2003 Western Canada Stick Retreat
April 3-7, 2003
Pan-ea Ma'at Light Centre
Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

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With the number of Stick seminars steadily on the rise, three locatons in North America have become synonymous with these events. Southern California, Southeast Michigan, and Western Canada are all places that have hosted multiple events and are all places that continue to raise the bar of these events. This year's Western Canada event took an old familiar theme but, again, added some new twists and turns to it turning the whole weekend into one of the most memorable events to date.

The event was held on Salt Spring Island near Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Our destination was the Pan-ea Ma'at Light Centre, a bed and breakfast set on beautiful grounds up in the hills. Our hosts, Mhora and Joy, ran the centre and what hosts they turned out to be. One of the things that set this event apart from the others we've had so far is that, over the weekend, we all turned this place into a home. We all lodged at the centre, we had our meals together (three a day, cooked by our hosts), and our seminar took place right there. This changed the way we operated since, instead of a set schedule (although we DID have a schedule), we could play in our group or in sub-groups pretty much any time of the day since we were all right there. So for four days, we managed to pretty much shut out the outside world and simply work on making music in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable.

This year's seminar attendees were as follows:
Greg Howard - Charlottesville, VA Jim Reilly - Kamloops, BC Jim Meyer - Vancouver, BC Winston Berger - Davis, CA Dave Bole - Sacramento, CA John Edmonds - Eagle River, AK Louis Hesselt-van-dinter - Bothell, WA Jim Parker - Las Vegas, NV Mitch Polgar - Montreal, QC Glenn Poorman - Novi, MI Scott Schurr - Portland, OR Matt Tate - Chicago, IL


Things pretty much got going on Thursday. Greg and Jim Reilly, along with several of the seminar goers, arrived in town prior to Thursday though. Greg and Jim were booked to perform at the Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver on Wednesday evening so many came early. By all reports, the Wednesday night performance went really well and Greg was accompanied by local drummer Kyle Radomsky who did a great job.

I came in on Thursday morning with the intention of getting to the island pretty early. My alarm started going off at 4:00AM that morning and I reluctantly got up at about 4:10 to start my travels. After flying to Vancouver via Minneapolis, I met up with Jim Reilly outside Vancouver airport. We still had to wait for Jim Parker to fly in from Las Vegas before we could leave so we ran some errands. By the time we met Jim P, we checked the time and thought we were doing pretty well. We could catch the ferry to Vancouver Island at 3:00PM and catch the ferry from there to Salt Spring at 5:00PM. Already, things were moving later than I thought because I had completely misjudged how long the ferry ride was. We were one of the last cars onto the Vancouver Island ferry. After the first ride of about an hour and a half, we sped over to the Salt Spring ferry and were happy to get over there before 5:00PM. Unfortunately, that ferry was full. What was even worse was that every car in front of us got on. When it was our turn, the guy's hand went up and that was that. We were the first car to NOT get on. That meant that we left it parked there and waited until the next ferry came which would be in two hours (7:00PM).

Shortly after 8:00PM, we finally made it to the centre and everyone was there. On the first night, our seminar area was setup with a PA right in the middle of the room that we all stood around. Greg had started looking at instruments one at a time doing some setup work and showing people how to do the same. By the time the three of us arrived, this part of the evening was well under way. Our first order of business, however, was to get some grub. That would be our first introduction to what would become a constant stream of wonderful meals that Mhora would prepare for us.

By the time the three late comers finished eating, the rest of the crew were winding down also. Greg wrapped up his setups for the evening and then retired. Greg, along with Jim Reilly, Jim Meyer, and Karen Meyer, actually stayed in a smaller cottage several yards behind the main house. The rest of us at the main house scattered to four bedrooms. One of the downstairs rooms slept two. A second downstairs room slept one and had no heat. That was the room John Edmonds slept in as, coming from Alaska, every other room in the house felt hot. Upstairs was a single bed that was actually more of a cubby than a room and then the last of the four was the largest bedroom sleeping six very comfortably. Upstairs, there was also a large living area that they called the library. Prior to turning in on Thursday night, many of us gathered in the library just to talk for a while. This would become a nightly event.


