisation that weave together jazz, world and contemporary music. Six members of the CMS Improvisers Octet played with Cherry: Karl Berger (piano, vibes, leader), Bob Stewart (tuba), Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Peter Apfelbaum (reeds, percussion), Ingrid Sertso (vocals), Graham Haynes (cornet); along with Woodstock’s Tani Tabbal (drums), and Adam Lane (bass). Tickets are $5 – $40 and available at the Maverick Concerts website. More detailed information is here.

 On Saturday, September 9, a CMS ensemble led by Karl Berger will perform a ‘World Boogie’ Set at the Drum Boogie Festival at Woodstock’s Andy Lee Field at 12 noon in a free public performance. CMS is responsible for bringing many extraordinary musicians to the Woodstock area and ten of them are performing in this ensemble. In the tradition of CMS, this ‘World Boogie Band’ combines melodies and rhythms from the world’s folk music with free-wheeling improvisation. The group includes CMS artistic directors/co-founders Karl Berger (vibes/piano) and Ingrid Sertso (vocals), Tani Tabbal (drums), Ken Filiano (bass), Don Davis (reeds), David Oliver (marimba), Joakim Larkey (percussion), Ted Orr (tabla and guitar), Peter Buettner (flutes) and Bill Ylitalo (reeds, flutes, percussion).

Scholarships Available for October Workshop

 Finally, CMS is pleased to announce the availability of financial support for those wanting to attend its CMS Fall Workshop, October 2 – 6, with guitarist/bandleader/composer Mary Halvorson, CMS associate artistic director and percussionist Billy Martin, Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Tekbilek and many others. Those wishing to inquire about scholarships for the Fall Workshop should contact CMS directly:

The Creative Music Studio™ engages musicians and listeners from all backgrounds to deepen and broaden their musical sensitivity, expression and understanding through workshops, recordings and concerts worldwide.  The Creative Music Studio™ and CMS ™ are trademarks of the Creative Music Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation founded in 1971.



Creative Music Studio Changes Hands at a Critical Moment in Jazz

CMS Spring 2017 Workshop. Photo by Karin Wolfe

New York Times music critic Giovanni Russonello profiles CMS in a feature article,  ‘Creative Music Studio Changes Hands at a Critical Moment in Jazz‘, which was published today. The article was based on months of research, including several days at the CMS Summer Workshop two weeks ago.  Read the full story.




By Martin Longley, a music critic who writes for The Guardian, Downbeat, All About Jazz, Songlines and Jazzwise, among others.
video: geoff baer

Video: Joseph boulet

Opening Concert, Monday 12th June

The opening Monday night concert of the CMS spring workshop displayed the talents of its guiding artists, playing together in various permutations. It’s an initial demonstration of where each player stands, musically, prior to the masterclasses and collective tuition that will follow over the course of the next three days. The Full Moon resort at Big Indian, in the Catskill Mountains, is a secluded encampment of natural quiet, a wilderness haven for the arts, with a particular attention paid to music camps. The Full Moon folks also handled catering for the recent Mountain Jam festival, and will be hosting a King Crimson camp to tie in with the soon-coming tour by those English prog-rock leviathans.

The guiding artists and around 25 workshop participants gathered in the Full Moon reception, everyone introducing themselves, and giving a brief background to their journey towards improvisation. Dinner followed in the converted barn, which was to also serve as the ample space for the week’s coming masterclasses. Around 8pm, all of the assembled ambled up the hill to the Roadhouse. This is Full Moon’s dedicated venue, complete with bar, stage and in-house sound system.


The Chinese pipa player Min Xiao Fen played solo at first, with a release of pent-up energy, contrasting the often dignified and gentle nature of this instrument with a forceful approach that’s immersed in free improvisation and Delta blues traditions. It’s a strikingly aggressive attack, loaded with bent and sliding notes, her palms sometimes spread flat to encompass the maximum number of strings on the pipa’s broad neck. She makes sudden switches of gear, from a driving thrash, into spidering clusters.

Ken Filiano

The New York bassist Ken Filiano and the Mexican guitarist Omar Tamez begin with soft, granular bowing and agitated picking. Filiano periodically raises an interest in effects pedals (even though most of his gigs feature a purer bass sound), and he’s using these foot-triggerers here, whilst Tamez calls to mind the pliant sound of James Blood Ulmer. Filiano and Tamez are soon heading towards a straight-running momentum. This duo becomes a quartet, as Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso enter, the former implying a South African sound on piano keyboard, the latter flitting between words and scat. Sertso brings in a narrative sense, something that will frequently govern the structure of the following pieces. She might be considering calling their first improvisation “Dance With Life”, a developing phrase in the piece.

Peter Apfelbaum

There’s a further expansion, as tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum and drummer Warren Smith come onstage, with Berger moving across to the vibraphone. A classic Blue Note-ed character moves the music closer to the jazz mainline, with Smith playing on a straight drum-kit, although augmented by an extra floor-tom. Often, when he’s found playing in NYC, Smith favors an expanded tympani set-up. Berger’s solo mixes open resonance with curtailed strikes, developing a freer nature. “When will the blues leave? Never!,” declaims Sertso, as this Ornette Coleman tune concludes.

Warren Smith

Continuing, Smith produces an abstract clatter, and Apfelbaum leads a rugged take-off, Tamez making scything strikes, edged with decorative details, and coming close to a Vietnamese microtonality. The evening’s most unusual line-up featured Min Xiao Fen, Tom Tedesco (tabla), along with Berger and Filiano. Min also vocalized, her immense energy setting off a flash of communal fire amongst her partners. This was improvisation with tension, release, heightened empathy and fine detail.

Masterclasses & Workshop Sessions, Tuesday 13th June

During her vocal/tuning awareness session, Ingrid Sertso is talking about being inspired by working with the recently departed Pauline Oliveros (who also was a Guiding Artist at the CMS Workshop in October, 2016): “Use your speaking voice”, she instructs her gathering of vocalists, in a circle of drone, naturally finding many levels of tone. Even though most of these participants are not professional singers, no one sounds “out of tune,” as the cluster gravitates towards a strata of sonic suspension. Then, Sertso vocalizes across the top of their layers, or perhaps sideways. There’s a very Eastern sensibility to this approach, although ‘east’ can stretch from Tibetan and Tuvan lands, coming back through to the Balkans. The circle gets tighter, the act of standing closer tending to intensify the resultant sound. It’s a kind of organic mathematics, beginning to sound like a Ligeti or Stockhausen vocal work.

