2001 Western Canada Stick Seminar
August 17-20, 2001
Kamloops, British Columbia

Click any image to see the slide show

Also see the Geometry of Systems -- a paper written by Jon Pickles as the seminar drew to a close.

The 2001 Western Canada Stick Seminar is now officially over and I have to say that it exceeded all of my expectations. The seminar was held at the Academy of Performing Arts located over top of the World of Music in Kamloops, British Columbia. Jim Reilly (from Kamloops) organized the event and did some of the instruction. Greg Howard also flew in and acted as instructor for the event. The space provided by World of Music was excellent. We had a ton of room to work with and the store also provided amplifiers for everyone in the group. On top of the seminar, Jim had also arranged for a night of Stick music on Saturday evening at Music in the Park which occurs nightly in Kamloops offering free music to anyone who comes down to listen. Lastly, part of the weekend also involved working on Terry Riley's "In C" as a group and performing the piece on Sunday at the Kamloops Art Gallery. Everything went as planned with no complications and I went home marveling over Jim's organizational skills. I'm still trying to digest everything that happened and these pages are an attempt to notate my own experiences at the event.

NOTE: My report of the events during the actual seminar will be slanted to the stuff that Greg was teaching simply because that was the group I was in.

First, the attendees of the seminar were as follows:
Greg Howard - Virginia Jim Reilly - British Columbia Joe Berkman - Minnesota Jason Brock - Alberta James Charbonneau - British Columbia Louis Hesselt-van-Dinter - Washington Roli Mack - Alberta Jim Meyer - British Columbia Andrew Peacock - Newfoundland Jon Pickles - New York Glenn Poorman - Michigan Scott Schurr - Oregon Qua Veda - Oregon

Travel Day

My trip started early on Thursday. I took an early flight from Detroit to Seattle. Louis met me coming off the plane and we proceeded to hook up with Greg, Scott, and Jon. Scott was driving up from Portland and agreed to shuttle the rest of us between Seattle and Kamloops. The drive was a bit longer than we had anticipated (about seven hours). Part of that was a stop for lunch and a somewhat lengthy delay at customs. By the time we got to the Ramada Inn in Kamloops, it was about 7:30PM. Jim and his wife Michelle met us in the lobby and, after dropping our bags in the rooms, we all went up to the lounge. Up at the lounge, we also met up with Joe, Jason, James, and Jim Meyer. We had a good time that first night getting to know each other and shooting some pool. As 11:00PM rolled around, we all started fading (especially us folk still on eastern time) so we called it a night.

Day #1

On Friday morning, I met up with Jim Meyer and we went down to the Academy. The seminar wasn't suppose to start until noon but we went down early to hang out and help setup. After a coffee run, things got going pretty much right at noon. In addition to everybody from the day before, Roli showed up that morning along with Andrew and Qua. So now we were thirteen strong and the seminar was officially under way. To start things off, Greg worked with the entire group and we went over positioning of the instrument, position of the hands, and the basic technique. We also covered the independence training lessons from Greg's book. After a short break, we split the group in two with Jim Reilly taking some of the newer players and Greg taking the rest. In Greg's group, we spent a lot of time in the afternoon really soaking in all of the different intervals on the fretboard and on both sides of the Stick. By time 5:00PM rolled around, we'd covered quite a bit and you could see the glaze starting to form over everybody's eyes so we quit for the day. While we were playing, Michelle had made reservations for the whole group to eat at a place called "Oriental Gardens" in downtown Kamloops so, after a quick hotel stop, we all went over. We were all seated together in a private room and had a great meal. The plan for after the meal was to do a little five pin bowling before turning it. Unfortunately, the meal ran long and the bowling place closed so with the only choices left being bed or karaoke, we chose bed.