The plan for Friday was to seminar all day and then head into the town of Ganges on Friday evening to take over a local open mic night at a small bar/cafe called Anise. Still being on eastern time, I woke at about 5:30AM finally getting up at about 6:00AM. The first thing that greeted me when my eyes opened was a large bedroom window and some incredible scenery outside. Since we had arrived in the evening, we didn't get a chance to catch the scenery that surrounded us so this was my first glimpse. High hills, lush foilage, and the water close by. I cleaned up and decided to take a short walk before breakfast. Outside, I met up with Joy and she took me on a tour of the grounds including a high spot up behind the cottage with a killer view of the water. Somewhere in there, we ran into Louis who was coming back from a lengthy walk. Louis would get up and do this every morning for the duration of the event.

Back in the house, everyone was up so we decided to get started while breakfast continued to cook. Once we were all plugged in and the sound was good, we went right to work. Right off the bat, we started to run a chord progression that Greg had composed the night before. He said that the surroundings had inspired him and several new ideas started pouring out during the late evening hours. He ran his progression for us once. Purely bass side, two hands, solid hits. Then we all played the chords as a group. We ran the progression a few times getting the timing down and cleaning it up. Greg alluded to the fact this these chords were the beginnings of something we would work up for our final Sunday night performance. By this time, we were an hour into our work and our hosts announced that breakfast was officially ready. We setup a couple of large tables and sat down to some french toast and fresh fruit. Glorious! Once breakfast was over, we went right back to it. We spent the rest of the morning hours working on memorizing various versions of all the intervals in both hands and also worked on playing unison lines in the melody and bass. With 4ths/5ths tuning, playing in unison becomes a lot more tricky than it sounds and I found this to be a cool exercise.

At lunch time, we took an extended break. Pat Burkette, a feature writer from the Victoria Times-Colonist showed up along with a photographer to do a story about our weekend. During lunch, she talked to everyone involved to get their story and shot several photographs as the afternoon wore on. We regrouped and continued to work on various excercises as well as revisiting the chord progression we'd started the day with. During the afternoon session, Jim Reilly took over for a theoretical session. Jim covered an array of basic and very useful theory topics including all of the basic chords you can use within any given key (and why) as well as simple triads that can be put together to form more complex chords. Before we broke for the night, Greg left us all with a single homework assignment. Everybody was to take a shot at coming up with a melody to play over our chord progression. With that (and with the smell of wonderful food permeating the room), we broke for dinner. After that, it was time to pack up and head to our first performance night.

We arrived at Anise at about 8:00PM. Jim Meyer ran in to talk to the people already there and came out telling us that what they did was actually more of a jam night than an open mic and also that several locals had already come to play. What this meant for us was that we would probably all play first, shorten our sets down, and then leave the stage to the usual crowd. We hauled our gear inside and set things up in such away that we would be able to move from player to player pretty fast.

Once we were ready, Jim Reilly took the stage as MC for the evening. He briefly described what we were doing on the island and what people would be hearing. From there, he began introducing players. In order, the performers for the evening were Matt Tate, Jim Parker, Winston Berger, Jim Meyer, Louis Hesselt-van-dinter with Jim Reilly, Mitch Polgar, John Edmonds, and myself. It was a nice variety of players and the material covered a range from original to jazz and a couple of Beatles tunes. Jim Reilly and Louis called up the local drummer who was part of the jam night and did an open jam. I came prepared to do one looped tune with Louis' looper but cut it short when I couldn't get the output volume of the looper up nearly high enough. Note to self: soundcheck gear before launching into a performance.

With the Stick invasion over, most of our group started heading out pretty fast. I had actually just ordered a beer and so had Jim Reilly so we stuck it out for a while. This was when the real jam night started. Things began innocently enough with the usual guys (or so I was told) playing Neil Young's "Rockin in the Free World." A good Canadian boy to start the evening. From there, however, things pretty much disintegrated into a drunken stupor. There were a couple of women in the place who, as they drank more, kept dancing closer to the stage. Once their blood alchohol reached critical mass, they jumped onto the stage, started playing percussion, and made some attempts at singing. It was actually pretty funny and I enjoyed myself but, after about thirty minutes of it, we decided to head out.

