August 2-4, 2002
The Clonlara School, Ann Arbor, MI
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At what point did the 2002 version of the annual Midwest Stick Seminar in
Michigan become an historic event? As I've been doing every year, I got
together with Steve Osburn and began putting details together for just
another seminar. Some space, teachers, gigs, and flyers. So what happened?
I'm not sure but we did do two things different than we've done in the past.
First, we asked both Greg Howard and Bob Culbertson to come and teach at
our seminar this year. Second, we planned the date around one particular
performance we wanted to do and then announced that date to the world months
before the event was to actually take place. I was hoping that these extra
details would generate a bit more interest but, at that time, I had no idea
what would take place on the first weekend in August.
Ultimately, the result of our efforts was the single largest organized
gathering of Stick players that has ever taken place in North America and
possibly the world. If you count our teachers and count two people who only
attended part of the seminar, we had a grand total of 33. We also had a
weekend of other precedents. In addition to the record turnout, we had the
first father and daughter Stick duet in attendance (Gary and Jocelyn Garner).
We had the first teacher who has ever done two Stick seminars within a week
of each other on opposite sides of the country (Jim Reilly). Most important
of all though ... on Sunday evening we all witnessed what could easily have
been the single greatest performance night of music on Stick that anyone has
So after a weekend full of precedents, I'm now faced with the arduous task
of trying to summarize the event in words. Without launching into a
philosophical discussion as to whether or not that's even possible, I'll
simply start at the beginning.
The attendees of the seminar were as follows:
For me, things began on Wednesday with the one and only slight glitch of
the weekend. I returned home from work to find a message on my answering
maching from Bob Culbertson telling me he'd be driving from West Virginia
on Friday and wanted to know what time they needed to be at the art museum
for Friday night's performance. He had plenty of time to make it except
that, aside from the performance, the seminar itself was starting at noon
in Ann Arbor. Frantically I dialed him back but it was too late. For the
next two days we never actually spoke but left messages on each other's
answering machines, straightening out the whole thing, and getting back on
track. That would be the last of the glitches for the weekend.
On Thursday, people began arriving. Greg Howard, Jim Reilly, and Jim Meyer
were to stay at my house and all were scheduled to arrive that evening. I
went to the airport and the "Two Jim's" flight from Seattle arrived right
on time. Greg phoned and said he would meet us at the school on Friday as he
was getting a late start. Thursday night would be the first of what would
also become a daily event ... staying up far too late for the time that we
had to rise the next morning. Rasa, the Jims, and myself were out back
talking until close to 3:00AM.
On Friday, we arrived at the Clonlara School. Some of the regular school
activities were still taking place on Friday so we were restricted to the
atrium area in the middle of the building for Friday (on Saturday and
Sunday, we would branch out and have full use of the building). Greg and
Steve Osburn had already arrived by the time we got there and almost all
of the attendees were there by noon and were ready to get going. We began
with a brief overview of Friday's scheduled events and some words about the
facilities. From there, we began going around the room to find out a little
about everyone. With the number of people we had (at that point, we were
31 as two hadn't arrived yet), this took up quite a bit of time. We had
several who had travelled from out of town with a strong contingent from
the east and a very large number of players from Chicago. Ollie Garber took
the "furthest traveled" award though calling Hawaii his home base.
With the introductions behind us, Greg launched right into setup. With
everyone in one room with their Sticks, proper positioning of the instrument
and hands was covered as well as the various adjustments that can be made on
the newer instruments. After a short group setup instruction session, Greg
began checking Sticks one at a time to make sure everyone could get optimum
playing out of their instrument over the weekend. It's always fun to see
a large group of Stick players all pointing their instruments up into the
air at once to check the straightness of the neck.
The afternoon went by very quickly and soon it was 3:00PM. At that time,
Greg and Bob began packing up for the evening's performance while Gary
Jibilian began his talk and demo of the NS/Stick. Gary had brought two
instruments along with him so that, in addition to playing the instrument,
he could pass both around and let some people try them out. He began with
a description of how the instrument is setup, it's various added features,
and how it differs from the traditional Stick instruments. He followed that
with a few choice snippets from some of his own music and then let people
try out his instruments.
