CMS NYC Workshop Chronicles
By Michael Shore


I’ve only ever been to one CMS Workshop, June 2015 at Full Moon resort in Big Indian, NY. when I was mainly there to chronicle it for the CMS twitter feed and website, while lurking on the outside of the participants’ circle with a bag of small percussion devices…so I would say I was maybe a quarter participant. So, my frame of reference is limited—but I knew this NYC workshop would be very different from typical workshops: not being at a secluded bucolic resort but in the middle of noisy grimy NYC, and breaking up early the first two nights due to scheduled concerts at our host venue, Greenwich House Music School, would surely affect the sense of community that naturally grows among participants upstate. Also, no body awareness workshops ☹ (I still use some of the stretches I learned at Big Indian every single day).

It’s also different for me personally because this time I am a paying participant, bringing my own little 5-piece drum set-up as well as the small percussion. Small as it is, I as a very part-time amateur player still struggle mightily to cart it from my suburban Long Island home to the city via LIRR and subway, in a collapsible canvas duffel on plastic casters which I’m terrified the whole time will break off. They don’t, and I get a good taste of that dreary, back-breaking and unavoidable aspect of The Drummer’s Life. A valuable lesson indeed!

Finally, because I am much more participant than chronicler – and acutely self-conscious at how rusty and out-of-practice I am – I apologize up front for how different these notes will be than last time, with far less blow-by-blow detail and more hazily recollected impressionism. Due to my daily focus on focusing and not embarrassing myself during each master class, much of the weekend is a blur!

At Greenwich House we all meet and mingle during orientation, after setting up our gear…my fellow drummers and I somehow figure a way to fit all 5 kits onstage with the help of superhumanly patient production manager Alex. I’m suddenly grateful to have such a microscopic kit. In keeping with the spirit I’d felt so keenly at Big Indian and in all my dealing with CMS, everyone is cool and the vibe is mellow. The room gradually fills, a few faces familiar from the 2015 workshop I attended at Full Moon.

Eventually CMS Artistic Director/Co-founder Karl Berger calls us to order in a circle on the recital hall floor and asks us to introduce ourselves briefly. What an interesting group! The drummers include a student of Day 2 Guiding Artist Susie Ibarra’s, who will do wonderful gamelan-gong-type things with some small nesting metal mixing bowls, and one who works at the Jazz Foundation of America’s Jazz In The Schools program – so cool! There are around a dozen guitarists, including a “classical/theater composer by day, punk rocker by night,” another who’s brought a Chinese sanxian lute, and a long-haired young shredder who says he’s looking to learn how to contribute cool creative noises. There are names and faces I recognize from the stages at various downtown avant-rock and jazz gigs over the past few years. Someone came all the way from Washington state. There’s a dude with samplers and toys – “untrained”/”non-musician” company for yours truly! In fact, a lot of us say they’re like me: passionate music fans who put their instrumental dreams aside years ago to focus on family and/or career, but have rekindled that old inner mounting flame that never ever quite goes out.

CMS co-founder Ingrid Sertso leads us in the first of her daily vocal exercises, focused largely on deep breathing and long vowel sounds. It’s great to see her so healthy and energetic where two years ago she’d been weakened by illness. Her deep-breathing exercise is just the refreshing system-cleanse I need – the kind of thing someone like me always forgets to remember to do each day as mundanities and work and such get in the way. I actually begin feeling a sort of a buzz from all the extra oxygen intake from the deep-breathing, combined with the joy of making music – and I swear, just as I feel that buzz, Ingrid says “you know, some tribes around the world use these exercises as a way to get high.” My jaw drops open at how she’s read my mind. She also teaches us a lovely somber South African hymn: “We are going, Heaven knows where we are going…”