Back at the ranch, most of the residents were back up in the library having that pre-bedtime discussion. Things were sounding pretty political when I went up (something I hadn't heard much of up to that point). Luckily, I was only there a short time before things switched over to loftier topics like Spinal Tap and Ninja movies.


On Saturday morning, we were back at it prompty at 8:00AM. The material on Saturday really focused on playing together as a group. We started with some cool basslines and unison excercises. Then we split the room up into two halves and started doing some of the excercises as rounds with the different halves of the room starting at different places. This created some really interesting polyrhythms. Some of those polyrhythms were easy to nail while some took quite a bit of work to find. Once we found the difficult ones though, they sounded great.

Again, we took an extended lunch. Before our meal, we piled into cars and went down to the outdoor market in the town of Ganges. We'd been down there for the performances at Anise but didn't get the full spectrum of scenery Ganges offers since it was dark. The town was right on a harbor with a lot of little islands in view. The outdoor market was pretty much what you would expect with the main area by the water littered with booths selling food and crafts. We were down there for a little over an hour before we headed back to have lunch. During the afternoon hours, Greg moved over to the cottage where he took people one at a time for one-on-one lessons while Jim Reilly worked with the rest of the group. We continued to go over various chord substitutions until finally Jim said "let's just play some music." He fired up the drum machine and started playing a groove in G. The plan was that, one at a time, we would each add a part over what was currently playing. Once we were all going, we could change our part whenever we wanted. This ended up going on for quite some time and the music coming out was exceptional. Once we decided to end it, we broke for the day. We had quite a bit of time before the evening's activities so everyone moved off into their own corners and practiced. This was about the time that some smaller ensembles started to work on material for the Sunday evening performance.

At 8:30PM we re-gathered and headed to Moby's. Moby's is a restaurant and bar down in Ganges and is one of the hot spots in town. The plan was for Jim Reilly and Greg to perform. A local Salt Spring percussionist named Laurent Boucher would also perform with Jim and Greg. When we arrived, Laurent was already setup. Jim and Greg didn't take long to setup and then Jim kicked off the evening running a mix of original tunes and improvisations. He played really solid and the addition of the percussion really brought the performance to life. Greg went up next and played a good chunk of his show in the Stick X36 prototype he'd brought along. He seemed to be taking a real shine to this instrument over the weekend and it sounded great. Greg pulled several tunes from his grab bag that I hadn't heard him do in a while including "Black Orpheus", "Here, There, and Everywhere", and a good chunk of the "Sol" record. Hearing these tunes with the live percussionist was exceptionally cool and Laurent did a fantastic job of performing the tunes. Greg commented later in the evening how well Laurent anticipated changes considering he'd never heard most of these tunes. In addition to the tunes, Greg also launched into a handful of extended improvisations and even managed to incorporate his new chord progression we'd been working on into his performance drawing howls from those of us who knew what it was. During the course of the evening, Jim and Greg each played two sets alternating between the two. To wrap up, all three (Greg, Jim, and Laurent) played a rendition of "All Along the Watch Tower." The show at Moby's turned out really well. There was a good crowd in there all night and the performers really held their attention. Once it was over, we packed everything up and headed back. Again, we ended up back in the library talking until very late. With the time change (spring forward) that occurred at 2:00AM, we ended up going to bed at about 3:30AM.


On Sunday morning, we started an hour later (9:00AM) to make up for the time change the night before. The plan for today was to get our group pieces ready for the evening's performance. We knew that one of the pieces we would play would be based on the chord progression we'd started the seminar with. We also worked on polishing another piece that revolved around a bass groove that Greg had written about the same time as the chords we started the weekend with. Lastly, we worked on a nice ballad taken from an exercise in "The Stick Book" simply title "Vibrato." Over the course of the weekend, several ideas were added to the original chord progression so we decided to make that progression our theme for the evening and repeat it several times varying the style and accompaniment. Along with the group pieces, we would also included any solo or small ensemble pieces anyone want to play.

