Beginner Stick® Seminar and Teacher Training Course
August 4-5, 2007
Ann Arbor, MI
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How do you follow an event like the monumental 2006 Midwest Stick Seminar
and 1st National Chapman Stick Festival. Well ... you don't. You don't
even try. You do something completely different.
With that in mind, the timing for this year's event couldn't be better.
For well over ten years now, Greg Howard has been teaching beginners (as
well as intermediate and advanced players) how to play. One of the things
I've always appreciated about Greg's teaching and one of the reasons I
always ask him back is because he puts a lot of attention into his teaching.
His material is constantly evolving and he never comes into town with the
same stuff he brought last year. In order to get beginners off the ground
though, he has been honing his introduction to the Stick material and really
putting a fine polish on a set of instruction that can be taught and re-taught.
In the fall of 2006, Greg organized and taught the first Beginner Seminar
and Teacher Training Course in his home town of Charlottesville, Virginia.
The idea was to teach a seminar for beginners but, at the same time, bring
in intermediate and advanced players as students and show them how to teach
his his ideas on Emmett's Free Hands parallel two-handed tapping method.
Ideally, enough grads
are created so that eventually those grads teach
all the beginner seminars while Greg and others like him focus more on new
material for intermediate and advanced players. So the fall seminar in
Charlottesville came and went. The feedback from that event was very positive
and, almost immediately, Greg began talking about where he might hold the
This was right about the time that Steve Oz and I began deliberating about
what kind of event we might hold in 2007. With seven seminars under our belt
and a fairly impressive attendence record, it only seemed fitting that the
second of Greg's Beginner and Teacher Training Seminars should take place
here in southeast Michigan. With one teacher and one goal in mind, this event
almost planned itself and, come August, we were ready.
The attendees of the seminar were as follows:
Greg Howard - Virginia
Steve Osburn - Michigan
Glenn Poorman - Michigan
Peter Croce - Michigan
Tony Diorio - Michigan
Darrell Havard - Texas
Kerry Hays - Illinois
Jim Kam - Texas
Tim Larsen - New Jersey
John McBride - Michigan
Cory McCormick - Arizona
Kevin Sands - New York
Zach Schwartz - Michigan
James West - Iowa
Aaron Wolf - Michigan
Unlike previous seminars, we kept this one to a two day event. With most
people coming in the night before though, we opted to have a meet and
greet on Friday night. Originally the plan was to meet up at Oz's, do
some introductions and then plan the rest of the evening by ear. Greg
suggested that waiting at Oz's for everyone to show would likely have
us eating dinner at around midnight so we might want to send everyone
directly to a restaurant. Turned out to be a good idea. After much chatting
with Steve Oz, we opted to send everyone to Siam Kitchen at 6:30pm.
I got to the restaurant pretty much on time and found Aaron Wolf and
Zach Schwartz along with Zach's parents already there waiting. Zach is
a local and a student of Aarons. He is primarily a guitar student but
has been studying Stick and, at age 10, would end up being the youngest
student we've ever had at a Michigan Stick Seminar.
As the evening wore on, more people trickled in. Turns out Greg was right.
We would have waited all night at Oz's for everyone to show up ... including
Greg. He called during dinner and announced that travel hang-ups would put
him in town pretty late and so he wouldn't be making dinner. Just about
everyone else made it to the dinner with only a couple of exceptions who
were still traveling. With that, we all ordered food and enjoyed.
As the hour moved beyond 9:00pm, we wrapped up. Rasa and I opted to hit
the road and head home so we could catch Greg as he got into town. The
rest of the crew were on their own and I could hear plans being made for
some night life as I left the restaurant. Back at our place, Greg rolled
in around 10:00 or 10:30.
Saturday morning began at 9:30am. Greg and I made the trek into Ann Arbor
bright and early with two vehicles loaded with gear. This was gear for both
our seminar day as well as the Firefly Club gig that would occur later that
evening. As is usually the case, everyone was at Oz's with time to spare
eager to get going. We didn't really waste much time either. As has been
his practice lately, Greg did his morning session without instruments so
there really wasn't any setup required. We simply cleared the space in the
annex of Oz's and got right into it.
We had fourteen students total including Steve Oz and myself. Of those
fourteen, five were signed up as teachers in training. Those were me, Oz,
Aaron Wolf, Darrell Havard and Jim Kam.
The day started out talking about the physicality of playing. This is
where we use the ground and our legs to move around on a large scale to
get the idea across of how we should move our hands and arms when we play.
This almost always seems odd to people right at the start but ends up making
sense once you start to soak it in. The idea being that you almost automically
optimize your movements when you're moving your body around and need to get
into the same habit when playing and moving around the fretboard. Just prior
to lunch we setup amps and pulled out instruments generally setting the place
up for the rest of the weekend. Then it was time to eat.
For lunch, we hit gas become the Saturday afternoon staple of the Midwest
Stick Seminar. That being the Chinese joing adjacent to Oz's. Excellent food
and they're always willing to sit a large group of us. After a great meal,
we dove into the afternoon session.
For the afternoon, we started moving into more familiar themes with things
like scale patterns and modal playing. At each step of the way though, we
were taking the morning session into account and being aware of our movements
along the fretboard (sort of like Mr Miyagi finally letting Daniel stop
waxing and start fighting). We wrapped up a little before 6:00pm and started
packing things up for the Firefly gig.
We were really looking forward to the gig at the Firefly. The proprieter
of the club (Susan Chastain) has been really supportive of us over the
years and this would be our third Stick Night
at her club. This
year had an added element in that the club was moving to a new location
and we would be the last show at their Ashley Street spot.