Karl Berger then outlines the basic ideas behind the workshop and provides some basic guidance and practice in rhythm, using his Gamala Taki method of counting rhythms in divisions of 3 and 2, having us sing out “ga-ma-la ta-ki” with different accents to different meters, then having us sing only certain syllables while keeping in rhythm – a great way to treat silence as another musical note, and to make rhythm more musical and less pure-math. Karl calls it “beat for beat attention.” It reminds me of one of my favorite chants by one of my favorite artists, Sun Ra: “music is silence too, music is silence too…” Karl then leads us in similar exercises using the singsong chant “time is, time is in, time is in time…” which I recalled from the 2015 workshop. Then he acknowledges the elephant in the room, that we had set up our instruments and must be itching to play them so let’s hit it and see what we can do. All I remember is focusing on the basslines from assistant Guiding Artist, the great Ken Filiano, who’s right in front of me onstage, and trying to follow Karl’s conducting gestures. Feels good to bash a bit for sure. The first day ends with “listening meditation”: Karl asks us to focus on sound and its disappearance – again, like the object lesson in the note value of silence, the kind of against-the-grain zen-koan lesson in which CMS seems to specialize – then he strikes a cymbal… and does it again… and again… and again… Faint street noises mix in with the ever-more-discernible overtones of the decaying cymbal crashes. The focus in the room is palpable. Great training for the ears, and a good start to the weekend!


The first full day of CMS NYC begins with several of us early arrivals outside at 8:45 am, waiting for someone from Greenwich House to show up and unlock the place, breakfast having been called for 9am. We can hear someone upstairs practicing piano but they can’t hear us calling “helloooo” and banging on the door. Possibly a reminder that the calendar says it’s April 1. Someone does show up not long after 9, and the day proper starts with breakfast, and CMS Executive Director Rob Saffer putting out the word that today’s Guiding Artist, Wilco guitarist (among other pursuits) Nels Cline, wants us in a big circle with the drummer spaced out evenly around it. I immediately run upstairs to set up, wanting to make sure I have a spot. Breakfast is a welcome, delicious and filling reminder that the food at Big Indian in June 2015 was plentiful, naturally healthy and yummy. The spread includes eggs, chicken sausages, steamed potatoes, fresh berries, yogurt, Granola, OJ and coffee or tea…at least I think there were big skin-on spuds. Maybe I’m mixing that up with lunch or dinner. What I definitely DO remember is those sausages – and the herb that so powerfully and wonderfully flavored them…sage? Whatever it was, my compliments to Hailee the caterer!

Back upstairs we do more breathing and singing exercises with Ingrid, including a song by the great South African pianist (and onetime CMS Guiding Artist) Abdullah Ibrahim. Ingrid notes that once upon a time, before the oceans split continents apart, what we now call North America was joined with Africa – and that “we are all Africans,” something I have long felt in my bones. How next will this bruja read my mind???

We then take our places in our big circle around the floor of the Greenwich House recital hall, guitarists flanking me in the area by the front windows, reeds and keyboards across from me towards the stage. Karl Berger gives some brief “basic practice” CMS guidance – such as the instruction that music and rhythm can be like a train, a commuter train, that runs the same circuit repeatedly, so if you feel lost at any point wait til the train comes round again to your “stop,” that part you recognize and feel comfortable with, and come back in there. He also says, at one point, “there’s no such thing as an A” – before introducing Nels Cline, who will repeat “there’s no such thing as an A” more than once and remark how liberating he finds that concept. Nels takes his place at the center of our circle, a tall, gangly, extremely affable guy who tells us of his own musical journey on the road to open-eared listening, name-checking familiar radicalizing signposts from Zappa and Beefheart to Coltrane and Sun Ra to Harry Partch and Anthony Braxton, and telling school-days tales of his brother, master-drummer Alex Cline, and SoCal’s answer to Braxton, reedman Vinny Golia.

Nels begins loosely organizing an initial getting-to-know-you group-improv session, moving slowly around the room, pointing to different musicians to see what they could do. A warm-up, so to speak, similar to what we did with Karl yesterday. As Nels goes round the room to single out certain individuals and small groupings, I am instantly impressed by the playing of some of my fellow participants, especially in the reed and string sections, and all the other drummers again scare the heck out of me with their technique.

