2002 Midwest Stick Seminar
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 ever seen.

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:
Greg Howard Bob Culbertson Jim Reilly Steve Osburn Glenn Poorman Jared Amaral Dave Bovee Jason Brock Dave Brosky Chris Browne Chris Crain Oliver Garber Gary Garner Jocelyn Garner Kevin Genus James Hughes John Jens Gary Jibilian Doug Jones Jim Meyer Mark Pelath Paul Potts Sam Richardson Paul Ryan Brian Schubbe Matthew Tate Wes Teregan Dave Tipton Glenn Turner Jim Whisenant Aaron Wolf Paul Woolcock Clement Yonkers


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.

Day #1

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?

Day #2

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.

Day #3

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 into things.

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 registrations.

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,