2019 Interlochen Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop

July 24 - July 27, 2019
Interlochen, MI

When the Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop began, I tried to get into a habit where I would attend every other year and do it on the years when I wasn't putting together one of our biennial Interlochen Stick Workshops. Good intentions but it has never really worked out that way and most recently I managed to let four years slip by without attending. This year was a sabbatical year for me though which meant I was able to enjoy a solid six weeks off work. As I generally do on those years, I moved up to our Leelanau County house and the close proximity of the two workshops on the calendar meant I was able to do both this year.

On July 10th, we kicked off the 2019 Stick workshop. This year we had a record turnout with 29 students signing up. Managing our schedule was a bit of a juggling act and we had some hiccups leading up to the workshop but when it was all said and done, it turned out to be one of our best. With a week off between workshops, I turned my focus to guitar playing and getting my fingers back in that mode in preparation for the Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop. I commented to several people this year how wonderful it was to turn around and come back to a workshop at Interlochen so soon but to do so as a student with zero responsibility except to play guitar for a week.


As has been the case for every workshop since the 2012 season, Wisconsin guitarist Matt Schroeder was the workshop director and traveled with his partner Tom Clippert from Chicago. I can't stress enough what a fantastic job these guys do and how much I learn from them.

This year's marquee teachers were Alex de Grassi and Andrew York. Andrew York was here in 2009 when we debuted the Stick workshop. That was back when Interlochen would have their huge Guitar Festival and Workshop in August covering a bunch of different styles. I always remember that we had a couple of Stick players that ducked out of our workshop to go hear Andrew York talk about composition. Alex de Grassi was one of the original Windham Hill artists along with his cousin and label founder Will Ackerman. Alex is a master fingerstyle guy and also authored a method book that is considered to be somewhat of a bible on the subject today.


The student body for the 2019 workshop included the following:
Will Anderson - Mt Pleasant, MI Gary Bachan - Kalkaska, MI Barbara Catt - Whitmore Lake, MI Dan DeGasperis - Ortonville, MI John Dolton - Traverse City, MI John English - Salt Lake City, UT Holly Hanson - Chicago, IL Mike Hillman - Minneapolis, MN Mark Hsu - Dunlap, IL Alan Madry - Whitefish Bay, WI John McKelvey - Midland, MI Tom Meyer - Ames, IA Guy Moxam - Fenton, MI Bob Neustadt - Chicago, IL Dave Nickens - Southgate, MI Glenn Poorman - Novi, MI Gordon Shelest - St Clare Shores, MI Scott Sisson - South Haven, MI Don Spezia - Traverse City, MI Gregg Steiner - Windsor, ONT Jane Summersett - Calumet, MI Debby White - Sault St Marie, MI


The workshop kicked off on Wednesday, July 24th with registration starting at 1:00pm. I arrived right around that time at Mallory-Towsley which would be our home for the duration. Already several people were rolling in and I was already seeing some familiar faces. Like our Stick workshop, Matt and Tom have managed to keep a fair number of regulars returning each summer. I spent some time catching up with some of the old guard and made my way back to say hello to Matt and Tom. It was also nice to run into Betsy, Evan, and Rachel again who'd hosted us so nicely during the Stick Workshop.

At 2:00pm, the workshop officially started with orientation and introductions. The adult programs directory Betsy Braun opened things up going over logistics of life at Interlochen. From there, Matt took over and provided a overview of the workshop and went over the entirety of the schedule. From there we went around getting introductions and some background from each of the faculty and students. We wrapped up the first session with Alex de Grassi and Andrew York performing some tunes as a duet. These two particular players actually perform and teach together quite often so right away there is a noticeable synergy between these guys and it came out in their first impromptu performance. This would turn out to be a common theme over the course of the long weekend.

At 3:30pm we started our first breakout sessions. Here we split into two groups with Tom taking one and Matt taking the other. After an hour session, the teachers swap groups and teach the same material again for the second breakout session. Tom's session talked about chord construction and fretboard harmony that involved a system for moving different types of chords up and down the fretboard without having to memorize a chord dictionary. In Matt's session, we started working on "You Got To Move". This is a classic tune by Mississippi Fred McDowell and a tune we would play as a group on Saturday. In our first session, we worked on the basic structure and melody of the tune.

At 5:30pm, we wrapped up the first day's sessions. Similar to my 2015 visit to this workshop, I was up in the north country with by dogs and my wife wouldn't be returning until late on Thursday which meant I had to make frequent trips back to the house (a one way trip of about 30 minutes). So at this point, I made the trip home, fed the pups, fed myself, and then made the trek back to Interlochen for the evening concert.

Andrew York performed the first of the faculty concerts starting at around 7:30pm. Andrew kicked off the night with an old tune titled "Andecy" that pretty much grabbed me right from the start (to the point where I picked up a chart for it post-workshop and have been working on it since). He went on to perform an absolutely wonderful evening of original compositions. Toward the end, Alex de Grassi came out and they wrapped up the evening performing together.


Thursday morning began at 9:00am. Generally the first hour of the morning is warmup exercises with Tom Clippert. Each year Tom comes up with new exercises to get our fingers working for the day and Thursday started with a focus on the right hand and playing a bunch of different arpeggios.

At 10:00am, we had the first Alex de Grassi workshop title "The 3-D Sound". This was a great workshop that focused a lot on ways to add depth to your work. Things like identifying voices, shaping those voices with articulations, and adding depth using dynamics and timbre. At 11:30am, we had a two hour break for lunch. Still doing dog duty, I made the trek back to the house to grab lunch and let the dogs out.