We broke for lunch around 1:00PM. After that, we worked on getting the room setup for the performance (scheduled to take place right at the centre). The plan was to set ourselves up in a semi-circle of chairs. We would all stay there for the entirety of the performance all standing for group tunes and sitting for individual tunes (except, of course, for the individuals who were performing the tunes). We didn't all need to work on setting up the room so just about everybody used the time to practice. This turned into a really cool scene actually. As I mentioned earlier, the grounds around the centre were beautiful. As Greg and Jim worked on the room, I noticed that various players had scattered around the grounds (both inside and outside) practicing through their headphone amps. It seemed like no matter where I looked, there was a Stick player in the garden, a player on the front porch, the back porch, on the hill overlooking the harbor, in the library, etc.

This break also gave me a chance to check out the new Stick X36 prototype that Greg brought along for the weekend. The silver laquer finish really made the thing look space age and cool. With the hollow construction, it seemed louder unplugged than your average Stick. It had a cool feel to it overall. The strings Greg had on it were much heavier than what I'm used to playing which I really didn't like and made it hard to get an accurate read on the instrument itself. Greg seemed to like it though and his performances on it sounded stellar.

Once the room was setup, we re-grouped and used the time we had left to sound check and to run some problem spots. At around 4:30PM, we stopped in order to clear the room for arriving guests. Several of our group went back into their corners to practice. I went back to the cottage where Jim Reilly was working on a set list for the evening. He and Greg were trying to title Greg's original chord progression with something meaningful from our weekend. They settled on "Madrone" which is the name of a tree that was growing in abundance on the island.

At about 7:00PM, our evening began. There were about 20 people that showed up for the performance. We all took our positions and led off the evening with our theme "Madrone" running the simple chord progression with no additional decoration. From there, we ran the D bass groove (appropriately titled "Bass Groove") and nailed it. This was about the time that Jim Parker became our multi-instrumentalist for the evening. Jim spent years as a drummer and when we found out that Karen had brought her djembe along, Jim agreed to play it on several of the tunes that required rhythm. He also played with several of the small ensembles and his rhythm accompaniment was excellent adding a really nice touch to several of the tunes. After the bass groove, we moved on through our set list. Mitch Polgar and Matt Tate ran a duet accompanied by Jim Parker on djembe followed by Jim Meyer doing his own solo rendition of the Ron Baggerman tune "Golden Age". After that, we did our next version of Madrone. Things began to fall apart a little on this one when we came to our second time through the progression. We held it together though leading up to the next solo performance which was given by Greg. His tune really brought our audience to their feet and left them good and warmed up for a bit of a talk. Greg described the instrument we were all playing and described the event we were all taking part in. Next up was another duet with John and Louis followed by a solo performance from Scott. Scott's performance was really a pleasant surprise. We all knew he planned on running a couple of cover tunes and singing. We didn't know until then how powerful a voice he had. No mic. Just pure power vocals and Stick. It was really nice. After that, Jim Reilly ran a solo piece which led us into yet another version of Madrone. This one had Jim Meyer playing his own melody over the first progression and all of us playing a pentatonic scale pattern over the second time around. Again, it was a little sketchy but we got through it. With that, we took a short intermission allowing us all to relax and catch our breath.

After about 10-15 minutes, we started up again. Greg led off the second set with his own rendition of Pachelbel's Canon that really got everyone going again. Another group piece followed. The exercise titled "Vibrato." This one worked really well. As we all played the riff, we started at one end and took solos one player at a time. The idea was that, after your solo, you were to make up a simple part that went with the tune and you were NOT to go back to playing the original riff. The result was that, by the end, Greg was the only one left playing the original theme and the rest of us were noodling parts in that key. In both our rehearsal and at our performance, this resulted in some really amazing music created right on the spot and never coming out the same way twice. Kind of like a random looper. Very cool. That was followed by more solo pieces. Matt Tate ran one of his own tunes and then the surprise happened. Dave Bole had opted out of playing by himself but, at the last minute, decided to take his first ever stab at it and did a rendition of "My Funny Valentine." He did a nice job and his audience was really supportive. Winston ran a solo piece after Dave was finished and this led us into our next "Madrone" rendition. This time we added a funky bassline (played by Greg, Louis, and myself) and Jim Parker's djembe rhythm while Jim Reilly improvised on a blues scale over top of it. This was much improved over the last two renditions although we started with a little confusion as to how the piece was to begin. We ran three more solo performances after that with Jim Parker, myself, and another duet with Mitch and Louis. Next, we re-created the jam we'd done the day before with Jim Reilly and it came off really well. Instead of using the drum machine on this one though, we called Jim Parker back into service to deliver our rhythm on djembe. As the jam was ending (but still playing), Greg quietly counted us all back into the original "Madrone" with just the chords and that marked the end of our evening. Several people stayed around after the performance to talk with us. Once they all cleared out, we stayed up for a while patting ourselves on the back and throwing down some beers and dessert. Around 11:30PM or so, everyone began heading for bed.


