Fall 2015 Workshop Journal

Creating Community Through Sound

Day One: October 5, 2015


Heaven doesn’t have clocks.
Karl Berger

And so the founder of the CMS Fall 2015 workshop acknowledged that orientation started a little later than the printed schedule but in the excitement to begin I’m not sure anyone noticed.

Sure, the day and setting was magical; the mountains just transforming into rich fall colors, the sky a crisp blue and the air bracing. But Berger was not just talking about the grounds and environs of The Full Moon Resort.

Berger gently suggested that we were entering a kind of sacred realm - and as the workshop attendees introduced themselves it was clear that for a number of returning veterans, these workshops had become much more than just a place to improvise. The workshops had shown them a way to approach their lives outside their instruments.

One guest quoted a Tibetan meditation instruction as a way of illustrating how CMS graduates prepare to create music:

Body like a mountain,
Breath like the sea,
Mind like the sky.

But before all that - Berger gave us a few basic CMS edicts:

1. Mean what you play.
2. Don’t play what you want to play. Discover the music within that you’ve never practiced. Silence is the most important lesson you can learn here.
3. Sound, every note is a composition of many notes, overtones. So every note that you play is actually new and unheard. This realization is liberation.

Thus inspired and fed with a delicious dinner, the group retired to the Roadhouse to hear a concert by multi-instrumentalist and composer Peter Apfelbaum, bassist Ken Filiano with Berger on piano and vibes and Sertso on vocals.

The concert began before anyone realized it was happening. . .Berger and Apfelbaum seemed to be soundchecking but then launched into an abstract version of Berger’s original “Dakar Dance.” Ingrid joined the performance by announcing, “It’s cold in here, so I have to remember Africa.” It does get cold here in the mountains but by the end of the performance, a fire was burning. That’s actually not a metaphor - a resourceful attendee actually built a fire in the Roadhouse hearth.

Filiano then joined the group for a rangy and gorgeous “Lonely Woman” which had Apfelbaum switching between sax and drums.

For the final tune they performed another Ornette composition, “When Will the Blues Leave” [Karl and Ingrid’s answer, “Never ever”] with workshop attendee Aaron Latos playing drums.

The performances were fluent and masterful - Apfelbaum switching between sax, drums and piano at various times during the set and Berger even dancing a bit.

But after the ringers performed, some attendees took the stage and these rag tag children of CMS played a joyous and wonderfully damaged abstract set while Berger napped peacefully by the roaring fire. Rick Warren (guitar), Leigh Daniels (double bass), Bob Sweet (drums) and Chuck ver Straeten (vocals) started off, followed by a host of other participants playing together and experimenting late into the night. A great start to the workshop.

Day 2: October 6, 2015

Body Awareness Workshop

You can do this in the shower! - Ingrid Sertso

So what could a bunch of slouching musicians possibly learn from a program called “Body Work?” While it’s an unfortunate euphemism outside the borders CMS - it turns out that the clear teachings of Savia Berger are essential to the creative musician. I have my own daily fifteen-minute warm up sequence that has saved me from acute tendonitis for many years, but Savia’s complete body awareness training took this practice to another level. Musicians need to consider themselves athletes. . .our bodies need constant upkeep - thank god for this piece of the workshop.

And yes - Ingrid is right - doing these moves in the shower is probably wonderful, though Savia cautioned against losing your balance in the tub.

5 Minute Meditation

With any form of creative expression - you need to be in the moment. Everyone starts out innocent and pure. The magic wand in improvisation is awareness - all while letting go of turmoil.
Ingrid Sertso

The more time I spend in this community, the more I see how powerfully Don Cherry’s presence permeates CMS. Ingrid told us how Cherry would meditate before each performance and said, Before performing I have to become empty.

Voice Training

The universal sound is ‘ah’ - it’s the baby’s first cry. The ‘ah’ weaves around the breath and the breath weaves around the ‘ah. - Ingrid Sertso

Ingrid introduced the workshop to the concept of tuning the ensemble through the voice. With her direction, we were able to find a gorgeous group harmony with no effort. Ingrid then followed this up by walking us through an instant vocal composition based on various phrasings related to the word “go.”

Gamala Taki Rhythm training

With a lot of classical music groups, you can hear the paper. They do not know the music by heart. ‘By heart’ is such a beautiful English phrase and it’s very apt to what we are doing here.
Karl Berger

The Western academic musical community fetishizes counting odd meters. Now after years of practice, I can feel those meters but still struggle to put them together fluently. The Gamala Taki rhythm training system breaks up all meters into groups of twos (Taki) and threes (Gamala) - so a rhythm in 5 would be sung “Gamala Taki” or “Taki Gamala.” Removing the counting from the odd meters allows the music of the rhythms assert themselves in our playing with less effort and more fluidity.