As we got closer to 4:00PM, Jim Reilly took over for about an hour. Jim
has been becoming one of the world's foremost Stick historians and has
spent hours going through old press material as well as Emmett's stash
of information about the Stick, the method of play, and how it all got
started. The history is incredibly rich and Jim manages to paint that history
in such a way that you can't help but feel part of something special.
He started his talk commenting on how long it took the original pianoforte
to evolve into something beyond a novelty instrument and made comparisons
between the early days of that instrument with the early days of the Stick
that, for all intents and purposes, are still happening right now. After
briefly talking about what lead to the creation of the playing method and
the instrument, Jim talked more about the 70s and the early days of the
production version before wrapping up the talk.
At 5:00PM, we all scattered to various automobiles and set out for the
Friday night performance. The Detroit Institute of Arts has musical events
every Friday in the Rivera Court. I began discussing the possibility of
a night of Stick performances with them last fall and decided later to
try and coordinate this with our seminar. What ended up happening was that
I managed to book both Greg and Bob to play on the first evening of our
seminar. Having never attended one of these events, I wasn't aware until
I got there that the music was performed in the Rivera Court. The court is
a large atrium in the middle of the museum with a glass ceiling, marble
floors, marble and stone walls, with each of the two side walls containing
a huge mural painted by Diego Rivera. On Friday, a small stage was setup
at one end of the court with chairs setup for the audience. As I followed
the sound of a distant Stick playing into the room, I was blown away by the
whole setup. And the sound of the music in that room was glorious.
The first set began at 6:00PM. Each set was to be 45 minutes long and both
Greg and Bob would perform half of each set. Greg opened the first set with
"Carnival" from Sol setting the tone for the evening that was somewhat
subdued compared to what you might hear in a club atmosphere. Bob followed
up playing some of the more classical of his works and also gave us the
Michigan debut of his acoustic Stick which worked out very nicely in that
particular setting. During all of the first set, a good crowd had turned
out and the response to both performers was very positive. That was only
the beginning though. A pretty lengthy break was followed by a second set
starting at 8:00PM. This time, Bob took the first half. In spite of the
good turnout for the 6:00PM set, the later set actually saw more people.
Every seat in the room was full and others stood along the sides and rear
of the court. Both Bob and Greg kicked it up a notch, got a little more
adventurous with their selections, and drew the audience further in with
each piece. As the night drew to a close, Greg announced he would play one
more tune and dedicated it to Bob. This would be the third or fourth time
I would hear Greg perform his rendition of the Beatles "Across the Universe"
but I must say, I've never heard it sound as good as it did at the museum on
Friday night. It was superb and drew a standing ovation.
The museum performance was over by 8:45 and we packed everything up. The
people at the DIA were very happy with the outcome saying this was the
largest audience they'd had for any summer show and hoped we would consider
doing it again (I mulled that over for about a second). From the museum, the
whole crew went up Woodward to Union Street for food and drink. I had
previously booked the Michigan Room for us all but when we got there, the
party that had an earlier dinner were showing no signs of leaving. So we
scattered to two or three large tables in the dining room and made a night
of it out there. Everyone was visibly getting tired and we didn't stay real
late. Somewhere around midnight or so, we piled in cars and headed out.
Everyone claimed to be pretty much ready for bed but, continuing the
tradition set the night before, we ended up sitting outside talking until
the wee hours. Who needs to sleep anyway?
Saturday was the official beginning of instruction. Possibly the biggest
reason we asked both Greg and Bob to teach at our seminar this year was
because, after attending seminars taught by each of them separately, I
couldn't help but notice that the difference in their teaching styles
left me walking away with equally useful information that didn't overlap.
So with both of them here at the same time, we would essentially get twice
the information (more or less) and both teachers came loaded with material.
Bob's plan was to essentially cover the same material with both groups
but to move the more advanced group at a much faster pace. He covered
various techniques to color your tone and add sustain to your lines,
diatonic scale patterns, and using those patterns to build scales from
where you are at any particular moment. From there, he moved into chord
chemistry - creating complex chords using combinations of simple triads
and arpeggiating those chords to build up solo lines. Bob also spent some
time talking about transcribing written music to the Stick originally
written for other instruments.