Day #2

Saturday morning it was back to the academy at 9:00AM. We split back into our two groups right away. During the morning session, Greg covered a lot of ground talking about interdependence topics such as cross-tapping and polyrhythms. We took a somewhat extended lunch break at around 12:30 and ate/lounged for a while while Greg used the time to practice for the evening's performance in the park. After lunch, we all got back into a single group and Greg gave a talk about gear. I think this was a new addition to Greg's itinerary and he opened his talking by commenting on how gear is just one of those things that Stick players love to talk about. I think he's right. After the gear talk, we all began working on Terry Riley's "In C". Just to provide a little background, "In C" is a piece written in the 60s that is credited with launching the minimalist movement. The piece contains 53 patterns or motifs. The patterns are all in the key of C (with some modal changes) and are of varying lengths. The instructions call for an eighth note pulse to be played on middle C and for all the performers to begin playing and repeating the first motif. Actually, and more specifically, the instructions call for the pulse to be played by a beautiful woman on the piano. Since we were a group of all male Stick players, we skipped that part and we provided the pulse on Stick. From there, the instructions call for all of the performers to play all 53 of the motifs in sequence. How many times you repeat each motif, however, is up to the individual performer so once the piece gets going, everyone ends up at a different place and you have many of the motifs playing at the same time. Once the first performer arrives at the last motif, it is repeated until everybody else gets there and the piece ends. Our rehearsal of the piece on Saturday consisted of everyone going through the motifs together and making sure we could all play them. Some were definately harder than others (#35) but I have to say that I was impressed with the progress we made as a group. Once we hit the last pattern, it was time to pack up and head for the park. Sunday morning would be our first attempt at running the piece the way it was meant to be played.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat, I grabbed my effects processors from the hotel, and we all went down to the park where we would be performing on Saturday night. The park setting in Kamloops was really quite nice. The park was very large and sat between the road and the river. The band shell was very large and looked out over a spacious lawn with the river running behind it. The Kamloops area apparently features "Music in the Park" just about every night during the summer. This night was suppose to be nothing but Stick music. With Greg and Jim definately playing, the rest of the bill was left for anyone who wanted to play. After one of the local DJs introduced Jim, he spoke a little bit to the audience about why we were there and then launched into a couple of original tunes to open the night with. Jim played a great set with a real fluent almost finger picking style of play that I really liked. After finishing his second tune, Jim introduced Roli Mack from Calgary. Roli was really great. He's got a ton of experience playing covers and a few originals in bars all over Canada and his comfort out on stage was real apparent. He talked well with the crowd and really worked them up. Then he'd launch into tunes that went from reggae to country to blues to rock and sang on everything he played. Roli played about four tunes and then it was my turn. I ran two solo tunes and it felt good. The sound was a bit boomy and I found myself loosing my loop a couple of times but covered it and got the job done. After a generous response from the audience, I brought Jim back out along with Louis Hesselt-van-Dinter. Louis had been throwing down some cool grooves the day before and I'd started soloing over the top of them. During a break, he asked if I'd come up and do a jam with him. I said I would and Jim said he wanted to join us. So the three of us went up completely unrehearsed and did a jam over a Louis groove. I have to say, I really really enjoyed this. I had no idea how it would go but, in the end, it was great. So with our jam done, Jim introduced Greg Howard. Greg did about a 45 minute set and really had a monster night. His sound out in the park was just huge and he really seemed to have a jump in his play that night. As always, his set provided inspiration for us all to keep working. After the show ended, we all hung around a bit packing up gear and talking to some audience members who stuck around. Just as we were packed and ready to go, Michelle pressed us all into service to help setup some tents in the park for a bike race they were holding the next morning. Instantly, there were thirteen Stick players all trying at once to figure out how to put these tents up. Possibly too many cooks in the house but we got it done. From there, we absolutely had to grab some drinks and do a little back patting so we all went over to Kelly O'Briens in downtown Kamloops before finally retiring.

Day #3

On Sunday morning, we all met back at the Academy at 9:00AM once again. The plan was to immediately pack up all of our gear and haul it over to the Art Gallery. The gallery itself didn't open until noon so this would give us the opportunity to use the gallery as a rehearsal space for our performance of "In C" before the real thing would take place that afternoon. We went through great pains in the morning to even out everybody's volume and dial in a nice level and nice tones in the room. From there, we started. This was our first crack at playing the piece the way it is supposed to be played. Playing the patterns was a little more awkward than when we played together as you now had people around you playing different patterns of different lengths. Once we started our run through, however, this didn't seem to be as much of an issue as I had anticipated and it was sounding good. After making it all the way through, we had about two hours to kill so we grabbed some food and then logged a little down time.

We met back at the gallery at about 2:00PM Sunday afternoon, tuned up, and psyched up. Our chairs had been setup in a half circle and the plan was that we would walk in in order so there wouldn't be this clump of guys walking around trying to find their chair. So we lined up with me walking in first and headed for the gallery. I was about three steps away from entering when I realized that my chord was still back in my bag. Another step or two and it would have been very awkward but, as it was, I only held us up for a few seconds.

To open things up, Jim gave a really nice talk about the Stick and it's origins. I've heard and given the usual speeches before about tapping and how it works but Jim really slipped in a lot of detail about the origins of both the instrument and of Emmett Chapman himself. It was really well done. From there, he talked a bit about Terry Riley and the significance of the piece we were about to play. Then ... we started. Greg started on the pulse and, one at a time, we all came in on the first figure. From there it just built. The sound in the room was much warmer with the addition of many warm bodies and it became apparent very early on that, barring any catastrophes, this was actually going to come off much better than even our best run through. For about an hour, we played continuously. The combination of various patterns playing at once and the fact that no two performances are the same created music that was incredible and always surprising. Jim was standing out in front being the director. He kept our tempo under control and started the piece directing our dynamics. After a while though, the performance took on a life of it's own and Jim just watched as we would move from very loud to very soft and back again as a single cohesive unit with no prompting. There were parts of the piece where many different patterns would go at once and other parts where, for a moment, we would all be hitting the same or very similar parts. It's very difficult to describe in words. As well all converged on the last pattern, we faded away with just the pulse playing just as we started. When the last pulse played, the audience (who had been so quiet you could hear a pin drop) rose to their feet and gave us a huge round of applause. We all just stood there and basked. I looked around our half circle to see some pretty big grins all the way around. I must say, it was a job well done and something I'm not likely to forget.