When Karl started us off with a Gamala Taki rhythm - it felt like I was falling off a cliff of abstraction - but I was caught immediately in the pure logic of the system. The rhythm cohered with the music again! This system’s simplicity is very human. . .though of course numbers are human as well. . .but there’s a paradox: most of us, especially musicians, struggle with numbers, especially money. Could there be a Gamala Taki method for accounts receivable?

When practicing Gamala Taki, Karl reminded us to count these rhythms outward - addressing an audience - don’t turn inward and beat them INTO the body. A lesson I’ve been needing to hear my entire life.

When Karl asked the group if there were any thoughts about these rhythms and performing them with a group, attendee Aakash Mittal found the group learning environment to be a wonderful contrast to the isolated, solo practicing that makes up so much of academic music today.

If you can’t figure out where you are in the beat, wait until the next train comes in. The audience will hear the unplayed beat without a problem. In fact, they will play along with you and fill it in.
Karl Berger

Peter Apfelbaum Master Class

If you only had 2 tones how would you create drama and variety in a solo?
Peter Apfelbaum

Our extended afternoon session began with Peter’s question. . .how can we break things down to their simple parts? How can we create drama and interest by restricting the performer?

 Though it wasn’t outlined to us explicitly, Apfelbaum created an environment where we could witness the creation of a song from scratch. . .we had the privilege of working within and through his creative process for the entire day. At one point later in the session he said of his various groups, “We create everything from the ground up. The styles are all mashed up together. The music becomes a homegrown organic thing as opposed to ‘ready-made.’”

His compositions are often a rich tapestry of intertwined melodic and rhythmic phrases, all in a variety of musical ‘styles,’ and we created one together with Peter’s direction. A real revelation.

A few attendees then presented some compositions for the group to try. One composition by Aakash Mittal went through some fascinating arrangement phases with Apfelbaum’s direction. He suggested changing up instrumentation, building in more contrast, and taking the root idea of Aakash’s composition and expanding on it to create a more coherent performance.

We learned the value and drama in contrasts.

The free-est you can be in music is when you’re playing something wild against something more solid and straight ahead.
Peter Apfelbaum

Karl Berger Orchestra

Use the razor. What do I NOT want to play?

Never sound like you’re trying something, everyone who’s listening will hear that.

Listen from the point of view of the whole orchestra.
Karl Berger

The ensemble performance, under Berger’s direction, was a joy. Somehow Berger’s few simple and astringent phrases are incorporated into the ensemble immediately. It’s the mark of a great conductor. Peter dealt with many of the same issues Karl usually addresses in this session, notably how to play the ensemble vs. solely playing one’s instrument, how to tune together and how to really listen when playing in a group, playing the silence when you have nothing to add.

Listening Meditation

Karl struck a temple bowl several times.

But before he did this, he imparted some wisdom of a Tibetan Buddhist monk who had visited CMS in the early 70s, instructing the organization and its participants to: “Listen to the sound disappearing.”

And no - there’s nothing else.

Roadhouse Concert

Though there were some rumors that Rudresh Mahanthappa was feeling under the weather. . .he took to the stage with bassist Ken Filiano, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, Berger and Apfelbaum for a transcendent 40 minute group improvisation. It started with Rudresh and Kirk playing a duet. Though both are native Coloradans, it was their first time playing together. And it was well worth the wait. The two intertwined lines as if they had played together their whole lives. Later, Filiano and Berger joined in, creating a drumless quartet.  After about 15 minutes of ecstasy, another sound was heard in the distance as Peter Apfelbaum walked slowly, quietly and deliberately along the perimeter of the cozy Roadhouse playing his soprano saxophone eventually forming a quintet. And that’s when things really took off. At one point the three horns sounded more like the Moroccan musicians of Jujuka than anything else. Peter eventually put down his horn and started up on drums, truly propelling the group to even higher levels of ecstatic playing.

It seemed that the concert was over but then Berger and Filiano played a remarkable duet with Karl dancing on vibes. Berger then switched to piano and brought up Kirk for another duet, that ended perfectly.

It was the perfect end to an overwhelming day of music.

But of course - it wasn’t the end. . .CMS participants took to the stage and played long into the evening in a variety of interesting instrumental pairings - an incredible day. You mean there’s more?!