Greg covered different material with each group. With the beginner group,
he covered all aspects of basic Stick technique including warmups and
stretches, left hand chord arpeggios, and pentatonic scales. With the more
advanced group, Greg covered excercises in playing unison lines between
the melody and bass working out all the different intervals possible from
one note to the next in both hands. He also covered position shifting
skipping fingers and repeating notes to shift your hand from one position
to another up and down the fretboard. Lastly, Greg's advanced group worked
on creating walking bass lines in any scale in any key.
So Saturday, we returned to Clonlara at 10:00AM. With the entire building
at our disposal, we kept the center atrium as a meeting place and a place
to put cases and merchandise. Two large rooms on either side of the atrium
were used to have the attendees split into two groups. The first group was
the beginner to intermediate group and the second was the intermediate to
advanced group. The plan was that Greg would take the first and Bob would
take the second. After lunch, they would swap. So after a brief meeting of
the entire group in the atrium, we split up and began the sessions. As is
usually the case with these seminars, a huge amount of information was
downloaded onto the student body in both groups and, as the day wore on,
everyone looked more frazzled but happy at the same time. It is a lot to
take in. At around 1:30PM, we broke for lunch. Trying to continue the
tradition of having our first lunch at the local Chinese place, we arrived
to find the doors closed so opted for a local deli before returning to the
school and starting up again. With Bob and Greg swapping groups in the
afternoon, the instruction continued until about 6:30PM.
Both Greg and Bob covered a lot of ground and continue to add new topics of
interest to their arsenal every year. In addition to the two of them, Jim
Reilly also offered one on one time to anyone who wanted some closer
attention and had several takers over the course of the afternoon. All in
all, we had every skill level covered and comments were made as we wrapped
up that people could have gone home after Saturday and felt like they'd
gotten their money's worth out of the weekend. That's good. But we still
had another full day to go.
We hovered around the school for quite a while on Saturday as Greg promised
a night of bowling after we grabbed food. As people began to look visibly
drained, I commented to Jim that "no bowling would happen tonight". It was
after 8:00PM when we finally left the building and a group of about nine of
us grabbed dinner at the Parthenon up at Liberty and Main. The food was
excellent but our service was slow right from the start and it was pushing
11:00PM by the time we finally left. Needless to say, no bowling. We decided
to head home but that wasn't easy either. Again, myself and Greg both drove
and were planning on doing the convoy home but first we had to get out of the
parking garage. Some problems on the entrance gate lured our money guy out
to fix it while we just sat there in a growing line of cars wanting to leave.
Finally, the gate was restored and we were set free. Once back at the house,
we kept with custom and stayed up far too late.
Sunday would be the longest day of them all. We all met up again at 10:00AM
at Clonlara to begin the second days work. Immediately, we split into our
two groups and continued the instruction. Again, Bob started the day with
the more advanced group and Greg took the more beginning group. Again, the
information continued to flow. We broked briefly at around noon to take the
official group photo. Steve's wife Leslie had kindly volunteered to come
over and do photographer duties and people handed her cameras left and right.
So we went outside and, as quickly as you can do with that many people, took
the photos. From there it was back inside until about 1:30PM when the 15
large pizzas were delivered. We spent about a half hour on our lunch break
in hopes of keeping everything flowing that day and quickly got right back
Right after lunch, however, Greg wanted to spend just a little more time
with the beginning group and Bob wanted to take some time out to do a
short interview with Jim Reilly so that left the advanced group unattended.
Steve Osburn came up with the idea that anyone in our group who would not
be attending the Sunday evening concert should play a tune for the group.
Glenn Turner, Sam Richardson, and Kevin Genus all took part and did some
great stuff. Kevin wrapped up the particular session playing a great Stick
rendition of "Linus and Lucy" from the Charlie Brown Christmas record.
Right about the time Bob returned, Greg had finished with the other group
so they swapped for the afternoon.