The first part of multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum’s masterclass begins with him distributing word-sheets, to be used later in the proceedings. He’s talking about the scale as a foundation, either as something to harmonize with, or alternatively, scrape against. Ashe constructs the ranks, delivering their duties, Apfelbaum introduces the comparison with a Jamaican dub reggae wizard, bringing up the fader on sonic action that is already underway. He instantaneously cues either individuals or spontaneously created groups to rise up, or slip away in the collective spread. He prompts them to enter suddenly, or creep in softly, and incrementally, then he turns his attention to the percussionists, asking them to play busily, but imagining that they’re way off in the distance, much quieter than usual.

Finally, he adds a loping funk drumbeat. The participants might feel like they’re caught in the midst of an efficient and hard-working LA studio recording session, perhaps for a movie soundtrack. Apfelbaum is a master communicator, actively open to accident and spontaneity, but with a very precise idea of a battle plan. He has the knack of giving instructions, but making them seem like suggestions. He’s not locked into his own advance playing: if he hears a player straying, Apfelbaum might decide that they’re worth following.

After all this swift construction, it’s time to introduce some solos, at the same time as building a bridge section. The players have an impressive capacity to memorize their leader’s repeating patterns and involved passage-shifts. Apfelbaum wants the bridge to be looped, in human fashion, with a flexibility for content, but also requiring a dogged repeat, once the content has been decided.

After a break for lunch, the second part of the masterclass has Apfelbaum moving to the drumkit. His chief instrument is the tenor saxophone, but he’s also pretty hot on keyboards and drums. Apfelbaum is breaking down the percussion into separate parts, and this is where reeds specialist Lee Odom (from NYC) solos on soprano saxophone, scooting around with a supple ease, magnifying the excitement of the section. Next, Apfelbaum wants to work on a mostly vocal ensemble sequence, as a prelude to inserting the content of the lyric sheets. Part of this involves a reading of In The Beginning, a poem by Dylan Thomas, tackled by three vocalists: Charles Ver Straeten, Roberta Lawrence and Mary Enid Haines. All of these constituent parts are eventually melded, even though they might seem ungainly in their mass. Apfelbaum has everything under control, though, with his remarkable ability to shape and direct all of these talented artists.

In an unusual move, Apfelbaum’s next step is to work on an arrangement of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows In April”, perfectly illustrating the wide ranges of sources for improvisation to be found during a CMS workshop. For the last 30 minutes of his masterclass, Apfelbaum constructs a complete arrangement, working with his usual speedy decisiveness. He guides the song towards an easy gliding motion, switching to the keyboards, as trumpeter Steven Bernstein arrives to coincide with the latest downpour outside. He’s a veteran attendee at CMS workshops for the last four decades, with him (15 years old) and Apfelbaum (16 years old) first making their pilgrimage from Berkeley in 1977. Both of them (along with percussionist Billy Martin) are now associate artistic directors with CMS.

CMS Spring 2017 Workshop. Photo by Karin Wolfe

Berger’s daily session begins with a call for the horn players to have ears open for the entire spread of sound, not just their own contribution. Then, all of the ensemble’s instruments become a part of the palette. He prompts single stabs, followed by sustained smears. Bernstein starts completely solo, and the orchestra awakens into a fiercely uptempo number. The music, and Berger himself, lift off, as he stands up, getting right up close to players as he urges them on with detailed hand-gestures, directly addressing the horns. Berger is in control, but he’s also facilitating individual expression, within the structural guidelines that he’s built.

Evening Concert, Tuesday 13th June

Tanya Kalmanovitch

The evening’s first grouping features Berger, Sertso, Smith, Tamez, Filiano, Bernstein, Apfelbaum and the newly-arrived Tanya Kalmanovitch on viola. They weave a winding tale, and the music is suitably filmic in character, as Bernstein rips into a flaring slide trumpet solo. Besides this display, most of the orientation is towards an ensemble nature, creating a levelled group sound. Smith and Filiano begin the next piece, with the latter using a wah-wah pedal to contort his sound, the rest of the players now weighing in with a be-bopped momentum. Kalmanovitch takes a swooping solo, richly embellishing, and the mischievous Bernstein/Apfelbaum team trade curt phrases, in the old-school manner. It’s the typical equality of jazz language presented throughout this workshop’s span, embracing jazz tradition as well as the more wayward extremes of free improvisation, with frequent exploration of global ethnic forms. Berger moves to the vibes, adopting a lightly stippling touch, in a duet with visiting Spanish guitarist Alvaro Domene, who has recently settled in the Hudson Valley area. The combination benefits from a taut dynamism, particularly during their second number.

Masterclasses & Workshop Sessions, Wednesday 14th June

Min-Xiao-Fen (photos Karin Wolf)

Min Xiao Fen’s masterclass uses Chinese traditional music, and Peking opera motifs, as a template for the morning’s improvisational journey. She guides with phonetic patterns, prompting the percussion, and asking the sticksmen (Michael Shore, Joe Boulet) to concentrate on small sounds, perhaps using gongs or woodblocks. Vivid facial expressions and extravagant gestures are just as much a part of her communicating array. Then, along with the music, she sings the patterns. With its alien vocabulary and innate complexity, this musical area is surely one of the most difficult to inhabit, particularly for those musicians inexperienced in this language (probably most of the participants). Given the space of just a few hours, it’s certainly hard to grasp.

Min manages to direct the large spread of participants with a fair degree of control, carefully working towards the establishment of a unified flow, binding the singers to the instruments. At first, the players find it difficult to take flight, maybe too self-conscious about being precise. As Min cues repeats, a Chinese form of Philip Glass-ian minimalism begins to evolve, as the repeats ripple outwards. She may be rooted in the tradition, but as witnessed with her pipa playing, Min is always working towards either expanding, twisting or maybe even subverting the core Chinese concepts. Quite astoundingly, by the end of the masterclass, the gathered players surmount the challenge, with the final piece of the puzzle being an almost swinging, loping section, its notes articulated with a good amount of swaying and lolloping. Now there’s even more material, as Min takes the vocal repeats down to a hushed whisper.


Time for lunch!

 An exciting aspect of each masterclass is the almost inevitable turn it will take into a completely different musical approach, governed by the concerns, style and experience of its guiding artist. Joe McPhee (saxophones, trumpet) elects to guide the participants towards structured free improvisation, meaning that the naked content of contributions is completely spontaneous, but placed within a framework that is itself spontaneously built by McPhee. It’s improvised conduction, controlling the improvisation of others, but within itself, pure in its freedom.