After a lovely lunch of hummus, babaganoush, pita, cucumbers-and-feta and olives that has me ready to smash plates in a Zorba dance (and with Karl, Ingrid, Ken and Nels sitting amongst all us participants in typical no-hierarchical CMS fashion), Nels gathers us and speaks about noise and microtonal music. At some point I recall him mentioning the weekend warriors among us reigniting our passion for playing, and saying how he honors that as much as any full-time player – very gratifying to hear! He also mentions the very audible 60-cycle hum in the room, which as a noise fan he enjoys as a legitimate audio element in the mix, and remarks upon the old wiring in the building. This will prove the next morning to have been a most prophetic remark
Nels says he wants us to create “something beautifully microtonal, Harry Partch meets Sonic Youth, over a 6/8 groove,” Oh sure Nels, no sweat! He also tells us he’s going to use cue cards to conduct this piece. In the name of microtonality, he “prepares” the guitars a la Fred Frith, offering the guitarists chopsticks to place under their strings. He says he had to borrow them from his wife, musician Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto fame, and that he’ll need them back! Nels’ cue cards say things like “A# minor” and “leave lots of space” and, at one point, “SCREAM!” – which Nels himself raucously joins us in doing. He also uses hand gestures and eye-contact, of course, to cue certain players or groups to start, stop, get louder or softer or harder. He tells the keyboardists onstage at the two Greenwich House grand pianos (yes, two grand pianos) he wants them to play inside the pianos – and during the jam he goes up onstage and ducks under the raised lids to show them how to really get in there and strum the guts of those pianos, like punk harps.

I’d like to hear this piece back to see how it really sounded but it was a blast to play, in more ways than one, though also a bit nerve-wracking for yours truly, with my extremely limited experience actually Playing With Other People. Nels is able to get us to a level of instant-cooperative music- and noise-making. He’s relentlessly chill, upbeat and supportive. His style as a Guiding Artist is a world apart from my last CMS workshop two years ago, where Steven Bernstein and Amir al-Saffr both spent a lot of time talking as one might expect a music teacher to talk, about chords and scales and modes and in Amir’s case, particular ethnic rhythms, before then applying them to carefully arranged improvs around specific themes. This is much looser and more open-ended. What I like about it is, it both assumes and offers a certain level of respect – to my mind, giving a palpable “you’re out of the nest, now fly!” sense of what it might or must be like to actually improvise music with fellow musicians and for listeners who have come to create or listen with you. Without even ever consciously specifically voicing it, this makes me profoundly aware of how terrifying and exhilarating a responsibility it is to be in such a position. It’s around this time, during a lull, that I remember to resume my role as CMS Twitter Feed Poster, and tweet out a couple of pix of Nels leading the workshop. I see that another participant, keyboardist Sugar Vendil, has mentioned CMS in a tweet: “@ music improv workshop today Karl Berger looked in my direction but I ducked so I wouldn’t get called on to solo #fear #hsjazzbandflashback.” Followed by: “I won’t duck tomorrow!” Sugar, I sure can relate!

Before our next and final improv with Nels, he talks more about what he’d heard and what he hoped to hear, and he says something that I think could serve as a sort of CMS credo: “We all belong, and it’s cool not to belong, too.” More prosaically, he asks the guitars to act as a Greek Chorus throughout our next improv, commenting on whatever had just come before he cued them. Nels feels good enough about this improv to stop guiding and take his guitar and solo at one point, then to sit down and lay his guitar across his lap and bang on it like a drum. Having Nels point to me at one point to solo, I am again made aware, in this minimally “directed” workshop, of the intimidating infinitude of choices anyone purporting to be a creative musician has to make at any time.

The day ends with Karl doing a brief gamala taki exercise, followed by his asking us to play an on-the-spot improv based on his “Time Is” tune from the day before, which he plays on a melodica. Because the tune adds and then subtracts melodic cells over an odd meter (I think), it’s not quite as simple as it sounds, at least for an unschooled out-of-practice drummer like me, so I only remember trying to both stay on time and in rhythm and loosen up enough to actually play. That, and Nels sitting in with us participants, “teacher” grinning from ear to ear as he improved along with the “student” orchestra. Another concluding and very focused listening meditation, and while others take their axes to locked closets downstairs, it’s time for us drummers to break down our kits and cram them into Alex the production manager’s office, somehow, to make way for tonight’s Greenwich House concert. In classic CMS fashion, what at first seems laughably impossible turns out to be surprisingly doable.


After two days of damp chilly weather, the last and longest day of CMS NYC is beautiful and sunny. But it is about to begin with some unexpected drama.

