2023 Chapman Stick Retreat
August 2-5, 2023
From the writeup of the 2009 event (the first at Interlochen):
Nestled between Duck Lake and Green Lake in the northern part of Michigan's lower peninsula, the Interlochen Center for the Arts was founded in 1927 and is a world renowned organization boasting a 2500 student summer arts camp for kids ranging from ages 8 to 18, a 500 student visual and performing arts high school, two 24 hour listener supported public radio stations, an evolving series of adult arts programs and almost a century's worth of alumni worldwide.The 2023 event featured instruction from world class performers and teachers Tom Griesgraber, and Don Schiff.
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Glenn Poorman - (Artistic Director) Maple City, MI Tom Griesgraber - (Teacher) San Diego, CA Don Schiff - (Teacher) Napa, CA Art Durkee - (Teacher) Ypsilanti, MI Steve Balogh - Traverse City, MI Ben Conklin - Minneapolis, MN Peter Gani - Hamilton, MI Phil Kneeland - Hill City, MN Tim Longfellow - Norton, OH Cory McCormick - Glendale, AZ Steve Sawyer - Livonia, MI Carlos Scheidegger - Tucson, AZ Harry Shifman - Glen Spey, NY Ted Shusterman - Silver Spring, MD Claire Steger - Litchefield, NH Lee Tarricone - Greenfield, IN Ken Wagg - Cranston, RH
Pre-EventFirst of all, this was a somewhat momentous event. Our last workshop happened in July of 2021. There were two extremely signicant events that occurred between that workshop and this one. In November of 2021, Emmett Chapman passed away which struck a huge blow at the heart of the Stick world. As if that wasn't enough, the months leading up to the 2023 event also saw the loss of Greg Howard. While Emmett was certainly the father of the Stick, Greg could be considered the father of Stick pedagogy. Over the years we've done 17 events in Michigan (including this one) and Greg taught at 14 of them. He was not only incredibly instrumental in the teaching of the Stick but was just as instrumental in showing me the ropes of organizing these types of events. Things will be very different going forward for all of us.
For me, this was shaping up to be quite the music summer. I put in for a sabbatical at work which meant I'd be off for six weeks starting on the 26th of July. That was the first day of the Interlochen Fingerstyle Guitar Retreat which I managed to sign up for. That was a solid week of guitar playing with Richard Gilewitz and Calum Graham. The following week would be our/this Stick retreat. A couple of weeks after that I was scheduled to fly to Vancouver for this year's Vancouver Stick Camp on Gabriola Island. A lot of music study for sure.
I think I pretty much had my teachers for 2023 picked out before the 2021 event even ended. Don Schiff is one of those guys I had always intended to have here and, for whatever reason, we'd never been able to make it happen. In 2021 we were just about set but then Don lost his home in the California wildfires and was in the process of rebuilding. This year I approached Don again and even though his house build is still not finished, he decided to come anyway. This year was Tom's fourth time in Michigan and second time at Interlochen. Tom always brings some really great lessons to these events and now that he's an official member of the California Guitar Trio, he brings a lot of new experiences playing in an ensemble with other musicians.
The prep for this year's event was pretty uneventful. To a certain degree, we were looking at COVID in the rearview mirror. The numbers were starting to tick up a little in Michigan though so the campus was still looking at vaccine requirements. The biggest hiccup of the planning, however, was the dates. The school wanted to use our building in that second week of July where we usually reside so Gary gave me a choice between early to mid June or the first week of August. June would have put us pre-camp which would have been ok but I prefer to be on campus at the same time as all of the young music student campers. There's just more electricity in the air when the campers are here and the place is just alive with music. With that in mind then, I opted for the first week of August which put us squarely in the last week of camp. At first I thought this was a bonus. Every year on the last Sunday of camp, the music students and dance students all get together for a performance of Listz's Les Preludes. It's a fairly spectacular production and I figured that anybody at our workshop who was willing to hang on an extra day would have the option of catching it. Good stuff right? As the event drew near, I started to get calls/mails about lodging and the on-campus rooms being booked up. Then I remembered that this being the last week of camp meant that all of those parents were booking rooms to come see their kids last performance, pack them up, and take them home. I should have seen that coming and I smacked myself several times over it. We made it work though even though it meant some students had to stay off campus. I made a note to myself to not pick this week in the future though.