Before the music starts to sound, McPhee delivers an eloquent description of his early influence under John Coltrane, his disbelief over the revered saxophonist’s untimely death, and the amusing regularity with which McPhee’s and Ornette Coleman’s paths began to cross around that 1967 time. Not least with their slightly tardy viewing of Coltrane’s open casket at his funeral service. It was as though the torch was being passed, as McPhee moved from Coltrane to Ornette, the latter taking him under his wing, the nature of free jazz gradually evolving into something more extreme.

McPhee’s first tactic is to get the drummers to play a figure, and then immediately chase this with something totally different. He asks the string instrumentalists to find a sound, then sustain it, the drums producing a beat, and the other players tacking something onto that mathematical base. Then, after a long moment of silence, all hell breaks loose. McPhee joins in on soprano saxophone, and calmly signals for trumpet and flute to take the space, silencing the guitar wing, a pipa solo emerging. McPhee conducts sensitively, even though the end result might be brutal in being. As this extended improvisation ceases, it appears to be the end of the masterclass, but McPhee quietly suggests that “we can play some more, if you want.” Straight away, the basses and drums set up a meaty groove, and the horns squabble in unison. It’s noticeable that the participants tend to play in a style descended from what they imagine or expect their guiding artist to desire. This is no bad outcome, as it highlights the organic, malleable nature of improvisation.

It’s not officially the second part of her masterclass (that’s due for the next day), but Min Xiao Fen precedes the late afternoon orchestra session with a performance of the work she’d been crafting earlier. After letting it percolate during the afternoon, this time all of the players are primed, waiting to release their energies. Now, all the components are fully integrated. The players have learned their complicated parts, and are freed up to make this later reading more confident, less inhibited by uncertainty. Some special vibration hangs in the ether.

CMS Spring 2017 Workshop. Photo by Karin Wolfe

This aura is intensified during the following improvisation, led by Berger, which is set to be some of the spring workshop’s greatest music. Now there’s a remarkable energy sizzling around the barn-space, its sliding doors opened to reveal the field and forest vistas outside. Warren Smith has joined the drumming team, providing much of the thrust, as Billy Martin (of Medeski Martin & Wood fame) also guests, rummaging in his percussion bag as he stands on the stairs that lead up to the mezzanine’s mixing desk and recording facilities. Steven Bernstein is also still in the house. Berger’s piece (“We Are”) co-opts its elements into a shuffling Afro-Latin New Orleans mélange, with bassist Ken Filiano doing his sousaphone impersonation. Then a samba procession develops, and Berger takes the volume right down, a guitar part suddenly discernible in the quietness. Berger points to the Mexican pianist Dave Trevino to take a solo, whilst the workshop’s Japanese participants, dancer Michiru Inoue and shakuhachi player Ken Ya Kawaguchi, respond to the escalations.

Evening Concert, Wednesday 14th June

 The first grouping at the evening concert is McPhee, Filiano, Tamez, Smith and keyboardist Angelica Sanchez, opting for a luminous abstraction. McPhee chooses soprano, and it doesn’t take him long to graduate from placid reflection to nervy agitation, dragging his colleagues behind him in the rush towards explosive release.

The second piece is delivered by Berger, Sertso, Tamez, Bernstein, Filiano, Smith and Apfelbaum, the night’s mood already inclined towards larger groupings. Berger is on vibraphone, demonstrating his marvelous human-touch echo. Meanwhile, Apfelbaum wrenches out a gutsy tenor solo. Berger moves to piano and Smith glides to the vibes, this duo softly speaking “Body And Soul”, with a poised translucence. The tune is very sensitively traversed, and then we’re snapped out of our reverie by Filiano, who’s adopting a smile-inducing attitude towards emcee-ing. It’s like he’s born into this role, and relishing every exuberant moment!

Next up, a trio with Min, McPhee and Filiano, the latter bowing sonorously, creating another stand-out musical passage straight away. There’s a hog-calling vocal exchange between Min and Filiano, and changes of instrumental dynamics throughout. Min plays her pipa strings with a bottleneck slide, but can swap to thin, gossamer runs, as a sharp alternative. When she ditches her slide, Filiano picks up his bow again, as Apfelbaum joins the trio, encouraging a tense, stalking, pre-release feeling. Berger now delivers a solo version of “Fragments”, with close, dampened strikes on the vibraphone, making soft rubs and quicksilver ripples. This is definitely the night of the guiding artists, all of the combination line-ups imbued with a noticeable vigor.

Masterclasses & Workshop Sessions, Thursday 15th June

Tanya Kalmanovitch (viola) is something of an unknown quantity at the CMS workshop, a first-timer with a novel approach to the masterclass. Of course, all of the other presenters have their quirks, but her elected agenda is to explore the art of the ending, specifically in the realm of improvisation. Beginnings can be almost as challenging: who opens first, and at what level of density, nature of tone and sense of pace. How do they choose? The exact point of finishing is arguably more of a challenge. Sometimes it’s collectively obvious where a piece might conclude, if it rises towards a clear climax, but on other occasions an improvisation might just drift away into the ether, or perhaps come to a sudden (often instinctive, or chance) halt.

Kalmanovitch discusses the concept of potential endings, even if not every player ultimately acts on this possibility. She asks the participants to identify the likely points at which an improvisation might conclude. There might be a single stage, where no argument is offered, or there might be five, six, or more. Perhaps, even if the majority decide to finish, one player might soldier onwards, or believe that there is absolutely no end in sight, so far. There’s perhaps not much of a concrete gain to be made, during this masterclass, as it seems that Kalmanovitch is preaching general awareness and sensitivity rather than opening a clearly defined rulebook.

Following lunch, Min Xiao Fen returns for her second masterclass, continuing to shape the Peking opera-influenced work from the previous day. This time around she’s concentrating on subliminal vocal tones, inspired by Chinese folk songs. This marks a detour into a complementary area of activity. She starts off the participants with a sustained tone, its notes hovering in a highly subtle inhabitation of the space. Hushed guitars, and baritone saxophone (played by Bill Ylitalo) are introduced, with vestigial drum and cymbal sounds around the perimeter.

Switching back to the Peking opera composition (as it has now become), Min sets it rolling once again, and the trouncing, stomping section increases in power each time it’s invoked, as the ensemble latch onto its propulsive groove. The vocal segment is also amassing energy and conviction. Closing up the session with soft, sustained and sparing sounds, the participants pull the art of contemplation up to its highest level.