About a half hour prior to our scheduled stopping time, Greg and Bob
switched groups one more time so that each group could work up an ensemble
piece to perform at the evenings concert. I was curious as to whether or
not we would even get to this as our time was running short but we did and
what both groups accomplished in under 30 minutes was remarkable. When
5:00PM rolled around, we all broke and immediately began packing up and
cleaning up the school. Everyone pitched in and we had the place back in
tip-top shape in no time. Just as we began hauling our gear outside, the
heavens opened up and it began to pour. It was one of those rains where
two seconds outside and you were drenched. Luckily, I had my car packed
up just before it started. In spite of it though, we all headed over to
Leopold Brothers for our show.
Sunday night's performance was scheduled to start at 7:00PM. As is usually
the case, our instructors would be the featured performers but the stage
was open to any seminar students who wanted to perform. This year, we had
un un-precedented nine students who would get up and play. As we setup, I
asked Jim Reilly if he'd be interested in playing first and taking on the
job of evening MC (since I knew he does that much better than I do). He
agreed. As we approached 7:30PM, Jim stepped up to the mic, introduced
himself, and began to play. Between songs, he talked about our weekend
and let everyone in the room know that they too were now part of an historic
event. Jim played one more song and turned the stage over. For the rest
of the evening, Jim would continue to fill the silence between performers
and, I must say, did a stellar job doing so. I especially like it when he
announced where the merchandise table was with CDs by many of the evening's
performers including his own. He then went to say that, with the current
US/Canada exchange rate, the purchase of just one of his CDs at $10 US
would send his daughter to college for a year.
One by one, the solo performers for the evening took the stage and played
for about 10 minutes. Steve Osburn followed Jim Reilly and played a medley
of some of his older tunes. Steve was followed by Chris Crain, Jim Meyer,
Jason Brock, Matt Tate, Gary and Jocelyn Garner, and then myself. The
caliber of performances by everyone involved was surprisingly high. This
seminar drew more seasoned players than any of our seminars of the past
and even the players I'd heard already continue to improve quite noticeably.
The father/daughter team of Gary and Jocelyn Garner will always go down as
one of the highlights as it was yet another of many precedents set over the
weekend. Personally, I loved all of the performances but I did have a couple
of standouts. This was the second seminar I had attended with Jason Brock
but had never heard him perform until Sunday night. Jason played real well
and his compositions were very beautiful and imaginative. My other standout
was Matt Tate. Matt's material was heavier than most of the performers and
he really went after his instrument with a lot of aggression. Definately a
player to keep your eyes on.
After all of the solo performances, it was time to try out the group pieces
we'd worked out that day. Greg took the beginner group up first and plugged
everyone into a mixer we had on stage. The piece they worked up was called
"EEEEEEEE!" being made up mostly of Es with a few Gs, As, and Bs thrown in
for good measure. Their piece came off real well and was and interesting
piece also. From there, Bob went up with the advanced group. This group had
worked up a nice chord progression for soloing over and everyone in the group
took a turn soloing one time through before wrapping up the piece with a
classic rock ending with everyone cutting loose at once and Bob doing a
little head banging.
All that had taken place up to that point was only an appetizer though.
The next set was all Bob Culbertson. Bob began with a combination of some
of the flamenco style pieces from Romantica and also threw in some bluesier
tunes with some ripping solo work. It was already apparent that he'd raised
the bar from Friday and was ready to cut loose in this particular room (as
I'd seen him do last year in front of a rowdier crowd). As he got further
into his set though, the level of his performance just kept going up. He
broke into some improvisations that we had simply never seen before. He
ripped arppegios up and down the fretboard with both hands at the same time
and filled in rhythmic parts by bangin one or two hands right down on the
pickup housing. The only accurate description I could muster was that Bob
simply played out of his mind. When he wrapped up his last piece, the entire
room just howled. Later, Bob commented that it was the most fun he'd ever
had. By this point, I think seminar attendee Paul Potts summed up best when
he said in a later email that "it was clear that the mothership had landed
and that aliens were among us". And the highlight of the evening was only
half over at that point.
Wondering what could possibly happen after that, we watched Greg Howard
take the stage. Greg commended Bob on one of the finer performances he'd
ever seen and then proceeded to ask the audience to quell their conversations
until he could get a sense of the room sound and get going. With that, he
took both hands and pounded out some sustained chords that were loaded with
dissonance making me think "what the ...". Slowly he started what would be a
whole set of wild sonic explorations. As he moved from the opening improv
into his medley of "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Norwegian Wood", we began
to realize that Greg was following Bob's performance with what could be his
own greatest performance ever. To add to the effect, it had begun storming
outside as well. As Greg built the first piece with eyes closed, you could
see the rain pelting the window behind him and the lightning turning night
into day. I looked over at Jim Reilly ... he looked back and said "perfect".