Tuesday came which meant the arrival of teachers. I usually did all of the airport duty. Tom wasn't coming in until pretty close to 11:00pm though so I knocked tradition a bit and had the school pick him up and take him to campus. Don, on the other hand, was coming in around noon so I drove to TVC to pick Don up and we spent the afternoon hanging out at our house. I should mention here that unlike most years, Rasa was out of town and wouldn't be getting back until Wednesday so it was just me and Don. It was cool to hang out. I'd met Don on a handful of other occasions but not at any great length. As the dinner hour approached, we headed out to the only local restaurant and curling club around which was Broomstack Kitchen and Taphouse. By this time, Claire Steger had arrived in town as well and met Don and I at the restaurant for dinner. We had a great meal and some fun conversations along with a couple of nice beer selections. From there we parted ways with Claire and I drove Don to the Interlochen Campus. Don and Tom were both scheduled to stay in the DeRoy building instead of the Stone Hotel. The rooms were a bit more dormy but it did have air conditioning. I dropped Don and got the impression he'd likely be crashing shortly there after as he'd been traveling for quite some time. From there I headed home. The only matter of business once I got home was to get on my phone and make sure that Tom's flight arrived and he was picked up. Shortly after 11:00pm, Tom texted that his driver had already found him and they were waiting for his luggage. I could go to bed in good conscience.
WednesdayThe schedule for Wednesday read as follows:
1:00-2:00I arrived at Interlochen around 11:30am or so. Since I'd been at the guitar workshop the previous week, I'd already met this summer's interns Aidan and Katherine and told them I'd be back. I also managed to meet up with Gary right on my way into the building. After getting settled with them, I unloaded the gear from the car and started doing some setup in the Great Room. As the 1:00 hour drew closer, people started to trickle in.
Instrument Setup/Tech Talk
By 2:00pm, everyone was registered and ready to go with the exception of Tim Longfellow who woudn't arrive until Thursday. We opened up with our traditional meet and greet giving everyone (including Don, Tom, and myself) a chance to talk about who they are, where they came from, and why they were there. This is always a good opportunity to get a read on expectations as well as the personalities of all the participants.
At 3:00pm we broke into our setup/tech discussions. This is usually the part of the workshop where Greg takes over. Generally I always felt like nobody outside of Emmett and Grace really knew the setup/adjustment topic as well as Greg and I wondered how this might go. We really didn't dive into it to the depth that we have done in the past. Tom and Don certainly know the topic though as is evidence by the setup of their own instruments. So we did discuss setup a bit but people seemed eager to get into the gear talk. Tom had his full live rig setup on the Great Room stage and several of the participants gathered around to go over his current lineup of stuff. Don pulled out his NS/Stick and there were three other guys who were also traveling with these instruments so they got some good time in with the NS master. As is usually the case, the gear discussions ate up the rest of the afternoon.
At 5:00pm we headed for dinner. This year the meals were not priced separately but were, instead, automatically included for anyone registered for the workshop. The Stone cafeteria was also back in full working mode having lost the COVID restrictions in place in 2021. We headed over and found a pretty good lineup waiting for food but it went quick. In spite of the fact that we usually try to eat outside, it was a bit rainy and chilly on our first day so we opted to eat indoors. From there we split up for a little down time. I headed straight back to our building getting Don and Tom back to soundcheck for the evening concert.
Our faculty concert started a little after 7:30pm. The last time we did one of these, they were not open to the public due to COVID restrictions. It was nice to have people other than our participants back in the room. Don opted to go on first and did a full set on the NS/Stick. Don is one of the few singing Stick players as well and accompanied himself doing mostly original material. Tom took the stage next and ran through several of his original pieces. Tom has turned into such a pro performer and on top of his playing, his overall sound is always superb. Both performers were excellent and it was a really great way to kick off our event.