After arriving and running upstairs to set up my kit, I run back down to grab breakfast. The dining areas, which border a courtyard/garden in back of the school, are packed and buzzing with conversation. Just as I walk into the first of the dining rooms – the lights go out. I stop dead in my tracks and wonder aloud if someone leaned on a light switch. Reed player Lee Odom is the one who first notices there are FLAMES BEHIND A WALL OUTLET – an apparent electrical fire! Amid the general uproar I scurry through adjoining rooms til I find a fire extinguisher. Alex the production manager happens to be standing right next to me, so never having worked a fire extinguisher in my life, I hand it to him and he expertly puts out the fire with a quick blast or two. Someone calls the fire department , and no fewer than three hook-and-ladders arrive in what seems like moments. Welp! Breakfast – some sort of bacon facsimile and eggs – is flavored with the tang of baking soda-like fire extinguisher powder and electrical-fire smoke in the air…and relief that Greenwich House is still standing. After wolfing down breakfast, still tasty despite the fire, I overhear one of the firemen asking Alex if they offer guitar lessons at Greenwich House. Only then do I recall Nels Cline yesterday, remarking on the old wiring in this building. Oh, it’s gonna be a barn-burner today alright!

Back upstairs, today’s Guiding Artist, jazz and avant-garde drummer Susie Ibarra . arrives and when I ask, pronounces herself totally fine with the circular setup with the drummers spaced out around it. Now however we have to fit in the house kit she’ll be using as well. Somehow this works out. Susie manages to call us to order and introduce herself – and this in itself is quite a feat, because as great a drummer as she is (and she is great) she is incredibly soft-spoken. It’s actually hard at times to make out her requests and instructions, but I can tell you that at points she says “I’m going to ask you to, for instance, play texture…or play patterns…” As with Nels Cline, her actual “instruction” is minimal: remember, CMS calls them “Guiding Artists,” and sometimes effective guidance is that which leaves us participants to figure things out for ourselves. I’d call it an object lesson in spontaneously coordinated collective improvisation – not just on the level of the actual playing and music-making, but in the respectful and responsible way in which everyone responded, shared, and alternately led and supported. In a way, I think Susie and Nels were both letting us learn how much we already “knew.”

The first, morning piece to play is, like the day before with Nels, a sort of warm-up and getting-to-know-you session, with Susie checking out various groupings by instrument, then breaking us up into different smaller groups with guitars, reeds, keys and drums more or less evenly distributed in each. Again, I must apologize to you readers that my nerves and effort at focusing kept me from better remembering the blow-by-blow after everything happened, but I vividly recall Susie Ibarra slowly walking round the inside of the circle checking us all out as we played, at times staring at us, at others looking down at the floor to really focus on what she was hearing… gesturing at times to change dynamics or recombine us… demonstrating “texture” by gently tossing some small strung-together wooden rattles up and down in her hands… and I also recall more and more of my fellow workshop participants impressing me with their playing.

We break for lunch, which most of enjoy out in the garden since it’s so nice out. Soup, tabbouleh and arugula salad, some cold noodle-veggie salad…it’s all delicious.

For the afternoon improv Susie asks someone to provide a melody. Lee Odom offers one on her clarinet: a lovely, descending birdsong which Susie immediately cottons to. I wish I could recall and describe exactly how Susie Ibarra managed to keep us all focused and contributing for more than an hour and a half on this, without seeming to do much of anything…but somehow she did. I am told we went at it for an hour and 42 minutes nonstop, as the music swelled and subsided, from delicate and tentative, to supple and lyrical, to bumptious and noisy, from thin to thick and hard to soft, with Susie’s hand gestures cueing everyone. At one point she sits down at her drums – finally – just a few chairs to my left, and lets loose, displaying masterly efficiency of motion, thrashing out kaleidoscopic polyrhythms while hardly seeming to move at all – her arms steady above the center-point of her 4-piece kit, pointing downward toward a spot right between her snare, mounted tom and floor tom, only her wrists and fingers moving in real-time time-lapse. Don’t mess with Ms. Ibarra cos when she plays, she don’t play!