The last orchestra improvisation provides another absolute musical peak of this spring workshop. Karl Berger cultivates the stately leviathan of “The Smile That You Send Out Returns To You”, coaxing out a cumulative, ritualistic incarnation of his song. First, Berger lays out the elements, starting a chant around the circle of participants. Gradually, tabla and goblet-shaped darbuka drum are introduced, as verbal and handclapping arrangements are developed. Berger joins in on melodica. Once this structure is in place, he begins an extended improvisation, which eventually re-introduces the song/chant, following this elaborate improvised genesis.

The combined duration was probably approaching 90 minutes, but so engaging was the music that timepieces were not required, as there was no single moment where it wandered, stalled or dispersed into routine. The electricity of Berger’s commanding presence, and the charge set up around the players, filled the circle with a glowing possession to match that of the previous day’s session during this same late afternoon time-phase. These two orchestral improvisations were amongst the most exciting musical spells of the entire workshop.

Evening Concert, Thursday 15th June

As the participants get to know each other, both socially and musically, over the four days, the wheels of improvisation become well-oiled, as groupings form during the final day’s evening concert. One such impromptu band features Ted Orr (tabla), Bill Ylitalo (wooden birdcall plunger-whistles) and the Japanese duo, with Inoue dramatically bursting out of the rest room just a few rows from the left side of the stage, swinging its door open violently, to initiate her dance, gliding towards the stage in a genuinely startling piece of choreography..!

A grouping of Berger, Sertso, Tamez, Filiano, and Smith (on vibes) essays “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”, followed by a radically more unusual pairing of Chuck ver Straeten (voice) and Min Xiao Fen (voice/pipa). She gurgles into a plastic cup of water, whilst Chuck smacks his lips and puckers, finding a dramatic and arresting performance art outlet, both of them speaking in tongues. It’s a dialogue that you might imagine emanating from the neighboring apartment of your worst married couple conflict scenario nightmares. Min pants and they squeal in unison, making noh theatre-type ululations and growls, like a radically avant garde John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

Apfelbaum, Filiano, Kalmanovitch, Smith (on vibes), and Joe Boulet (drums) make a skeletal funk construct, a soft strut implied more than labored. Apfelbaum echoes Kalmanovitch, whilst Boulet uses puffball sticks, reined in within the open sonic space. Smith makes supple crystalline shapes, with one unexpected moment where he ratchets the mallets across the vibraphone’s resonator pipes, always aware of the sideways percussive opportunity.

Another highlight arrives close to the end, with alto saxophonist Paul Goldberg shining out on Monk’s “In Walked Bud”, with Berger (vibes), Filiano and Apfelbaum, the latter now ensconced behind the drumkit. Goldberg had already impressed with several citrus-streaming solos during the daytime sessions.

Even though most of the participants weren’t firing off aggressively individualistic solos throughout the workshop, their stances became markedly strengthened, and their collective sensibilities enhanced as the days progressed. There was an increasing integration between the guiding artists and the participating workshop players, as bonding and confidence increased. Playing permutations were flying spontaneously, particularly by the time of this last evening’s Roadhouse concert. There was also a valuable contrast between the elaborate scale of the daytime’s large ensemble work, and the off-shoot intimacy of the night-time small group promiscuity.


Once again, we retreat deep into the Catskills where mobile phones don’t work to create a community centered around music, nature and human creativity. Guiding Artists fill our ears with music and brains with wisdom, none more so than Karl and Ingrid. People come as strangers and leave as friends, colleagues, musical co-conspirators. Bonds and bands are formed. We’re well-fed musically, but also physically by gorgeous mountain surroundings, sumptuous food and caring friends at Full Moon Resort.  Ears and bodies well taken care of, our spirits soar.  What’s really surprising is that this is typical of CMS Workshops – each reaches a new height. We always think we’ve reached a pinnacle…and then another workshop happens and the bar is set higher.

Special thanks to our guiding artists – Min, Peter, Tanya and Joe – along with Ken Filiano, Warren Smith, Omar Tamez, Angelica Sanchez, and special guests Billy Martin, Steven Bernstein and Timothy Hill.  And of course to Matthew Cullen (sound), Geoff Baer (video) and Karin A. Wolf (photography) for capturing the sounds, images and spirit of this workshop.  Thanks to our friends at Full Moon for making us always feel at home (and for finally making the coffee strong enough!).

See you in for the CMS Fall Workshop October 2-6.

– Rob

Mary Halvorson, Billy Martin and Omar Faruk Tekbilek To Lead Creative Music Studio Fall Workshop


Guitarist, composer and bandleader Mary Halvorson, Creative Music Studio (CMS) associate artistic director and percussionist Billy Martin, and Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Tekbilek join CMS co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso as Guiding Artists for the CMS Fall 2017 Workshop intensive, October 2 – 6, 2017, at the ear-inspiring Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY.

CMS’ Fall Workshop, in the height of the blazing autumn colors, features one Guiding Artist(s) working with participants in two workshops each day, creating multiple opportunities for artists to work directly with participants as individuals or in ensembles. As in the past, there will be daily CMS basic practice (body movement, breath work, rhythm and vocal training), as well as 90 minutes each day with Karl Berger leading orchestra of improvisers.   Bassist Ken Filiano, saxophonist Maria Grand, along with additional Guiding Artists will be on hand to work with participants on a more personal level, informally coaching, playing and tutoring daily.

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CMS NYC Workshop Chronicles
By Michael Shore


I’ve only ever been to one CMS Workshop, June 2015 at Full Moon resort in Big Indian, NY. when I was mainly there to chronicle it for the CMS twitter feed and website, while lurking on the outside of the participants’ circle with a bag of small percussion devices…so I would say I was maybe a quarter participant. So, my frame of reference is limited—but I knew this NYC workshop would be very different from typical workshops: not being at a secluded bucolic resort but in the middle of noisy grimy NYC, and breaking up early the first two nights due to scheduled concerts at our host venue, Greenwich House Music School, would surely affect the sense of community that naturally grows among participants upstate. Also, no body awareness workshops ☹ (I still use some of the stretches I learned at Big Indian every single day).

It’s also different for me personally because this time I am a paying participant, bringing my own little 5-piece drum set-up as well as the small percussion. Small as it is, I as a very part-time amateur player still struggle mightily to cart it from my suburban Long Island home to the city via LIRR and subway, in a collapsible canvas duffel on plastic casters which I’m terrified the whole time will break off. They don’t, and I get a good taste of that dreary, back-breaking and unavoidable aspect of The Drummer’s Life. A valuable lesson indeed!