We wrapped up the evening a little after 9:00pm. We moved out reasonably quickly and I made the drive home. By that time, Rasa was back at home. I cracked open a good beer and filled her in on the last couple of days.
ThursdayThe schedule for Thursday read as follow:
9:00-10:00This year, Art Durkee agreed to do both morning sessions. Art started contributing lectures to our workshop several years back and has always been really well received. This year, both morning's lectures covered a lot of ground around scales and modes outside of what are generally studied in western music. We started with a brief coverage of the standard modes but then quickly moved into things like medieval scales and even Emmett's Offset Modal System. It was a great start to our first full study day.
Art Durkee - Morning Lecture
Tom (Great Room)
Don (Great Room)
Tom (Great Room)
Open Mic, Mallory-Towsley Great Room
We took a short break at 10:00am. Anyone who knows anything about Don Schiff knows that his love of doughnuts is legendary. Cory McCormick came prepared with two packages of some really tasty doughnut holes. I love doughnuts too but normally try to avoid them. At one point I walked into 106/107 with a mouth stuffed with doughnuts and told Cory "I just want you to know that I hate you!". They were really good!
After the break we launched into our first full session. Tom took the more novice group into the Great Room while Don took the more advanced students into 106/107. We went until noon and both guys covered a ton of ground. I always comment that my aim is to essentially send everyone home with a huge headache due to an overload of information. Don and Tom made a good dent in that direction.
At noon we headed over to Stone for our first lunch. The weather was quite a bit nicer so we managed to grab our lunch and head down to the tables outside Kresge for lunch on the lake. The sun was out the skies were clear which made for a beautiful lake lunch. We hung out there and chatted for quite a while before slowly meandering back for the afternoon sessions.
The afternoon saw two more full sessions. Right after lunch, Tom and Don switched rooms and groups. It was another info overload session from both teachers up until 3:15pm when we took a short break and then did one more session with the teachers switching rooms one more time. By the time 5:00pm rolled around, the novice group had done two sessions with Tom and one with Don while the more advanced group had two with Don and one with Tom. It was a great first day.
At 5:00pm we broke into two groups to work on ensembles we would perform on the last day. The aim was to try and spread the skill levels around in both groups so instead of novice/advanced, we just have everybody choose where they want to go and make sure the groups are roughly equal in size. Don opted to essentially work up something new around a chord progression while Tom worked up one of his own original pieces.
At 6:00pm we broke and headed back over to Stone for dinner. From there we got ready for the evening open mic. In years past, we would go off campus to a place like the Karlin Inn. The idea was that a setting like an open mic would be less stressful than an official student recital. That wasn't really an option in 2021 due to COVID restrictions so then we opted to go back to the Great Room, setup like we would for one of our class sessions, and then just informally go around the room playing tunes and chatting. It turned out that that was even less stressful for some than the public open mic and a few participants who played commented to me that they probably wouldn't have had we been out in public. So even though the Karlin Inn was once again an option, I opted to stay with the Great Room. As it turned out, we also had a special guest. Our first ICCA director Matt Wiliford came out to hang with us and listen to the participants play. Matt always had a somewhat personal attachment to our program and I made sure to introduce him to the particpants who didn't already know who he was. I kicked off the evening and then we managed to get around the room twice with several of our participants opting to perform. It was really fun and everyone did really well. There were quite a few nods to Greg Howard over the course of the evening. This was something that would happen a lot over the course of the week. At 9:00pm, we wrapped for the evening and I headed home for another good beer and bed.
FridayThe schedule for Friday read as follows:
9:00-10:00Friday ran pretty much the same as Thursday. Art opened up in the morning continuing his lecture from the day before. With two mornings at his disposal, he was really able to cover a lot of ground and the information was really good. We took a short break after that and this time, Cory had picked up some freshly made doughnuts from Bud's and they were ridiculously good.
Art Durkee - Morning Lecture
Don (Great Room)
Tom (Great Room)
Don (Great Room)
At 10:00am we broke into our novice/advanced groups with Don taking the former in the Great Room and Tom taking the latter in 106/107. Again both of these guys really poured on the information and took us all the way through to noon when we broke for lunch.