Greg and I grabbed a quick bite after leaving Oz's and got to the Firefly
around 7:30pm to start setting up. In addition to our live rigs, we also
setup for some good quality audio and video recording so we could cut some
short video clips from the gig.
We were setup with plenty of time to spare and kicked the night off right
at 9:00pm. The lineup for the evening was Darrell Havard, Jim Kam, Steve
Oz, me and Greg Howard. The deal was that we were supposed to have music
from 9:00pm until 1:00am. In order to avoid having anyones entire set be
performed for nobody because the hour is either too early or too late, we
opted to do short sets and go through the lineup twice. So the order we
decided on was Darrell, Jim, me, Greg and then Steve Oz. Steve was only
doing a single set so after he finished, we would repeat the order and end
the evening with Greg.
All in all it was a blast. This was Darrell's third trip to a Michigan
seminar and he's always a favorite to listen to. He's got an unmistakable
groove that they just can't teach you. It was nice to hear Jim also. Jim
has been at it for longer than I have. We've exchanged many a mails since
I started playing back in 99 but we've never actually met until this year.
Jim leans more toward the folk style playing and he does a lot of singing
which you don't tend to hear from a lot of Stick players. It's always a
nice addition on the rare occasion that it happens here. I felt like I
executed my first set really well. Lord knows I've had my share of car
wrecks and many of them have occurred at seminar performances. I put in
a lot of preparation for this one though and was pleased with how it went.
Greg was up next. Inevitably this is the moment that most of the seminar
students are always waiting for and you never know whether he's going to
whip out a collection of tunes or switch to improv mode. On this night
he opted for tunes and it was a really nice set. A nice mix of rock and
jazz and he really managed to pull some of the regulars back into the
show with tunes like "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." To wrap up the first half,
Steve Oz did a set. Steve's originals are always great to hear. At one
point, he pulled out his classical/electric guitar and did an original
as a duet with Greg on Stick. This turned out to be a real highlight.
It started a little disjointed but then they found their ground and the
result was exceptional.
For the second part of the evening, we repeated our lineup except that
Steve didn't play any more. All in all, the second half of the evening
wasn't nearly as polished. It was getting late and we started to lose a lot
of audience. Darrell executed really nicely as did Jim. My nicely executed
first set turned into a second set fraught with errors. Not a huge deal
as I think I was the only one who noticed. Finally Greg wrapped up the
evening. Admittedly we didn't leave him a ton of time so his last set
was fairly short. We were all pretty much ready to call it a night at
that point anyway so with that, we packed up and headed home.
Sunday started at 10:00am. We were only a few minutes late which was
pretty good considering how late we went to bed. The whole group went
right to it. Again we worked through various playing techniques and
scenarios using our instruments and still making the connection back
to the physical movements from Saturday's morning session. Just before
lunch, we started a group improv. This is a regular exercise to wrap
up these events and is always a lot of fun. One person starts and soon
the music takes on a life of it's own until we finally and naturally
Lunch marked the end of the line for the beginner students. Their
seminar was over but their work was just beginning. The teachers in
training along with Greg grabbed some lunch at Big Ten Burrito and
then headed back to Oz's. The idea was that the teachers would have
an additional wrap-up session. By this time, Cory McCormick had opted
to join the teachers portion of the event so he was with as as well.
We didn't play at all. Mainly we all took a good hard look at where
we're at or where we think we're at. We called out our own strong
points and weak points as well as giving some honest criticism to
one another. We also discussed how to move into the ranks of teaching
and build up our skills there and drew out a roadmap to proceed with.
At around 5:00pm or so, we wrapped it all up and called it a seminar.
Technically the seminar ended on Sunday but there was still one more order
of business. Originally there was another seminar planned for the following
weekend in Minneapolis. Assuming Greg would be driving from Ann Arbor to
Minneapolis, We booked a gig up in Traverse City at the Loading Dock. So on
Monday we piled in cars and headed up to the Poorman retreat in Leelanau
County and did the show on Tuesday night. The turnout could have been better
but the people who were there seemed to have a blast and so did we. I mention
it here because Peter Croce gets honorable mention and bonus points for being
the only seminar student who made the four hour trek north to catch the show.
This was yet another really cool event. After last year's successful but
very hectic vent, this was a breath of fresh air also because one teacher
with a very specific goal in mind made for a seminar that almost planned
itself. Again, it seemed fitting that southeast Michigan would be an early
proving ground for this seminar. This is the eighth seminar we've had here
and the seventh that Steve and I have organized together. These events are
always a shot in the arm for anyone who attends. Always. For the guys who
came in hopes of teaching, it was added motivation to get out there and do it.
Obviously a major thanks goes out to Greg Howard for coming and teaching
here again. Out of eight seminars, he's taught at seven of them and always
comes in with fresh material. As the ranks of Stick players continues to
grow though, it's only fitting that Greg should train the next batch of
teachers who can then take over beginner teaching duties.
Next thanks goes out to all the guys who signed up this year. This was a
really good crew. Everybody hit it off really well and seemed to have a
great time. You guys are our bread and butter here and it's always a
Thanks to Steve Oz for continuing to help support these events and
providing space. Oz is the reason why there is such a healthy Stick
environment here in southeast Michigan.
Thanks to Susan Chastain at the Firefly for giving us her stage on a
Saturday night. She's become a great friend of this event over the years
and we're hoping on some future shows at the "new" Firefly.
Thanks also to the staff at Oz's who answered phones and tool all of the
Last and biggest thanks is, of course, reserved for Emmett and Yuta Chapman
for starting us down this incredible road.