Took me awhile to locate my lower jaw after that…. After Susie Ibarra’s afternoon master class, Ingrid leads us in the final vocal workshop: giving us different sounds, from sighs to coos to grunts, to make as she arranges and on-the-spot chorus. Then each of us taking turns inside the circle, instantly and intuitively harmonized notes – “mmmm,” “aaaaaaaahhhh,” “ohhhhh,” “ooooooo,” “eeeeeee” — sung at us, so we really feel the vibrations. We sing the solemn South African “we are going…” one last time and knowing it is the last time this time feels bittersweet. Karl then has us back in the big circle for a final session of “basic practice” with Gamala Taki, which I handle with much more confidence than the previous day, even though there are moments when I, and others, audibly come in early or late with a sounded syllable. I am reminded, again, that putting in actual physical practice time – especially for a drummer – is so important. The body has to develop that sense-memory of the actual activity. It’s the same with something seemingly as nursery-rhyme simple as remembering when to say “ma” and “ki” after several silent beats. Or singing “time is, time is in, time is in time…” It’s not easy – til it is…

Then Karl takes out his melodica to lead us in the last official orchestral piece of this CMS workshop. It’s another disarmingly and deceptively simple tune, his “Five Feelings,” which is, yes, in 5. And Karl arranges it so each drummer gets to take a quick 2 or 4-bar solo. This is big fun. No – it’s HUGE fun. After two-and-a-half days we are starting to get a real feel for each other, maybe…and that combined with the knowledge that this is out last collective shot, I think, has us all really leaning into it. I suspect the long-haired young guitar shredder would agree – I distinctly recall him, as the whole group absolutely ROARED, nodding his head in time, lifting both his arms aloft and making devil horns like some avant-garde Beavis or Butthead. I feel quite buzzed by the time it’s all over.

We break for dinner — lasagna and roasted veggies and some really amazing cheesecake – then concluding participant jams organized by Ken Filiano who’d set up a sign-in sheet for anyone who wanted to play. There are several small groups, all engaging in free-improv from quiet to stormy, often making sound use of silence (pun intended). Sana Nagano on violin, Lee Odom on clarinet, Ras Moshe on tenor, and all the drummers still left make big impressions on me: Aaron Latos absolutely attacking one poor ride cymbal as he erupts from a whisper to a thunderstorm… Will Glass living up to his name with quicksilver free playing that reminds me of Original Free Drummer Sunny Murray’s classic self-descriptive quote that he was trying to play “the constant cracking of glass”… Susie Ibarra’s student Michael LaRocca with ferocious technique and intensity – and then inventive in a whole other way in another, aleatoric ensemble, crouched on the floor making unearthly sounds with electronics. Guitarist Lorin Roser is kind enough to let yours truly sit in on a groove-oriented trio late in the evening, with bassist Dan Dybus – thank you Lorin and Danny!

Of course the other drummers and I are last to leave. As we lug out our gear, I’m pondering the techniques, philosophies and approaches I’d learned by doing during this weekend – and how, if applied with any consistency, they could help me improve both my playing and my listening. I am also confident there will prove to be dividends from this weekend I have yet to even realize. And I am struck by the distinct possibility, the likelihood even, that we took lemons and made lemonade this weekend, making positive use of the difference I mentioned earlier in this workshop vs the ones at Full Moon – dispersing at the end of shorter days into the surrounding big city, rather than being together an entire weekend at a remote bucolic location. I think that may have helped us all focus more intensely and urgently in the more limited time we had together. Making this, perhaps, the streetwise in-your-face CMS workshop. Big thanks to Rob Saffer, Ken Filiano, Nels Cline, Susie Ibarra, Ingird Sertso, Karl Berger, Hailee Powell, Alex and Rachel from Greenwich House, the NYC Fire Department and all my fellow participants!


It was a great experience overall for me. I think the inclusionary and non-judgmental aspect to CMS was very comforting. Everyone has a very open and giving spirit.

Awesome! Everything was very engaging, for me. I can’t say that I ever got bored, or even less than excited. The material is amazing in how it engages musicians of different abilities and backgrounds.

CMS is one of the best things to ever happen to my playing and listening, and I am still processing what I learned at the most recent workshop. These days when I hear live or recorded music, I immediately pick up on how much the musicians are listening to one another – or not. Also, the CMS tends to attract nice people.