Day 3: October 7, 2015

The use of the voice is the greatest tool to shut off the thinking mind.
Karl Berger

Let’s call it the day of facing fears.

After a logy body awareness session with Savia (the temptations at breakfast got the best of me) with lots of excellent new stretches and moves, Ingrid Sertso got us tuned back into our voices again. I have to admit that the voice work, while inspirational and liberating, is just plain terrifying. . .or perhaps at the very least uncomfortable. Today we improvised vocal melodies that the entire group would repeat back - and it was hard. Facing and overcoming the anxiety of performing badly or uninterestingly; this is one of the day’s personal lessons. Of course these thoughts just get in the way of improvisation - so I pushed through and surprised myself. This voice training led us perfectly into one of Berger’s more evocative quotes of the day:

Play into the void. Surprise yourself.

We worked on additional Gamala Taki rhythm training - with a deceptively simple 8 count (Gamala Gamala Taki) and Karl had us clap on the “one” of the phrase and while only vocalizing certain syllables in the phrase. For example we would only say the “ma’s” or the “ki” in the eight count phrase. This proved to be beyond me and as a drummer who’s bread and butter ought to be counting even time - it was humbling. But it was also exciting - because now I have a huge universe of rhythm training to explore when I return home.

A listener responds to us. Give them a chance to listen. And it they’re really feeling free enough,
they might just get up and dance.

Karl Berger

The rhythm training got the group talking about playing creatively with more traditional forms of jazz. Workshop attendee Bob Sweet asked Karl if there was a way to approach standards with the creative attitude that we bring to our more abstract playing.

Berger told the group that standards were actually easier because so much had been decided for us before we start to play.

We should be able to play weddings. In any situation in music, we can be creative.

We’ve all seen tremendous musicians playing the most mundane material in the most mundane settings. There’s a way to bring the Berger awareness to every kind of gig. “It’s about beat for beat attention and remembering that you can never repeat a sound the same way so every time you play something it’s entirely new. That’s liberating.”

Master Class with Rudresh Mahanthappa

Music is a community activity, whether we like it or not.
Rudresh Mahanthappa

Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa kicked off his class with a brilliant solo and asked the attendees to comment on his performance. What kinds of concepts and feelings did his performance evoke?

 We noticed his technical fluency of course, and the “chapters” of phrasings and modes that he passed through. There were some repeated melodic motifs and a propulsive forward movement to the piece - and also a coherence to the entire composition. It felt complete. We discussed why these things might be present in his improvisation and he gave us some insight into his process.

“One of the most important things to me is groove. There’s a feeling of forward momentum that human beings gravitate towards. We’re always pushing into the moment.”

Everything we see when we wake up in the morning should be how we approach being
musicians. We seek balance.

The most important thing we should all learn as musicians, is to discover how we best learn. Figuring out what works for you is 90% of getting through each day.

Mahanthappa described his way of using visualization to practice playing difficult pieces like “Giant Steps.” Instead of spending three months holed up in a rehearsal studio, he concentrated on all aspects of the piece for three months, mainly by listening to it again and again. When he picked up his horn, he was able to access the tune in a more fluent way - and was able to bypass that special hell we know as a rehearsal studio.

Though he spoke many times about the community of musicians from which he draws energy and inspiration, he also advised us to work on solo playing.

Solo playing is really important. There’s no safety net. Those moments that we have alone with our instrument are very precious. While it’s a bit of a cliche - it’s important to make practice fun. Never judge yourself.

The attendees were interested in how Mahanthappa found his personal style of music and composition.

My first paying gig out of school was working on a cruise ship. It seemed like the dream job right? But it was terrible. After that experience I never wanted to be in another situation where my saxophone was in my mouth and I was hating what I was playing.

If you’re really following your heart, things work out 95% of the time but you have to pay the price of what that means.

Mahanthappa described years of eating rice and beans and even a moment when he didn’t have enough money for a subway fare and walked 6 hours from Carroll Gardens Brooklyn to the Conde Nast building in midtown Manhattan to deliver a CD so an upcoming show could get listed in The New Yorker. (It was listed and the gig was packed.)

Rudresh then led the group in an incredibly difficult composition that he taught to the band by rote. First he clapped out the rhythm. After a long struggle, attendee Aaron Latos discovered that the beat was palindromic and looked something like this: 44 33 22 33 22 33 44. After we shedded the pulse, Rudresh introduced the melody - which was also symmetrical (you’ll have to ask the pitched instruments what was going on here!) and the ensemble again struggled to master it. We ended this session playing the tune while various members of the group took turns soloing over the rhythm section. It was another moment of terror for me - but the four drummers were playing sympathetically if I do say so myself. After we played the tune for a while, Rudresh asked us what meter the song was in. According to him, there were two right answers:



We don’t care.