Finally, because I am much more participant than chronicler – and acutely self-conscious at how rusty and out-of-practice I am – I apologize up front for how different these notes will be than last time, with far less blow-by-blow detail and more hazily recollected impressionism. Due to my daily focus on focusing and not embarrassing myself during each master class, much of the weekend is a blur!

At Greenwich House we all meet and mingle during orientation, after setting up our gear…my fellow drummers and I somehow figure a way to fit all 5 kits onstage with the help of superhumanly patient production manager Alex. I’m suddenly grateful to have such a microscopic kit. In keeping with the spirit I’d felt so keenly at Big Indian and in all my dealing with CMS, everyone is cool and the vibe is mellow. The room gradually fills, a few faces familiar from the 2015 workshop I attended at Full Moon.

Eventually CMS Artistic Director/Co-founder Karl Berger calls us to order in a circle on the recital hall floor and asks us to introduce ourselves briefly. What an interesting group! The drummers include a student of Day 2 Guiding Artist Susie Ibarra’s, who will do wonderful gamelan-gong-type things with some small nesting metal mixing bowls, and one who works at the Jazz Foundation of America’s Jazz In The Schools program – so cool! There are around a dozen guitarists, including a “classical/theater composer by day, punk rocker by night,” another who’s brought a Chinese sanxian lute, and a long-haired young shredder who says he’s looking to learn how to contribute cool creative noises. There are names and faces I recognize from the stages at various downtown avant-rock and jazz gigs over the past few years. Someone came all the way from Washington state. There’s a dude with samplers and toys – “untrained”/”non-musician” company for yours truly! In fact, a lot of us say they’re like me: passionate music fans who put their instrumental dreams aside years ago to focus on family and/or career, but have rekindled that old inner mounting flame that never ever quite goes out.

CMS co-founder Ingrid Sertso leads us in the first of her daily vocal exercises, focused largely on deep breathing and long vowel sounds. It’s great to see her so healthy and energetic where two years ago she’d been weakened by illness. Her deep-breathing exercise is just the refreshing system-cleanse I need – the kind of thing someone like me always forgets to remember to do each day as mundanities and work and such get in the way. I actually begin feeling a sort of a buzz from all the extra oxygen intake from the deep-breathing, combined with the joy of making music – and I swear, just as I feel that buzz, Ingrid says “you know, some tribes around the world use these exercises as a way to get high.” My jaw drops open at how she’s read my mind. She also teaches us a lovely somber South African hymn: “We are going, Heaven knows where we are going…”

Karl Berger then outlines the basic ideas behind the workshop and provides some basic guidance and practice in rhythm, using his Gamala Taki method of counting rhythms in divisions of 3 and 2, having us sing out “ga-ma-la ta-ki” with different accents to different meters, then having us sing only certain syllables while keeping in rhythm – a great way to treat silence as another musical note, and to make rhythm more musical and less pure-math. Karl calls it “beat for beat attention.” It reminds me of one of my favorite chants by one of my favorite artists, Sun Ra: “music is silence too, music is silence too…” Karl then leads us in similar exercises using the singsong chant “time is, time is in, time is in time…” which I recalled from the 2015 workshop. Then he acknowledges the elephant in the room, that we had set up our instruments and must be itching to play them so let’s hit it and see what we can do. All I remember is focusing on the basslines from assistant Guiding Artist, the great Ken Filiano, who’s right in front of me onstage, and trying to follow Karl’s conducting gestures. Feels good to bash a bit for sure. The first day ends with “listening meditation”: Karl asks us to focus on sound and its disappearance – again, like the object lesson in the note value of silence, the kind of against-the-grain zen-koan lesson in which CMS seems to specialize – then he strikes a cymbal… and does it again… and again… and again… Faint street noises mix in with the ever-more-discernible overtones of the decaying cymbal crashes. The focus in the room is palpable. Great training for the ears, and a good start to the weekend!


The first full day of CMS NYC begins with several of us early arrivals outside at 8:45 am, waiting for someone from Greenwich House to show up and unlock the place, breakfast having been called for 9am. We can hear someone upstairs practicing piano but they can’t hear us calling “helloooo” and banging on the door. Possibly a reminder that the calendar says it’s April 1. Someone does show up not long after 9, and the day proper starts with breakfast, and CMS Executive Director Rob Saffer putting out the word that today’s Guiding Artist, Wilco guitarist (among other pursuits) Nels Cline, wants us in a big circle with the drummer spaced out evenly around it. I immediately run upstairs to set up, wanting to make sure I have a spot. Breakfast is a welcome, delicious and filling reminder that the food at Big Indian in June 2015 was plentiful, naturally healthy and yummy. The spread includes eggs, chicken sausages, steamed potatoes, fresh berries, yogurt, Granola, OJ and coffee or tea…at least I think there were big skin-on spuds. Maybe I’m mixing that up with lunch or dinner. What I definitely DO remember is those sausages – and the herb that so powerfully and wonderfully flavored them…sage? Whatever it was, my compliments to Hailee the caterer!

Back upstairs we do more breathing and singing exercises with Ingrid, including a song by the great South African pianist (and onetime CMS Guiding Artist) Abdullah Ibrahim. Ingrid notes that once upon a time, before the oceans split continents apart, what we now call North America was joined with Africa – and that “we are all Africans,” something I have long felt in my bones. How next will this bruja read my mind???

We then take our places in our big circle around the floor of the Greenwich House recital hall, guitarists flanking me in the area by the front windows, reeds and keyboards across from me towards the stage. Karl Berger gives some brief “basic practice” CMS guidance – such as the instruction that music and rhythm can be like a train, a commuter train, that runs the same circuit repeatedly, so if you feel lost at any point wait til the train comes round again to your “stop,” that part you recognize and feel comfortable with, and come back in there. He also says, at one point, “there’s no such thing as an A” – before introducing Nels Cline, who will repeat “there’s no such thing as an A” more than once and remark how liberating he finds that concept. Nels takes his place at the center of our circle, a tall, gangly, extremely affable guy who tells us of his own musical journey on the road to open-eared listening, name-checking familiar radicalizing signposts from Zappa and Beefheart to Coltrane and Sun Ra to Harry Partch and Anthony Braxton, and telling school-days tales of his brother, master-drummer Alex Cline, and SoCal’s answer to Braxton, reedman Vinny Golia.

Nels begins loosely organizing an initial getting-to-know-you group-improv session, moving slowly around the room, pointing to different musicians to see what they could do. A warm-up, so to speak, similar to what we did with Karl yesterday. As Nels goes round the room to single out certain individuals and small groupings, I am instantly impressed by the playing of some of my fellow participants, especially in the reed and string sections, and all the other drummers again scare the heck out of me with their technique.