At 1:30pm, Andrew York took over the group and did his first workshop titled "Guitar Warrior I". This workshop focused a lot on pure skills. Technique was hot topic as well as ear training and knowledge of the fingerboard. Andrew likes to talk about his compositions as well and how some of them come about which is always interesting.

After a short break, we re-convened at 3:30 for our afternoon breakout sessions with Tom and Matt. Tom did a session called "Building the Blues" that dove into the 12-bar blues and how to construct chords and basslines around that. Matt's session continued with the blues digging into fretboard knowledge and the minor pentatonic scale in different positions. When then went back into working on "You Got To Move" and some soloing over those chords using those same pentatonics.

We broke at 5:30pm and I had to make one last dash to the house for dog duty. After that, our evening plans were the open mic night at the Karlin Inn. This is where we go off campus and everyone gets a chance to play in a bar setting in front of an audience. This is always a good time and there were enough signups where we pretty much limited to one tune each. All in all we had a great night. All of the participants played really well and there were a handful who were performing in front of people for the very first time which is always cool. My only complaint was the overall sound and I had the same complaint during the Stick Workshop. We've done the Karlin Inn several times but it just felt like there was mud in the air this year or something. A lot of crowd noise didn't help either. We pressed on though and everyone had a great time.


Friday started at 9:00am again with another warmup session with Tom. This session covered a lot of phrasing techniques doing scales with different fingering patterns, slur patterns, stretches, etc.

At 10:00am we were treated to the second Alex de Grassi session titled "Finding the Story in the Music". This workshop emphasized not just playing music but telling a story through the compositional form, dynamics, tempo, etc. Both of these guys put a lot of emphasis on having something to say which is something that can be easily overlooked sometimes.

Friday would be my first lunch where I didn't have to rush home. I used the time to grab lunch out on the deck on Green Lake outside Kresge. After that, I went on a fairly lengthy walking tour hitting all of the places I frequented as a camper back in the 70s. There was the "Interlochen Bowl" where the symphonic band rehearsed and performed. From there it was over to Duck Lake where I passed by my old cabins and then over to the Lochaven cafeteria where the boys took in breakfast and dinner.

At 1:30am we got back together for the second Andrew York session titled "Guitar Warrior II". This session continued to cover topics from the first session and also got into some of the more practical items in a musician's life like dealing with anxiety and working in an ever changing business environment.

We took a short break after that and then at 3:30pm, we did something new and devoted a session to relaxation techniques. Specifically the session covered the Alexander Technique and was led by Deirdre Crean.

After that, we broke for the evening. Friday saw another faculty concert with Alex de Grassi performing. I was unfortunately unable to get back for this one due to some other obligations I had. The feedback from the show was fantastic and as happened on Wednesday, Alex and Andrew ended up performing together at the end of the night.


Saturday started at 9:00am again with yet another Tom warmup session. This session started with some solid left hand exercises that did much to improve left hand dexterity. From there we moved back to the right hand and wrapped up doing some musical passages that more or less summed up the exercises we'd done all week.

At 10:00am, everyone moved into the Great Room and had a group discussion. This was an opportunity to ask questions of all the faculty and to hear them tell their stories of their careers and some of their more memorable moments. At noon, we broked for our last lunch and for me it meant another lengthy walking tour.

At 1:30 we setup the Great Room for the afternoon performances and we put the two sub-groups together for a rehearsal/run-through of "You Got To Move". At 2:30pm, we paused to do a group photo outside behind Mallory-Towsely and then the performances were on.

We started with the group playing "You Got To Move". The performance went really well and came complete with a few volunteers singing the vocal parts and some others ripping some solos. After that, our faculty all played for us with just a couple of tunes from Matt, Tom, Alex, Andrew, and then Alex and Andrew together.

Once the performances were over, we called it a day and called it a workshop. Several of us hung around for a bit chatting and not really wanting to walk away yet. But as things were being packed up and locked up, we all got around to our goodbyes and our exits. From there is was back to the house with Rasa, some friends, some good beers, and a bonfire. Perfect!

Post Workshop

With both workshops behind me, I had three weeks with no committments and spent most of that time playing guitar and playing Stick with new inspiration behind me. One of the guitar highlights came in the re-discovery of an old tune of my own. It's a tune I wrote back in 2013 and while I enjoyed the way it started, it just never really went anywhere and I never even titled it much less performed it live. With some new inspiration and some compositional tips from both Alex and Andrew, I pulled it out of mothballs and began tweaking like mad. In the end the overall feel and form of the tune remained the same but the tweaks have made if far more interesting (to me anyway) and much more enjoyable to play. Now I'm feeling like it's one of the better originals I have on guitar and I have titled it "Crossing".


I always leave the guitar workshops so jazzed to play and committed to coming back as soon as possible. Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way so I know better than to guarantee I'll be back next year. But ideally that would be the case and that's what I am currently hoping. Matt and Tom do such a great job with these and I tend to walk away having gotten as much (if not more) from them as I do their marquee guys. As a workshop director as well (Stick), it's always an added bonus to talk shop with those guys and even walk away with some ideas on how to tweak our Stick workshops. Both Alex and Andrew were amazing. Their playing was phenomenal (as expected), their workshops were really informative, and they were both very engaged with the group. I have to say that I really came away digging Andrew's compositions and immediately started working on one once I got back home and picked up the tab for it.

Most of all, this wrapped up another Interlochen Summer for me. A summer where I managed to immerse in two workshops in the same month and really re-connect with a place that's been so important to me for so long. I'm not sure what the plans are going forward at this point. I'm hoping that the Stick returns in 2021 right on schedule and would really like to do guitar again next summer.

We shall see.