The session ended with some more discussion about Mahanthappa’s philosophy and musical path.

We learned about his approach to playing odd metered phrases in different tempos over the pulse of his songs, of his love of math, and an Eddie Harris comedy record called The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit.

“I consider myself an Indian American. The music is a byproduct of just inhabiting my skin every day.”

Honestly - this recap just scratches the surface of the ground we covered together - it was a really deep session with a master.

Karl Berger Improvisers Orchestra

After wrapping our heads around Rudresh’s song in 21 - we were glad to crawl back into papa Karl’s loving arms - so we could play. . .another song in 21. It was an older tune called “Open Time” despite it not being in open time.

But first we had a lesson in dissonance. Berger had the string section play a dissonant tri-tone. Then he had the dissonant violin play very faintly underneath the others. . .instead of causing a tension, the note gave the chord some color. So Berger taught us that there really isn’t dissonance - there’s just a different kind of harmony. Another liberating idea.

Karl started us out by having everyone choose any note and sustain it as an orchestra. It sounded tremendous – everyone deeply in tune with everyone else! We used that as our foundation for the group improvisation that followed. Watching Berger work an orchestra is pure magic - he draws power and grace out of the group somehow. The music that we create always sounds like Karl Berger - even though we have a ton of freedom. His style of conducting reminds me of my time working with Eye and the Boredoms. Both inspirational figures, both completely in control of their giant orchestras!

Listening meditation

Wherein we’re taught to listen to the disappearing resonance of a bowl. . .

Chainsaws used to bother me but now they are a form of practice. Their sound disappears as well, explained Karl.

Concert at the Roadhouse

The guiding artist tonight was pretty exciting for me - finally we had our guiding drummer Billy Martin in our midst! I know that Peter and Karl both sat at the drum set, and Peter is extremely accomplished on the instrument - but I’ve been hungering for a “real” drummer to play with our heavy teachers. Martin did not disappoint.

The ensemble included Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Ken Filiano on bass, Karl Berger on vibes, Ingrid Sertso on vocals and Peter Apfelbaum on wooden flute, soprano sax, tenor sax and piano. . .

During the 2nd tune, Peter and attendee altoist Gus Mancini marched in from the rear of the roadhouse, intertwining musical lines as they approached the stage. The group went through so many different colors and moods - and Gus more than held his own during a couple trading sets with Peter and Karl.

The final piece was a beautiful solo piano rendition by Berger of the Eric Dolphy tune, “2:45” that was the last song Dolphy performed live before he died in Berlin. (Story goes that Karl and Ingrid were the ones who took Dolphy to the hospital where he died.)

I tried to run out of the Roadhouse in order to get back and write up this recap - but bassist Lee Daniels collared me before I could escape, “Let’s play something.”

So it was the final moment of overcoming fear for the day.

As per usual - the CMS attendees in various combinations - Stuart Leigh, Rick Warren, Sana Nagano, Hyuna Park, Roland Parkins, Seth Kessel, Aakash Mittal, Thomas Wandell, Gabriel Dresdale and others - played late into the night, trying out some of what they learned during the day. . .and now I’m finished writing this up. It’s time for bed.

Day 4: October 8, 2015

Don’t make your feeling for the beat dependent on your instrument - the time has to be inside you.
Karl Berger

The final day has been bitter sweet. I’m exhausted. I’m disappointed that I’ve spent the late evenings holed up in my room, jotting down these notes. The days have been far fuller and more nuanced than I can capture in these missives - maybe I can try to drop in a few observations which usually fall through the cracks of my other recaps.

Definitely Ken Filiano’s super-human encouragement and positive presence is something that I haven’t even alluded to before. He’s a monster on his instrument - but he has a sensitivity to the beginners’ mind and ability that is unsurpassed. Like Karl and Ingrid, he’s a person who communicates clearly and passionately - and obviously loves helping students reach higher levels.

I haven’t mentioned the great conversations I’ve had with veterans of CMS’s first incarnation, and with other newer students and guiding artists. It’s a place full of inspiration and awareness. There’s a lot of music school recovery happening here - a lot of openness and support from the guiding artists. Peter Apfelbaum and Karl are often bringing stand-out attendees to the stage during the Roadhouse gigs. Tonight we saw performances by saxophonist Aakash Mittal, cellist Gabriel Dresdale, pianist Hyuna Park, guitarist Mike Gassman, drummer Aaron Latos, violist Sana Nagano, alongside of the guiding artist masters. . .and everyone distinguished themselves; everyone belonged up there.