After a lovely lunch of hummus, babaganoush, pita, cucumbers-and-feta and olives that has me ready to smash plates in a Zorba dance (and with Karl, Ingrid, Ken and Nels sitting amongst all us participants in typical no-hierarchical CMS fashion), Nels gathers us and speaks about noise and microtonal music. At some point I recall him mentioning the weekend warriors among us reigniting our passion for playing, and saying how he honors that as much as any full-time player – very gratifying to hear! He also mentions the very audible 60-cycle hum in the room, which as a noise fan he enjoys as a legitimate audio element in the mix, and remarks upon the old wiring in the building. This will prove the next morning to have been a most prophetic remark
Nels says he wants us to create “something beautifully microtonal, Harry Partch meets Sonic Youth, over a 6/8 groove,” Oh sure Nels, no sweat! He also tells us he’s going to use cue cards to conduct this piece. In the name of microtonality, he “prepares” the guitars a la Fred Frith, offering the guitarists chopsticks to place under their strings. He says he had to borrow them from his wife, musician Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto fame, and that he’ll need them back! Nels’ cue cards say things like “A# minor” and “leave lots of space” and, at one point, “SCREAM!” – which Nels himself raucously joins us in doing. He also uses hand gestures and eye-contact, of course, to cue certain players or groups to start, stop, get louder or softer or harder. He tells the keyboardists onstage at the two Greenwich House grand pianos (yes, two grand pianos) he wants them to play inside the pianos – and during the jam he goes up onstage and ducks under the raised lids to show them how to really get in there and strum the guts of those pianos, like punk harps.

I’d like to hear this piece back to see how it really sounded but it was a blast to play, in more ways than one, though also a bit nerve-wracking for yours truly, with my extremely limited experience actually Playing With Other People. Nels is able to get us to a level of instant-cooperative music- and noise-making. He’s relentlessly chill, upbeat and supportive. His style as a Guiding Artist is a world apart from my last CMS workshop two years ago, where Steven Bernstein and Amir al-Saffr both spent a lot of time talking as one might expect a music teacher to talk, about chords and scales and modes and in Amir’s case, particular ethnic rhythms, before then applying them to carefully arranged improvs around specific themes. This is much looser and more open-ended. What I like about it is, it both assumes and offers a certain level of respect – to my mind, giving a palpable “you’re out of the nest, now fly!” sense of what it might or must be like to actually improvise music with fellow musicians and for listeners who have come to create or listen with you. Without even ever consciously specifically voicing it, this makes me profoundly aware of how terrifying and exhilarating a responsibility it is to be in such a position. It’s around this time, during a lull, that I remember to resume my role as CMS Twitter Feed Poster, and tweet out a couple of pix of Nels leading the workshop. I see that another participant, keyboardist Sugar Vendil, has mentioned CMS in a tweet: “@ music improv workshop today Karl Berger looked in my direction but I ducked so I wouldn’t get called on to solo #fear #hsjazzbandflashback.” Followed by: “I won’t duck tomorrow!” Sugar, I sure can relate!

Before our next and final improv with Nels, he talks more about what he’d heard and what he hoped to hear, and he says something that I think could serve as a sort of CMS credo: “We all belong, and it’s cool not to belong, too.” More prosaically, he asks the guitars to act as a Greek Chorus throughout our next improv, commenting on whatever had just come before he cued them. Nels feels good enough about this improv to stop guiding and take his guitar and solo at one point, then to sit down and lay his guitar across his lap and bang on it like a drum. Having Nels point to me at one point to solo, I am again made aware, in this minimally “directed” workshop, of the intimidating infinitude of choices anyone purporting to be a creative musician has to make at any time.

The day ends with Karl doing a brief gamala taki exercise, followed by his asking us to play an on-the-spot improv based on his “Time Is” tune from the day before, which he plays on a melodica. Because the tune adds and then subtracts melodic cells over an odd meter (I think), it’s not quite as simple as it sounds, at least for an unschooled out-of-practice drummer like me, so I only remember trying to both stay on time and in rhythm and loosen up enough to actually play. That, and Nels sitting in with us participants, “teacher” grinning from ear to ear as he improved along with the “student” orchestra. Another concluding and very focused listening meditation, and while others take their axes to locked closets downstairs, it’s time for us drummers to break down our kits and cram them into Alex the production manager’s office, somehow, to make way for tonight’s Greenwich House concert. In classic CMS fashion, what at first seems laughably impossible turns out to be surprisingly doable.


After two days of damp chilly weather, the last and longest day of CMS NYC is beautiful and sunny. But it is about to begin with some unexpected drama.

After arriving and running upstairs to set up my kit, I run back down to grab breakfast. The dining areas, which border a courtyard/garden in back of the school, are packed and buzzing with conversation. Just as I walk into the first of the dining rooms – the lights go out. I stop dead in my tracks and wonder aloud if someone leaned on a light switch. Reed player Lee Odom is the one who first notices there are FLAMES BEHIND A WALL OUTLET – an apparent electrical fire! Amid the general uproar I scurry through adjoining rooms til I find a fire extinguisher. Alex the production manager happens to be standing right next to me, so never having worked a fire extinguisher in my life, I hand it to him and he expertly puts out the fire with a quick blast or two. Someone calls the fire department , and no fewer than three hook-and-ladders arrive in what seems like moments. Welp! Breakfast – some sort of bacon facsimile and eggs – is flavored with the tang of baking soda-like fire extinguisher powder and electrical-fire smoke in the air…and relief that Greenwich House is still standing. After wolfing down breakfast, still tasty despite the fire, I overhear one of the firemen asking Alex if they offer guitar lessons at Greenwich House. Only then do I recall Nels Cline yesterday, remarking on the old wiring in this building. Oh, it’s gonna be a barn-burner today alright!

Back upstairs, today’s Guiding Artist, jazz and avant-garde drummer Susie Ibarra . arrives and when I ask, pronounces herself totally fine with the circular setup with the drummers spaced out around it. Now however we have to fit in the house kit she’ll be using as well. Somehow this works out. Susie manages to call us to order and introduce herself – and this in itself is quite a feat, because as great a drummer as she is (and she is great) she is incredibly soft-spoken. It’s actually hard at times to make out her requests and instructions, but I can tell you that at points she says “I’m going to ask you to, for instance, play texture…or play patterns…” As with Nels Cline, her actual “instruction” is minimal: remember, CMS calls them “Guiding Artists,” and sometimes effective guidance is that which leaves us participants to figure things out for ourselves. I’d call it an object lesson in spontaneously coordinated collective improvisation – not just on the level of the actual playing and music-making, but in the respectful and responsible way in which everyone responded, shared, and alternately led and supported. In a way, I think Susie and Nels were both letting us learn how much we already “knew.”