The lunch break was outdoors again. A group of us moved over to the Melody Freeze from there and used our free ice cream tokens from the lanyard pouches. I almost opted for the legendary chocolate shake instead but decided against it and stuck with the free ice cream cone (note: if you're an alum, you know about the shakes).
After lunch we headed back for another two full sessions with Tom and Don essentially switching up what they did yesterday (Don had the novice group twice while Tom had the advanced group twice). It was another full afternoon of information and people's eyes were starting to glaze a bit from the info overload. Good!!
Friday evening was the traditional social gathering at our house. I headed back right away to help Rasa get ready. Several friends were already at the house helping so there wasn't really much left to do. We actually moved since the last workshop and were now at a really great location perched high on a hill overlooking Little Traverse Lake and Lake Michigan. The crew started trickling in pretty close to 8:00pm and everyone was there in pretty short order. The evening was a lot of fun. A couple of people asked for the house tour and it wasn't long before the instruments were discovered. All the Sticks and accompanying rig were at Interlochen but there was also the piano, the acoustic guitars, and the synths. So it wasn't long until people were playing. Tim Longfellow was pretty quick to jump on the piano and he's quite the accomplished pianist. Art did quite a bit of time on the piano as well playing some of his original compositions. Several of us were crammed into my studio space playing the guitars. Tom and Ted were especially eager to spend some time playing. None of the guitars in my space were tuned in standard tuning but that didn't seem to stop anyone. During the same time, there was a good group out back around the fire pit as well. It was just a really good time all the way around and it's always good to just kind of relax a bit on Friday night and give the brain a break from the music study.
SaturdayThe schedule for Saturday read as follows:
10:00-12:00On Saturday, the whole group moved into 106/107 and we had a group discussion. This was a Q&A session with Tom and Don about the Stick, careers, more tips that fell outside of the topics already discussed, more gear talk ... just about anything anyone could think of. This was a more informal free flow of ideas and always seems to be a great way to round things out. This took us right up until noon when we grabbed our Sticks and all moved outside for the group picture. From there we moved over to Stone for our last lunch. The weather was still very agreeable. It was getting a little warm out in the sun though so about half our group stayed indoors while the other half still ate out at the picnic tables.
Discussion, Q&A session
Group picture, Break
Before he passed away recently, Greg Howard passed along to me his 10-string Rosewood Stick that he'd used to record the albums Sol and Water On The Moon. His wish was that I would take this instrument to Interlochen and let people play it. It was perfectly setup just as you'd expect from Greg. Right after lunch, I made the instrument available and several participants took turns playing on it. As our afternoon session began, I passed the instrument over to Tom Griesgraber and he immediately launched into a version of Greg's Charmed Life. Honestly it was about the most appropriate thing that could have happened. Tom was a long time student of Greg and has become the monster player Greg was always hoping for. His version of the tune was really fantastic and seeing him playing it on Greg's 10-string was just sublime. In the midst of the performance, Don joined in and turned the tune into a duet. It was really great and a fitting tribute.
The rest of the afternoon was scheduled to be a master class and ensemble performances. There were just a small handful that had pieces to play for critique purposes. These are always really helpful not only for the performer but for everyone. Most of the tips provided can be applied to what we're all doing. With those performances finished, the two groups did their ensemble pieces. Both performances went very well and once finished, we wrapped up for the day ... and for the year.
Post-EventWe wrapped in the late afternoon on Saturday. In years passed we tried to schedule additional off-campus performances for Saturday night. These have been harder to come by in recent years and, honestly, we've always been pretty fried by that point anyway. So this year we called it a workshop once our Saturday afternoon session finished.
Don and Tom had one more night in DeRoy so once we had the rooms cleaned out, we all parted ways and I headed home solo. We had talked about staying around for the Sunday evening performance of Les Preludes but by the time we finished, we pretty much agreed that the campus would be pertty busy and we'd all rather just relax. So to that end, I picked up Don and Tom on Sunday morning, checked them out, and we all headed back to our house. I managed to borrow Tom for a while to get some tips on my overall setup and sound. Don took the opportunity to spend a little time walking in the woods. Later in the day, Claire came by to meet us and we all headed for dinner at the Streetside Cafe in Suttons Bay. We all had a great meal and some really good beers. A perfect ending for Sunday.