The day held a tinge of melancholy; there was an awareness that we needed to listen to the sound of the workshop disappearing. We aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and dive back into rhythm training, improvisation and singing. This is it.

The day began with a sense of consolidation. The workshop’s structure is meant to serve as a model for the life of a creative artist. Part of that resides in practical approaches to living - thus the body awareness work we’ve done twice a day with Savia is foundational. You gotta feel right to play right (and write right).

Then there’s the mindfulness meditation with Ingrid - five minutes of work on emptying and being fully in the NOW. For those of us who can’t sit still, Ingrid led us in a walking meditation around the edge of the barn space - and we leave the workshop with a number of tools that can heighten our awareness of our surroundings and quiet the mind.

And then we sing. . .which again was beatific. I avoided improvising vocally as the group sung a deep bed of low “OM” tones. I’m not proud of it - but there’s gotta be some reasons for me to come back to this workshop next time! The voice is everyone’s primary instrument - it’s our first instrument and our first problem that needs solving (to paraphrase something Thomas Wandell said during lunch - “the artists’ first problem is figuring out how to express themselves”). The voice is with us every waking moment - it’s our most intimate companion - so activating it becomes one of the musician’s elemental goal.

During Rhythm Training Karl discussed the three elements of rhythm:

Pulse - the heart beat of the piece
Language - “Rhythm is asymmetrical - no language is in 4/4. Follow the language.”
Form - this could mean meter/bars/song/symphony. . .the large rhythms that inform the entire creative gesture.

We were reminded of Karl’s concept of beat for beat attention—always feel and be with each beat of a rhythm.

When Karl asked for questions I chimed in. Yesterday’s Gamala Taki training was incredibly difficult for me - and I think it revealed a great deficit in my feel of time - so I asked Karl about it. I’m a drummer - and my time is supposed to be impeccable - but after 25 years, it turns out I can barely manage an 8 count.

Thankfully many participants were feeling similarly to me and were glad for the question. Of course I thought I was the only one who couldn’t deal with the 6/4 Gamala Gamala Taki rhythm.

So Karl described the three time feels for all of us.

First you just play all the beats in a pattern. If there are 8 beats in a phrase, you play them all.

Second is feeling the beats you don’t play and being able to sit comfortably in the void between the sounded beats.

Third are long tones that run across the beats. You need to be able to sing long tones and feel how many beats pass during the long tones. This will allow you to improvise melodies over the time.

No matter what you practice, always return to the fundamentals - sound, singing and remembering that no sound ever repeats.

“I’ve worked with musicians on all levels and everything you need to learn you can learn by feel. Listening is the basis for playing - not the other way around.” – Karl Berger

Master Class with Billy Martin

Improvising is the only way to get through life.
If anyone asks me what kind of musician I am, I tell them I’m experimental. Improvising is where the experimenting happens.
Billy Martin

 Martin took the Karl Berger concept of leaving space to let the audience in and applied it specifically to soloing. Using an example of a Max Roach solo, Martin talked about his concept of “stream of phrases.” Each performance gesture is followed by silence. . .the next gesture can be seen as commentary on the first phrase - so you end up in conversation with yourself. Hopefully you can stand the company.

“Silence is what gives power to the sound. It allows you to actually listen to what you play.” - Martin

Martin also introduced the workshop to his concept of the “omniverse” - or the universe of all possible expression and language. If you visualize it like a massive grid - each area of the grid represents a different set of choices related to your performance - it could include pitch, dynamics, articulation, length, etc. Martin suggested an exercise wherein each solo phrase is pulled from a completely different area of the “omniverse” - so every short passage has its own unique quality. He also demonstrated this concept on my drums. . .and made them sound great! So I no longer can blame my drums for the sound of my playing.

Martin also discussed a few additional concepts of soloing.

Timing - i.e. when to make the statement. “Some of the greatest comedians are great drummers. They know when to time the punchline.”

Tempo - which if it’s not arbitrary, can be used to heighten the intensity of emotional states.

Rhythmic Harmony or Counterpoint - two or more pulses happening at the same time will create a feeling. The more pulses, the more complex the feeling.

Martin then introduced us to his composition based on the sound of crickets in a field. It’s a fascinating concept - and like the best ones - it was very evocative and very simple to grasp.