On Monday morning, the exits began. Jim Parker and Dave Bole both had early flights so they left to catch the 8:00AM ferry before anyone else got up. The rest of us planned on catching the noon ferry. We packed up pretty leisurely and had breakfast. At about 11:40AM, we said our goodbyes to Mohra and Joy and headed for the dock. The trip back to the mainland (again via Vancouver Island) went pretty smooth and we didn't get shut out of any ferries this time. We did have an incident on the ferry from Salt Spring when, as we were getting close to Vancouver Island, a woman on the boat realized that one of her tires had gone completely flat. In a matter of minutes, she was flanked by a whole group of Stick players trying to get her spare on before the boat docked. This, of course, prompted the question of "how many Stick players does it take to change a tire?" Regardless of the answer, her spare was on and she drove off of the ferry when the doors opened.

Back in the city, Scott and Louis immediately headed south to the US and home while Jim, Jim, Karen, Greg, Matt, Winston, Mitch, John, and myself went into Vancouver. Matt, Winston, and Mitch went to find a hotel for the night while the rest of us went back to Jim Meyer's place. John and I both had to get to the airport early enough where having dinner with everyone else was out of the question so Jim dropped us both at the aiport at about 6:00. My flight wasn't actually supposed to leave until 9:00PM but I had a nice surprise. Horizon told me they could get me to Seattle on the 8:00 flight and I could wait there. I decided to take them up on it and discovered it was the same flight John was taking before heading back to Anchorage. Plus, the flight wasn't anywhere near full so we sat together and talked music. Once we hit Seattle, we parted company. It didn't seem like that long of a wait before I was on a plane bound for Detroit. The amazing thing was this. I got a seat close to the front of the plane and the flight was full. By the time I got on, the only overhead that had any space for my Stick was right over my row. In addition to that, the only two seats that weren't sold were both right next to me. So ... I stretched out a little and slept all the way home arriving in Detroit at about 6:00AM. I stayed up the rest of the day and jolted myself back into eastern time when I finally caved and passed out at about 9:30PM Tuesday night.

In Conclusion

While many aspects of this seminar stayed true to our past seminars, many aspects were also different and made for a really cool event. First of all, it seemed like the overall level of play was a bit higher this weekend making it possible to do some pretty meaty exercises as a group. The retreat setting changed the whole dynamic of the weekend. Usually we have a set schedule for a day. After that, the attendees retreat back to their hotels or homes until we all meet up again the next day. In the retreat setting, we lived there. That meant we practiced during off hours. That meant that the duets that performed Sunday got together and composed during off hours. That meant that sometimes our group sessions ran later, or we took long breaks making it up in the evening. The possibilities seemed endless and it made for an intense weekend where 24 hours of each day were about making music. It reminded me very much of my days attending the National Music Camp at Interlochen. It's hard to call this the future of Stick seminars as I don't think this setting would always work. But for this particular get together, it worked great. Again, our friends over in Western Canada have raised the bar on Stick events. Thank you Jim Meyer for putting together a really special weekend. Thank you Greg Howard and Jim Reilly for your teaching, performing, and inspiration. Thank you Mhora and Joy for being such wonderful hosts and wonderful people. And thanks to all my fellow attendees for such good company and inspired play.

Try and hang onto that feeling and ... I'll see you all again soon.