Lastly was simply getting everyone pointed home. Tom had an extremely early flight out Monday morning. So I set an alarm for 3:20AM when I went to bed Sunday night. Right on queue, I got up and found Tom already dressed and ready to go. The round trip to the airport was around an hour which put me back at the house at 4:30am. Don and Rasa still hadn't stirred at all so I fed the dogs breakfast and went right back to bed.
Once we were all up and fed, Don and I spent some time touring our beautiful little county of Leelanau. We drove some back roads, hit the Pierce-Stocking Drive, and stopped to check out some scenic dune views. We ended up back at the house and spent some additional time just chatting as Don's flight out was delayed a couple of times. Finally they set his departure time in stone and I dropped him at TVC. As usual, my last drop off officially marked the end of this year's event.
WrapupFor the most part, the workshop is falling back into it's groove. Most of the COVID restrictions from 2021 have been lifted and things were as close to normal as you could expect. The only real hiccup this year was fighting for space with visiting parents during the last week of camp and being extremely crunched for lodging space. There were other complications of our timing as well. We lost the use of the Great Room on Saturday and it was a designated overflow space for last day activities. There were issues with resources as well. These were all things I should have anticipated and Gary said much the same. We had a gentleman's agreement as we wrapped this one up that we'd consider our choice of weeks much more carefully next time. All in all though, the event was a success. The lessons were magnificent. Everyone appeared to be really happy with it at the end and, as I'd hoped, they all went home with a complete overflow of information to try and consume.
Many thanks to throw out this year. Tom has turned into a monster of a player over the years. In addition to that though, he's turned into a world class educator which, anyone who knows anything will tell you, is a completely separate set of skills. His Berklee background and time spent with the CGT guys has really honed his head for music. It's always a pleasure to have him. Don has been one of the best known players and teachers for considerably longer than I've even known about the instrument but I've just never managed to bring him to Michigan until now. His background is one of the more interesting and impressive backgrounds having played in Vegas backing up several very well known artists like Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow, Dwight Yoakam, Frankie Avalon, Ann Margaret, plus a whole host of others. Like Tom, Don's extensive background also makes him an excellent educator and the lessons he brought were fantastic. Don also brings his legendary sense of humor to the event along with his equally legendary love of doughnuts. I also want to thank Art Durkee for continuing to provide our early workshops. Art has a unique music background and his trips into different territories are always really well received.
I also have to put out a huge thank you to the Interlochen College of Creative Arts, the director Gary Gatzke, and this year's interns Aidan and Katherine. The ICCA saw fit to give the Chapman Stick a try in their curriculum all those years ago with none of us knowing if it would really take. Gary's tenure as the director of the ICCA certainly had a rocky start but he stuck through and seems to be running a nice smooth ship nowadays. As is the case every summer though, the interns are our direct contacts and they really keep the day to day running smoothly. Thanks to all for sticking with us.
As always, I want to thank my charming spouse Rasa. For over 20 years, she's opened our home to teachers and/or students beginning in Ann Arbor back in 2000. The Friday night gathering at our house has become a tradition and a highlight over the years and she bears the brunt of the burden of getting the place ready. I honestly don't know where I'd be.
Again as always, the biggest thanks goes out to our participants. I always say that the people who come to these events get as much out of hanging with each other as they do from our teachers. I think that is still true and will always be true. Plus ... you all keep these events afloat. I hope that you all continue to embrace the in-person gatherings and the inspiration that they bring.
I can't stress enough how much the loss of Emmett and Greg means to us all. Emmett is the reason we're all here. Period. His vision has turned into a whole new way of playing stringed instruments even spawning other manufacturers to jump in with their own instruments based on Emmett's designs and method of play. As I already mentioned, Greg is the father of Stick pedagogy. Workshops like these still exist due largely to his influence and direction. Not to mention the fact that over the last 23 years, he'd become a very close friend. His absence leaves a huge hole. Thanks to you both for all you've done. Your legacy goes on through all of us.
Looking forward to next time!