The awesome word of the day was stridulation - which is the act of producing sound by rubbing together certain body parts. The piece collects a set of six rhythms in various meters - 2, 3, 4 and 6 - and each person in the ensemble chooses one of the rhythms and sticks with it. If you’re not paying attention - the “one” completely disappears - and the musicians in the group were initially frustrated by this. But Billy explained that he didn’t want people to get hung up on single ways of hearing the beats. . .with all those multiple meters going on at once - you need to open yourself up to the multiple ways that you can hear this music.

Along the same lines of being inspired by stridulating insects, Martin described the orchestra as an organism - and as this organism we’re all arrangers and can drive and direct the sound in dramatic ways.

After lunch we did a long performance of his piece “Strangulation 1” which worked on the stridulation concept in a more abstract sense - as every member of the ensemble took a solo, Martin encouraged us to engage the energy of each soloist and support each performance sympathetically.

Along the same lines of being inspired by stridulating insects, Martin described the orchestra as an organism - and as this organism we’re all arrangers and can drive and direct the sound in dramatic ways.

After lunch we did a long performance of his piece “Strangulation 1” which worked on the stridulation concept in a more abstract sense - as every member of the ensemble took a solo, Martin encouraged us to engage the energy of each soloist and support each performance sympathetically.

Karl Berger Orchestra

Rhythm and dynamics are the TWO most important elements in music. The notes are in 3rd place.

The final performance of the orchestra was definitely the most in tune. The ensemble felt tight and responsive and Karl was able to introduce some melodic material that he directed the group to perform at different times during the performance. There’s something magical about the Berger Improvisers Orchestra. . .he is able to conjure a wide range of colors and sounds out of us. But I need to work on my swing time. My goal for the next session is to be able to play this fluently. I have about 8 months right? (Mark your calendars for the June 6 – 10, 2105 CMS Spring Workshop with Meshell Ndegeocello, Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph, among many others)

Roadhouse Concert

Tonight was all about the workshop attendees. Every performance had attendees playing and once again the performances went long into the night. I can still hear you guys while I write this back in my room! I think I recognize Thomas Wandell on drums!

At one point, after a ton of instrumental improvising (save for Ingrid’s incredible instant poetry) Chuck Ver Straeten said, “How about if just voices went up on stage for once?” Sarah Hooff, Aaron Latos, Annemarie Weisner, Roland Parkins, Leigh Daniels joined Chuck for a vocalizing improv.

This vocal ensemble then morphed into an a cappella rendition of “Happy Birthday” (now thankfully in the public domain - we can’t afford the publishing fees) to CMS participant guitarist Mike Gassman as only CMS freaks could do (his birthday is tomorrow - or as Ingrid might say - NOW) proving Berger's statement that even playing in a happy birthday choir can be a creative act.


I didn’t know how I would take the next morning’s breakfast. The workshop was ending. As we said our goodbyes, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s comments about music being a community activity resonated clearly. Here was a strong, empowered group of creative musicians with whom I can share ideas and perform for the rest of my life. I watched these musicians’ spirits grow stronger by the day. As I started on the long drive back to Queens I didn’t immediately throw on the radio or distract myself from the task at hand. I listened to the sound of the road disappearing beneath me and then practiced my gamala taki’s for a while. Even though I’ve been playing and creating music for at least 25 years - this was the rare time when a sharper path emerged from the chaos of this practice. Music as a way of life has refined itself away from a dream and is the NOW.

Thank you all! See you all in June 2016!

CODA 2 – From Rob Saffer, CMF Executive Director

I think I say this every time, but this workshop seemed to surpass them all. In the first day, the group cohered, an orchestra blending and listening. Maybe it’s because so many participants have been to CMS workshops before and know how to connect deeply, musically and personally. Or maybe it’s because the Guiding Artists once again pushed and pulled everyone to explore new areas of music, art and life. Or maybe it’s just the warm atmosphere of the Full Moon Resort when the leaves are burning fall colors. It’s all of those things, of course, but mostly it’s the magic that comes from the CMS pedagogy and methodology, the path of living in the ‘music mind,’ a place of open hearts, minds and ears, where listening is even more important than playing. As Karl said, Heaven doesn’t have clocks.

Once again I want to thank Matthew Cullen our sound engineer, Geoff Baer and Woodstock Films for videography, the staff of the Full Moon (especially Amy Carpenter), John “Kid Millions” Colpitts for his written insights and outsights, Mike Shore, Guiding Artists Peter Apfelbaum, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Billy Martin, Ken Filiano, Kurt Knuffke, Savia Berger, and of course the always inspiring Karl and Ingrid. And very special thanks to our supportive board of directors and generous donors (you know who you are) – without you, these workshops would not be possible.

