2014 Interlochen Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop
July 23-26, 2014
Prior to 2012, I had been devoting most of my time to playing Stick and generally considered myself to be a former guitarist. The 2012 workshop was such a shot in the arm though that after it was over, I bought a new acoustic and have been playing fairly steady ever since. Now I generally consider myself to be a Stick player and guitarist and pretty much owe that to the 2012 workshop.
With a fairly large and important Stick event happening in California this summer, I really had to battle for some time with the decision whether or not to use my vacation to go there or to stick to my guns and once again attend this guitar workshop. After much deliberation, I opted for the guitar and came away very glad that I did.
FacultyEven though there have been guitar workshops for several years, 2012 was the first workshop devoted entirely to fingerstyle playing. All three workshops so far have been organized and directed by Wisconsin guitarist Matt Schroeder. Also involved in all three has been Tom Clippert, a colleague of Matts who now lives and teaches in Chicago.
The marquee players and teachers this year were Laurence Juber and Muriel Anderson. This was the third workshop (including an older format workshop back in 2009) for Juber and the second that I attended as a student. Juber is a master musician and was a big draw for me making the decision to attend much easier. This was my first introduction to Muriel Anderson but I'd done some homework prior to coming checking out a bunch of music and videos online. Her addition really made me excited to come to this.
WednesdayAfter 2012, the workshop format underwent some adjustment starting mid-day on Wednesday instead of Thursday and then ending Saturday prior to dinner instead of Saturday evening. I drove up to the house on Tuesday with our dogs in tow. Rasa would come up and join me late Wednesday evening.
The first afternoon started with registration and introductions. LJ and Muriel wouldn't make their first appearance until Thursday. On Wednesday the student body along with Matt and Tom assembled in the great room at Mallory-Towsley. We all went around and made our introductions and talked about how the rest of the workshop was going to go.
After the introduction, we split into two groups that had been determined prior to the workshop. The next two hours were split between Tom working with each group on the ensemble pieces we would play at the end of the workshop while Matt worked with the other group on some playing techniques. Both ensemble groups were playing Beatles tunes this year. Both tunes were arranged by Tom for guitar ensemble with my group playing "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and the other group playing "I've Just Seen a Face". I was admittedly ill prepared so I needed to put some time in to catch up.
At around 5:30PM we broke for dinner. Since Rasa hadn't come up yet, I had to run home to let the dogs out and feed them dinner. Then I had to turn around and head back as Muriel was scheduled to perform at 7:30PM in Mallory-Towsley. Right on schedule, Muriel played. She started her show playing a harp guitar performing an original pieced titled "View From Space". This was a mesmerizing piece that's still ringing around my head a week later. The rest of her performance rose up from there. This was my first time seeing her play and it was incredible. A master and very charming performer.
ThursdayThursday started at 9AM in one of the classrooms. Historically Tom Clippert has used the first hour of the day to talk about physical warmup excercises for the hands. This year would be no difference and he would devote each morning to a single hand starting with the right picking hand on Thursday.
At 10AM we had the first of two long sessions with Laurence Juber in the great room. The Thursday session revolved around song arranging and LJ talked a lot about the harmonic decisions he makes and how he follows those up with fingering decisions and such.
We broke for two hours of lunch and practice time. After that we had a session with Muriel. During this session, Muriel gave us a taste of a course she does titled "50 Right-Hand Techniques You MUST Know".
At 3:30PM we had the first of two master classes. This one was run by LJ and Muriel and featured several students who would be performing later that night at the Hofbrau House in town. Master classes isn't something I've had a lot of experience with but when I do I'm always really amazed at how much you can take away even when you're not the one on the hot seat. I'm also always impressed at how much a seasoned instructor can improve the performance of a student with some of the smallest tweaks you can imagine. Really informative stuff.
Unlike 2012, this year's student performances were moved from a recital space in Mallory-Towsley to a club atmosphere in the form of an open mic in town at the Hofbrau House. Unfortunately I had other commitments so I had to bow out after the master class and head back to the house.
FridayOn Friday morning, we were back in one of the classrooms with Tom at 9AM. This was another warmup session switching hands over to the left fingering hand.
At 10AM we had the second LJ session. In this session, LJ focused mostly on the DADGAD tuning and how to get around there. He's become known for his mastery of this tuning and uses it quite well.
After another two hour lunch and practice session, we had our second session with Muriel. In this session she talked about jazzing up your fingerstyle technique and worked us through some tunes by Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Paul Simon. This was a particularly fun workshop as one of the tunes she worked through was "Cannonball Rag" which is something I always wanted to take a shot at.
At 3:30PM we broke into our two ensemble groups again. Each group spent an hour working on our ensemble pieces with Tom and then an hour in another workshop with Matt. Matt took us through a piece called "Echoing Gilewitz" in an open D tuning. This was a really fun workshop and I was taken by the tune itself so I immediately started working it up to add to my set.
After dinner LJ performed in the great room. Rasa and some other friends of mine joined me for this one. LJ once again proved to be a brilliant performer and absolutely dazzled. I heard people comment afterward that they didn't even know some of the things he did were even possible. From there we wrapped and headed back to the house.
SaturdaySaturday was our final day and a shorter day at that. We began at 10AM with the second of the two master classes. This one was run by Matt and Tom. I signed up to play this one and led the class off performing an original tune titled "Wintertide". This is the only original DADGAD tune I have and one I began working on shortly after the last time I was in a workshop with LJ. I managed to get through it with only a few fumbles and got a nice response from everyone in the room. Tom talked a lot about posture and relaxation and gave me some really good tips on loosening up in general ... tips that I've since found are equally applicable to my Stick playing. Matt followed up and focused more on the composition and talked about some tweaks I might consider to make the piece just a bit more interesting. All good stuff. A handful of other students performed pieces in the master class and just like the one earlier in the week, there was a lot of good information that everyone can take home with them.
We had and hour and half break for lunch and practice at noon. After that we got back into our ensemble groups and did a last run through of our tunes. We had actually lost a couple of players after Friday night so our ranks were thinned just a bit. At 3PM, we opened up the great room and performed. We had a lot of fun and did a reasonably good job on the piece considering we'd only been at it since Wednesday. After the two ensemble groups finished, Matt and Tom each performed a small handful of pieces. Tom decided to try jumping ship from the nylon string side over to the steel string side so he performed a couple of tunes on my Martin. It was nice to hear.
So with that we wrapped it up. We all said our goodbyes and slowly disbanded. I stopped on the way out to have a meeting with the new ICCA director Leslie Donaldson and talk about the 2015 Stick Workshop. After that, I headed home, met up with my wife and friends, and headed to the Bluebird in Leland for a fabulous dinner to close it all out.