The first, morning piece to play is, like the day before with Nels, a sort of warm-up and getting-to-know-you session, with Susie checking out various groupings by instrument, then breaking us up into different smaller groups with guitars, reeds, keys and drums more or less evenly distributed in each. Again, I must apologize to you readers that my nerves and effort at focusing kept me from better remembering the blow-by-blow after everything happened, but I vividly recall Susie Ibarra slowly walking round the inside of the circle checking us all out as we played, at times staring at us, at others looking down at the floor to really focus on what she was hearing… gesturing at times to change dynamics or recombine us… demonstrating “texture” by gently tossing some small strung-together wooden rattles up and down in her hands… and I also recall more and more of my fellow workshop participants impressing me with their playing.

We break for lunch, which most of enjoy out in the garden since it’s so nice out. Soup, tabbouleh and arugula salad, some cold noodle-veggie salad…it’s all delicious.

For the afternoon improv Susie asks someone to provide a melody. Lee Odom offers one on her clarinet: a lovely, descending birdsong which Susie immediately cottons to. I wish I could recall and describe exactly how Susie Ibarra managed to keep us all focused and contributing for more than an hour and a half on this, without seeming to do much of anything…but somehow she did. I am told we went at it for an hour and 42 minutes nonstop, as the music swelled and subsided, from delicate and tentative, to supple and lyrical, to bumptious and noisy, from thin to thick and hard to soft, with Susie’s hand gestures cueing everyone. At one point she sits down at her drums – finally – just a few chairs to my left, and lets loose, displaying masterly efficiency of motion, thrashing out kaleidoscopic polyrhythms while hardly seeming to move at all – her arms steady above the center-point of her 4-piece kit, pointing downward toward a spot right between her snare, mounted tom and floor tom, only her wrists and fingers moving in real-time time-lapse. Don’t mess with Ms. Ibarra cos when she plays, she don’t play!

Took me awhile to locate my lower jaw after that…. After Susie Ibarra’s afternoon master class, Ingrid leads us in the final vocal workshop: giving us different sounds, from sighs to coos to grunts, to make as she arranges and on-the-spot chorus. Then each of us taking turns inside the circle, instantly and intuitively harmonized notes – “mmmm,” “aaaaaaaahhhh,” “ohhhhh,” “ooooooo,” “eeeeeee” — sung at us, so we really feel the vibrations. We sing the solemn South African “we are going…” one last time and knowing it is the last time this time feels bittersweet. Karl then has us back in the big circle for a final session of “basic practice” with Gamala Taki, which I handle with much more confidence than the previous day, even though there are moments when I, and others, audibly come in early or late with a sounded syllable. I am reminded, again, that putting in actual physical practice time – especially for a drummer – is so important. The body has to develop that sense-memory of the actual activity. It’s the same with something seemingly as nursery-rhyme simple as remembering when to say “ma” and “ki” after several silent beats. Or singing “time is, time is in, time is in time…” It’s not easy – til it is…

Then Karl takes out his melodica to lead us in the last official orchestral piece of this CMS workshop. It’s another disarmingly and deceptively simple tune, his “Five Feelings,” which is, yes, in 5. And Karl arranges it so each drummer gets to take a quick 2 or 4-bar solo. This is big fun. No – it’s HUGE fun. After two-and-a-half days we are starting to get a real feel for each other, maybe…and that combined with the knowledge that this is out last collective shot, I think, has us all really leaning into it. I suspect the long-haired young guitar shredder would agree – I distinctly recall him, as the whole group absolutely ROARED, nodding his head in time, lifting both his arms aloft and making devil horns like some avant-garde Beavis or Butthead. I feel quite buzzed by the time it’s all over.

We break for dinner — lasagna and roasted veggies and some really amazing cheesecake – then concluding participant jams organized by Ken Filiano who’d set up a sign-in sheet for anyone who wanted to play. There are several small groups, all engaging in free-improv from quiet to stormy, often making sound use of silence (pun intended). Sana Nagano on violin, Lee Odom on clarinet, Ras Moshe on tenor, and all the drummers still left make big impressions on me: Aaron Latos absolutely attacking one poor ride cymbal as he erupts from a whisper to a thunderstorm… Will Glass living up to his name with quicksilver free playing that reminds me of Original Free Drummer Sunny Murray’s classic self-descriptive quote that he was trying to play “the constant cracking of glass”… Susie Ibarra’s student Michael LaRocca with ferocious technique and intensity – and then inventive in a whole other way in another, aleatoric ensemble, crouched on the floor making unearthly sounds with electronics. Guitarist Lorin Roser is kind enough to let yours truly sit in on a groove-oriented trio late in the evening, with bassist Dan Dybus – thank you Lorin and Danny!

Of course the other drummers and I are last to leave. As we lug out our gear, I’m pondering the techniques, philosophies and approaches I’d learned by doing during this weekend – and how, if applied with any consistency, they could help me improve both my playing and my listening. I am also confident there will prove to be dividends from this weekend I have yet to even realize. And I am struck by the distinct possibility, the likelihood even, that we took lemons and made lemonade this weekend, making positive use of the difference I mentioned earlier in this workshop vs the ones at Full Moon – dispersing at the end of shorter days into the surrounding big city, rather than being together an entire weekend at a remote bucolic location. I think that may have helped us all focus more intensely and urgently in the more limited time we had together. Making this, perhaps, the streetwise in-your-face CMS workshop. Big thanks to Rob Saffer, Ken Filiano, Nels Cline, Susie Ibarra, Ingird Sertso, Karl Berger, Hailee Powell, Alex and Rachel from Greenwich House, the NYC Fire Department and all my fellow participants!


It was a great experience overall for me. I think the inclusionary and non-judgmental aspect to CMS was very comforting. Everyone has a very open and giving spirit.

Awesome! Everything was very engaging, for me. I can’t say that I ever got bored, or even less than excited. The material is amazing in how it engages musicians of different abilities and backgrounds.

CMS is one of the best things to ever happen to my playing and listening, and I am still processing what I learned at the most recent workshop. These days when I hear live or recorded music, I immediately pick up on how much the musicians are listening to one another – or not. Also, the CMS tends to attract nice people.