In music,

Remember: June 6 – 10 with Meshell Ndegeocello, Hassan Hakmoun, Adam Rudolph and many more.



“I went to Berklee and grew up taking intense lessons all my life…so being at CMS was very eye-opening. We are so used to thinking that we need to study and learn more from outside resources, but CMS taught me to appreciate my more natural creativity, and to appreciate art and who we are.”

“This was my third workshop in a row and my enjoyment and appreciation grows every time.”

“Directly following CMS, I played a gig… I noticed a tremendous change in my playing. The combination of practicing free expression and the odd time signatures made a huge difference. I was just doing things that have never come out of my fingers before. Even the wrong notes worked… I kept up with working on what we focused on during the workshop and my playing again has been much more meaningful, concise and expressive.”

“I was given tools with practical applications to my daily practice. I was given new inspiration and new approaches to composition.”

“The experiences I had at CMS this October go beyond ‘chops’ on my instrument; the workshop served to strengthen my connection with my own music-making process on a really fundamental level. It’s a great ‘safe space’ to experiment, to try new things out, to be really musically vulnerable, and work on fundamentals with great teachers.”

“I will most remember the concerts and jams at the roadhouse. After a long day of good work, it was such a pleasure to wander over to the roadhouse and be washed in transcendent music.”

“At night, watching the performers, I was able to see masters working through the same things we were working on during the day. Also, getting up and jamming was crucial to this experience. Being able to apply a full day's worth of teaching and thought into an improvised situation each night was great. “

“CMS was an experience that will have a lasting effect on my music (and possibly much more). I'm still experiencing the ripples from this.”

“This workshop was exactly what I was looking for in my musical development. It is at once a very fun, yet very focused and serious environment. “

“In no other format have I found teachers as accessible or fellow musicians as engaged… I’ve grown from them in ways no other kind of music-educational context can touch. There are subtle, ESSENTIAL parts of the music-making process overlooked by four years of a traditional music conservatory and a decade of lessons that a short week with Karl, Ingrid, and the other great teachers at CMS directly addresses.”

“When explaining CMS to friends/fellow musicians, I made sure to tell them it wasn't like a music college workshop. It was a holistic experience. Everything we did added to the full experience. The meditation helped us to shut out the internal noise. The vocal warm ups were fun as well as helped us tune up with one another. I never experienced being in a group where everybody was listening and contributing their voices in such a way.”

“I always loved and did meditation on my own but it was so nice to do it with other musicians, and to see its effects on other musicians as well as on myself. I really realized that creativity is something that comes naturally if I let it, by calming my mind and by opening myself up to it. That was mindblowing to actually see it working to every one of us. I still practice this stuff on my own, and with some of my friends after CMS.“

“CMS is rare but is very important because it teaches us to appreciate what is and who we really are as artists in a simple way, rather than just teaching us more instrumental techniques and some new music theories.”

“I feel that the experience that CMS offered me was unique, in that it helped break away the barrier between my raw emotions and expression. I could also say it helped me use my instrument (guitar) as a way to channel my raw emotion… CMS was a way to take it to the next level. Having CMS makes the world a better place.”

“I feel as though CMS was integral for me continuing forward in life as an artist.”

“I learned to listen. Technical ability is important, and the more we play the better that will become, but music, improvisation especially, all comes down to listening…if one never learns how to listen then they will never ascend to the next level of true artistry and musicianship.”

“CMS is a workshop that aims to get to the heart of music as a primal, intuitive process (as opposed to the prescriptive, usual route of music education) through conducted improvisation.”

“Robert Fripp once said in an interview that playing music is like you are sitting in a room with your instrument and music is trying to get in the front door, but the foyer is too cluttered with all of your knowledge of scales and chords and theory and your fancy riffs and it can't get in. So the trick is to make room to get the door open so music can come in. I thought that was a good description of what CMS does for me.”

“Although I have been happy and grateful with my life as a violinist I have in NY, I always felt like something was missing, and I knew what it was: I just never really knew how to fully accept and to appreciate my own creative music and art, my own voice… CMS helped me find my voice to play my music my way.”

“CMS is unique in that it unites individuals with different musical backgrounds and abilities while returning each musician back to the foundational basics of music. The 'ground level' instruction at CMS, which focuses on the basics of expression, rhythm, and playing as a unit, complimented and enriched my past experiences performing and playing music. It also helped me to recognize and work towards overcoming some hangups I developed as a ‘paper trained’ musician!”