Many people stayed around afterward to talk with us and ask us questions. By around 4:00PM, the gallery finally cleared out and we hauled all of our gear back to the Academy after taking group photos in the gallery lobby. Once we got back to the Academy, we all basked some more and discussed what had just happened. I think most of us were still quite high from the event and that was a feeling that wouldn't be going away any time soon. I've enjoyed many performances including the music in the park on Saturday. The gallery show, however, was something really special. So after a generous helping of self-congratulations, we decided we would all meet at Boston Pizza for dinner and take a little time to re-group before hand. At 6:30ish, we did indeed all meet up and had a great meal in the outdoor patio at the pizza joint. After putting away a very nice helping of pizza, we left there and headed down to a bar called "All Stars" to catch Roli Mack who'd booked himself there prior to the seminar. Roli again proved himself to be a machine. In addition to the Stick and vocal work we'd caught on Saturday, Roli also had a keyboard setup that he would play with his right hand, a drum sequencer he would start and stop with his foot, triggers for cymbal crashes and fills that he would play with his foot, and an acoustic guitar that he played on a couple of tunes. Literally, a one man wrecking crew. Plus, Roli's wife BJ would come up on a tune here and there and do some percussion and backup vocal work. When Roli's second set started, Greg plugged in and jammed the whole set with him. They ran a bunch of covers and it was great to hear these tunes being done by two Stick players. For me, the particularly noteworthy pieces I heard were "You Shook Me All Night Long" (mainly because of Roli's vocals) and "the Sultans of Swing" (a tune I used to love playing on guitar that sounded really nice on two Sticks). Roli went back to his solo act for his short third set and, shortly after midnight, called it a night. By this time, everybody was pretty tired and had had many beers so we called it and went back to the hotel.

Day #4

Our last seminar day. We all met up again at 9:00AM (give or take) for our last morning at the Academy. Greg saved his Stick setup talk for the last day. We talked a lot about the truss rod adjustments, string height, pickup height, intonation, and tuning. I find that, even though I've gone through the setup talk, it's always useful to go through it again as I still consider myself far from comfortable with it. To end things off, we did something that I really enjoyed. Greg wrote a chord progression out on the board and all thirteen of us worked on playing the progression smoothly in a waltz style with the left hand. The plan was that as we did this, everybody would find the G major scale pattern around fret #12 and take a turn at soloing. We started up and Jim Reilly led off the solos. As the first run through the progression came to an end, Greg silently pointed at Andrew to take it. As he started in, however, we all noticed that Jim was still playing. He'd really starting getting lost in the moment and had his eyes closed and his head back oblivious to the fact that we were all now watching him. When the progression came to an end for the second time, he kept going for a third. By now Greg had moved in close and was getting ready to nudge when Jim's eyes opened and he realized what was going on. A classic moment. So from there, everybody took a turn. When the last of us soloed, we all started soloing at once and, without being told to do so, faded the piece to it's end. With that, Greg and Jim thanked us all and we called it a day (and a seminar).

After goodbyes all the way around and a quick lunch, we piled back into Scott's van (Scott, Louis, Greg, Jon, and myself) and headed back to Seattle. Our drive to Louis' house in Bothell took about 6.5 hours and was fairly uneventful unless you want to count the several miles we spent getting hammered by jokes from Greg and Jon (best left for another writing perhaps). Once we made it to Bothell, we dropped Louis and Greg and continued on. Scott was a driving machine and wanted to continue to Portland so we got back on the road quickly. They dropped me in West Seattle at a friend's place, then Jon was dropped in Tacoma, and Scott headed back to Portland solo. As for the rest of my own trip, I met up with some friends that night and stayed out until about 2:00 drinking beers and still basking from the weekend. The following morning, I was dropped at the airport and my next stop was home.


This was my second seminar and, by far, my best. I enjoyed the seminar we had in Michigan last year but this one was really something else. First, all of the other twelve participants were a great pleasure to spend time with. Everybody was really pleasant to be around and everybody eagerly participated in all of the activities we had. Second, the performances were outstanding (as a performer and as a spectator). Especially the "In C" performance in the gallery. Next, I came away thinking I could really take a few lessons from Jim Reilly on organizing these seminars. I just can't say enough about what a great job he did along with the invaluable help from Wilf and Jane Epp at the World of Music. Jim and Michelle were also great hosts. With plenty of activity outside of the seminar itself, we had very little time to vegetate and that was good. Lastly, Greg again has proven why he is constantly asked to do these seminars and is constantly invited back. He's a good guy to be around, is extremely patient, and has a real knack for explaining even the most difficult concepts with great clarity. And as an added bonus, we all got to see him play.

So I'll simply sum up by calling this seminar a gigantic success. Thanks to all who were involved for making the last weekend such a great one. And I hope on meeting up with you all again some time.