After bringing everyone to their feet with his first piece, Greg began a
nice quiet rendition of "Autumn Leaves". As quickly as it started, the solo
section sent him onto that road of exploration again and he led us by the
nose down one avenue after another while seemlessly connecting them. After
several minutes, I thought he'd lost all touch with the original theme and
that there was no way he could steer this back into "Autumn Leaves" before
ending it. Well ... I was wrong because he did exactly that. Now everyone
was standing and Greg continued holding us hostage until finally wrapping
up at about 10:45.
At one point, Brian Schubbe tapped me on the shoulder and asked if we were
all witnessing the single greatest evening of music performed on the Stick
that has ever taken place. As far as I knew we were. But who am I? So I
began posing that question to everyone I stumbled across and nobody said
otherwise. This was an historic event on so many levels. The sheer number
of players was record breaking. But even more so was the caliber of the
musicians. The Stick continues to grow in popularity every year. Emmett
continues to make instruments and people continue to learn. It seems that
we're right in the middle of a milestone right now though where there is
a large number of quality players out there. It's like it's all in the
process of moving to the next level and everyone who is currently playing
is right in the middle of it. Most anyone would agree that this is a great
time to be a Stick player. I would also add though that, from August 2 to
August 4, it was the best time to be a Stick player in southeast Michigan.
Greg, Matt Tate, the Jims, and myself were the last to leave Leopold
Brothers on Sunday. In a desperate bid to hold onto the weekend just a
little bit more, we stopped for some food over at the Fleetwood and stayed
out until about 4:00AM. Inevitably though, Monday did come and just as they
had filed in on Thursday, everyone began to file out on Monday. By dinner
time, I was back in Kansas and completely exhausted.
Historic event? Certainly. I almost felt criminal, however, for taking
in so many accolades for the weekend's events. We began by doing what we
did every year but, this time, the planets aligned and something magical
happened beyond my or anyone elses control. So first and foremost, I have
to put a big thanks out there to everyone who attended. Ultimately, the
success of an event like this rests with you and every single individual
at Clonlara over the last weekend was a real pleasure to be around.
The next thanks goes to Steve Osburn and his wife Leslie. These seminars
would have never gotten started if it weren't for Oz. He organized the first
Michigan seminar back in 1998 and he and Leslie have continued to provide
support, space, and management ever since.
I commented to several people over the weekend that one of the things I've
been very taken by since I began playing Stick is how cool and incredibly
giving of their time most Stick players seem to be. The success of these
events lies in getting the right instructors. To have both Greg Howard and Bob
Culbertson come out to teach was a real honor and I can't thank them enough
for putting in the time.
A huge thanks also goes out to Jim Reilly and to Gary Jibilian. To add some
spice to the weekend I added extra events with Jim giving his historical
lecture and Gary giving the NS/Stick demo. Both guys were happy to oblige
and did a great job. In addition, Jim took on the added task of doing one
on one instruction all weekend long and turned many a happy Stick player
out of the atrium.
Additional thanks goes out to Kathleen Baxter who happily let us into the
Clonlara school for the weekend, Rudy Lauerman at the Detroit Institute of
Arts for inviting Greg and Bob to perform, Paul Potts who hauled a lot of
gear for us and pasted flyers all over Ann Arbor, Wes Teregan for bringing
and setting up the weekend sound system, Dave Thiefels at Leopold Brothers
for letting us all play on Sunday and running a great sound system in a
difficult room, and Aaron Wolf for working the merchandise table on Sunday
night, making sure the school got locked up on Saturday, and for taking
Of course, I'd like to put my own thanks out there to my wife Rasa for
supporting my adventures into Stickdom and for putting up with the various
house guests that have ensued.
And of course, the biggest thanks goes out to Emmett and Yuta Chapman for
starting us down this revolutionary musical road and for being so supportive
of all your players. Where would we be?
Until next year,