Basic Practice was truly, deeply illuminating and I will think of the breathing and rhythm exercises probably every day of my life, certainly every time I sit down to my instrument.

I noticed that since going to the workshop, “There is something different” in my playing. I can’t put my finger on it but there is a noted difference. (And, I’ve been playing nearly 50 years!

CMS is hands-on, learn-by-doing workshop that treats music at its most basic, universal level, developing principles that can be applied to any style.

CMS is the opportunity to get in a room with a rotating crew of legendary musicians to learn their processes in a wonderfully open-minded, accepting environment.

I particularly liked the phrases in compound meters (i.e. ta-ki ta-ki ga-ma-la) and the way that it kept the whole group attentive no matter their background.

A CMS workshop focuses on what is at the core of all music making. A participant can refine and take these elements into their life’s work no matter their specific path. That holds true even for the non-musical participants.

I found the content new and engaging.  As a self-taught musician who does not read music, I was a little concerned that there might be moments where I felt a little behind, but this did not prove to be an issue.  I am really glad that the CMS website accentuates that all levels of musicians are welcome, because that was one thing that really inspired me to “take a chance” and sign up.  And I am so glad that i did because I learned so much and felt at home.

Working with Karl and Ingrid will stick with me for many years.  Their approach to the universality of music and the curiosity with which they approach the unknown has given me a brand new perspective.

For me, a lot of this workshop was about getting back to the very basics – breathing, singing, using the body as an instrument. And Karl is such a good teacher, the basic “gamala taki” does not get old for me. At least not yet – ask me again after I’ve done another five workshops. He’s an extraordinary teacher. He says things that people have tried to tell me for years, but now I finally get it.

Nels Cline had good things to say, and for me the biggest takeaway was his open, welcoming attitude, the idea that almost anything can work in music as long as everyone is listening to one another and allowing room for one another. I also liked what he said about the ups and downs of being a visionary pioneer, that if you want to be totally original, it’s the hardest road to take, because that means you have to convince other people to do things your way. For the rest of us, said Cline, we have to learn the common language of notes and chords. That was insightful.

The secret weapon of the CMS? Ken Filiano! What a musician. No offense to the guiding artists, but as a practical matter, I learned more from talking with Ken or overhearing him in conversation. For instance, when you want to learn a short, staccato phrase, practice it slow, and *don’t practice it legato*. Even if you are practicing at a slow speed, stay true to the sonic image you want to achieve. Practice it staccato and keep the spaces between the notes proportional. Then speed it up. Wow – so obvious and so true. He said that when he tunes his bass, he doesn’t just tune one string to one note on the piano. He uses harmonics on the bass to tune to different octaves on the piano, so he is tuning the entire bass to the entire piano. Wow. And he said he hears first with the belly and only later with the ears. As for volume when playing with an ensemble, he said, “I can hear myself for four hours a day. When I’m playing with a group, I don’t need to hear myself. If I can hear myself, I’m playing too loud.” I would love to attend a workshop of Ken Filiano just talking about how to feel the “one.”

Events in Manhattan and the Catskill Mountains Feature Mary Halvorson, Nels Cline, Billy Martin and others

CMS will present an expanded series of concerts and workshops in Manhattan and upstate New York throughout 2017, featuring a diverse line up including Nels Cline, Mary Halvorson, Min Xiao Fen, Billy Martin and many others.

The CMS™ 2017 season begins with the first workshops it has conducted in New York City in over twenty years, from March 31 – April 2, at the Greenwich House Music School (46 Barrow St.) in Greenwich Village. The workshop features two master classes per day with guiding artists guitarist/bandleader/composer Nels Cline (Wilco) and percussionist/composer Susie Ibarra, along with CMS co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso leading CMS ‘basic practice’ as well as improvisers’ orchestra sessions. Bassist Ken Filiano and other musicians work with participants on a more personal level, informally coaching, playing and tutoring daily.  Details and registration are here.

Also at Greenwich House Music School CMS will present two evening concerts.  “The Music of Richard Teitelbaum” with noted composer Richard Teitelbaum  (electronics), Marilyn Crispell (piano), Leila Bordreuil (cello) and Miguel Frasconi (glass object instruments) on Saturday, April 8 at , 8:30 PM.  The next month CMS will present “The Music of Karl Berger” with Karl Berger (piano), Steve Gorn (bansuri flutes, clarinet), Sana Nagano (violin), Jason Hwang (viola), Tomas Ulrich (cello), and Ken Filiano (bass) on Saturday, May13 at 8 PM.

In June CMS heads upstate to Big Indian, NY in the Catskill Mountains for an expanded workshop intensive at its upstate home, Full Moon Resort.  The workshop will be split into two parts. The first will take place June 12 -16, featuring Warren Smith, Peter Apfelbaum, Min Xiao Fen on Chinese modes, Joe McPhee, Tanya Kalmanovitch, Ken Filiano, Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, and others.  The second part will take place June 19 – 23, featuring Billy Martin, Cyro Baptista, Mark Guiliana, Gil Olivera, Allen Herman, Adam Morford and others.  Musicians and non-musicians can sign up for either part, and if they register for both workshops, they will receive a 25% discount.

CMS will be back in Manhattan for a series of concerts by the CMS Improvisers Orchestra at the El Taller Cultural Community Center 215 East 99th Street.  The concerts will take place on three Saturday evenings, April 29, May 27 and June 10 and will feature special guests composer/violinist David Soldier (4/29), poets Papoleto Melendez and Bernardo Palumbo (5/27) and percussionist Valerie Naranjo (6/10), along with CIO regulars Peter Apfelbaum, Warren Smith, Graham Haynes and Ken Filiano, among many others.

On Labor Day weekend, on Saturday, September 2 at 8:00pm, CMS will be at Woodstock’s legendary Maverick Concerts to present “In the Spirit of Don Cherry,” a septet led by Karl Berger and featuring CMS associate artistic directors Steven Bernstein and Peter Apfelbaum, Mark Helias, Tani Tabbal, Bob Stewart and Ingrid Sertso, exploring musical themes from Cherry’s 50 year-old landmark recordings Symphony for Improvisers and other recordings.

CMS’ Fall 2017 Workshop will take place at the Full Moon Resort from October 2-6, featuring composer/guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Billy Martin, Omar Tekbilek on Turkish music, bassist Ken Filiano, Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso and additional performers to be named.

The CMS 2017 season will conclude with a second concert series at El Taller on four Saturdays: September 30, October 28, November 25 and December 9. Special guests and artistic collaborations will be detailed at a later date.