“Experiencing the teaching of Karl Berger was very humbling. He has such an incredibly deep understanding of music; I tried to hold on to everything he said. His rhythm-counting GaMaLaTaKi system turns mathematical odd meters into an accessible language. Participating in his orchestra was also an amazing experience. Being a part of that changed my view of music in a way; to express through soundscape.”

“GaMaLaTaKi and Ingrid [Sertso]’s voice-tuning work is the kind of thing that’s simple to learn but takes a lifetime to master.“

“Karl: His general philosophy and ‘packaging’ of musical concepts is an inspirational delight. He succeeds in de-coupling the (man-created) intimidating parts of music from playing, and his words helped me reconnect with and respect the natural musical tendencies we all have! He is a gifted teacher, and I would love to have more time to listen to his wisdoms during the workshops.”

“Humble but guided by pedagogical intent, Billy [Martin] was great to work with because he created musical situations that were structured, yet designed to push each musician out of their comfort zone. The ‘stridulations’ rhythm work and improv that came out of it was one to remember!“

“As for what I will I most remember it's more the attitude advice rather than technical advice. Like Rudresh [Mahanthappa] suggesting that you go watch a season of The Sopranos if you're not having fun practicing, and that if you want to get good at something you need to to stop judging yourself and do it for fun. And Ken [Filiano] and Kirk [Knuffke] are great as they really make themselves available to answer any questions. The end result is there's a lot of musical knowledge in one place to tap into.”

“Rudresh Maranthappa and Billy Martin left me with some great rhythmic ideas to work on, in particular!”


“I like that it wasn’t just about becoming a better musician, but also about becoming a better human being and an artist. The whole thing felt more intimate than any other program.”

“I am still digesting what happened on the marvelous week and I probably will spend my whole life to understand more and more.”

“My experience at CMS was a life-changer, for sure. I am a classically trained cellist who has always felt the strong power in music, but has struggled with overcoming the problem of ‘playing the page’ that Karl Berger has talked about. Meaning, you can hear the stiffness in the notes when played from sheet music, as if they were frozen, or dead. But as we know, music is a living art... The notes written on the page are meant to fly. Ultimately, music must be an expression of our freedom, not our boundaries. Or perhaps, our freedom within boundaries. So with all that being said, I found my freedom at CMS, in my ability to play what I hear and to hear what I play. This is more than a lesson in music, it is a lesson for life."

“I learnt so much from the whole workshop; it really changed my perspective as an artist and as a person.”

“These workshops have a big effect on my life. I'm just sorry I have to wait until June for the next one.”


“The Full Moon Resort was in a beautiful location in the mountains and the food was of high quality with many options. There was no shortage of coffee. Having the basics covered in this way seemed to give everyone great morale.”

“The beautiful setting is inspiring. I really enjoyed the fall foliage visible within the magical valley of the Full Moon Resort.”

“There is a wonderful sense of community, it takes place in a beautiful setting, and there is a sense of freedom and possibility.”


“I hope that I will be able to attend future CMS events – I truly was made to feel part of a family.”

“The best experience was definitely meeting all the participants and faculty as well as hearing them each play at the concerts and jam sessions. It was very inspirational. The worst part was probably leaving.”

“I’m sure some of the relationships I developed at CMS will grow well into the future, and the caliber of the attendees and admin people is so high, that it’s nearly worth signing up just to hang out with them for a few days! One of the best things about it is the mixing of ages and social mentalities… Such an interesting crowd, and I am very happy to be an alumni. “

“The key lesson I learned was that I'm not crazy and there's many other people out there just like me.”

“I enjoyed that we all hung out in the cafeteria and at the late-night concerts and sessions freely. There was something about us just being there at the barn, hanging out after our long day of music and meditation. The guiding artists have a pure way of performance and in the conversations I had with them; I realized that this whole thing about art and music matter so importantly, and that I am a part of this… It was like I knew this fact, but now I know it more in my heart.”

“My experience at the fall CMS workshop was releasing, transformative, and revitalizing. I was ecstatic to be surrounded by fellow human beings all on a similar wavelength to my own. I reached a state of focused relaxation that I have not felt in years and it has stayed with me since leaving the workshop. The generosity of the faculty was pleasantly surprising to me as well. Each and every one of them were willing to have private one on one conversations outside of the typical schedule. I was urged by all of them to stay in touch and was given the means to do so.”