Basic Practice was truly, deeply illuminating and I will think of the breathing and rhythm exercises probably every day of my life, certainly every time I sit down to my instrument.

I noticed that since going to the workshop, “There is something different” in my playing. I can’t put my finger on it but there is a noted difference. (And, I’ve been playing nearly 50 years!

CMS is hands-on, learn-by-doing workshop that treats music at its most basic, universal level, developing principles that can be applied to any style.

CMS is the opportunity to get in a room with a rotating crew of legendary musicians to learn their processes in a wonderfully open-minded, accepting environment.

I particularly liked the phrases in compound meters (i.e. ta-ki ta-ki ga-ma-la) and the way that it kept the whole group attentive no matter their background.

A CMS workshop focuses on what is at the core of all music making. A participant can refine and take these elements into their life’s work no matter their specific path. That holds true even for the non-musical participants.

I found the content new and engaging.  As a self-taught musician who does not read music, I was a little concerned that there might be moments where I felt a little behind, but this did not prove to be an issue.  I am really glad that the CMS website accentuates that all levels of musicians are welcome, because that was one thing that really inspired me to “take a chance” and sign up.  And I am so glad that i did because I learned so much and felt at home.

Working with Karl and Ingrid will stick with me for many years.  Their approach to the universality of music and the curiosity with which they approach the unknown has given me a brand new perspective.

For me, a lot of this workshop was about getting back to the very basics – breathing, singing, using the body as an instrument. And Karl is such a good teacher, the basic “gamala taki” does not get old for me. At least not yet – ask me again after I’ve done another five workshops. He’s an extraordinary teacher. He says things that people have tried to tell me for years, but now I finally get it.

Nels Cline had good things to say, and for me the biggest takeaway was his open, welcoming attitude, the idea that almost anything can work in music as long as everyone is listening to one another and allowing room for one another. I also liked what he said about the ups and downs of being a visionary pioneer, that if you want to be totally original, it’s the hardest road to take, because that means you have to convince other people to do things your way. For the rest of us, said Cline, we have to learn the common language of notes and chords. That was insightful.

The secret weapon of the CMS? Ken Filiano! What a musician. No offense to the guiding artists, but as a practical matter, I learned more from talking with Ken or overhearing him in conversation. For instance, when you want to learn a short, staccato phrase, practice it slow, and *don’t practice it legato*. Even if you are practicing at a slow speed, stay true to the sonic image you want to achieve. Practice it staccato and keep the spaces between the notes proportional. Then speed it up. Wow – so obvious and so true. He said that when he tunes his bass, he doesn’t just tune one string to one note on the piano. He uses harmonics on the bass to tune to different octaves on the piano, so he is tuning the entire bass to the entire piano. Wow. And he said he hears first with the belly and only later with the ears. As for volume when playing with an ensemble, he said, “I can hear myself for four hours a day. When I’m playing with a group, I don’t need to hear myself. If I can hear myself, I’m playing too loud.” I would love to attend a workshop of Ken Filiano just talking about how to feel the “one.”

Events in Manhattan and the Catskill Mountains Feature Mary Halvorson, Nels Cline, Billy Martin and others

CMS will present an expanded series of concerts and workshops in Manhattan and upstate New York throughout 2017, featuring a diverse line up including Nels Cline, Mary Halvorson, Min Xiao Fen, Billy Martin and many others.

The CMS™ 2017 season begins with the first workshops it has conducted in New York City in over twenty years, from March 31 – April 2, at the Greenwich House Music School (46 Barrow St.) in Greenwich Village. The workshop features two master classes per day with guiding artists guitarist/bandleader/composer Nels Cline (Wilco) and percussionist/composer Susie Ibarra, along with CMS co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso leading CMS ‘basic practice’ as well as improvisers’ orchestra sessions. Bassist Ken Filiano and other musicians work with participants on a more personal level, informally coaching, playing and tutoring daily.  Details and registration are here.

Also at Greenwich House Music School CMS will present two evening concerts.  “The Music of Richard Teitelbaum” with noted composer Richard Teitelbaum  (electronics), Marilyn Crispell (piano), Leila Bordreuil (cello) and Miguel Frasconi (glass object instruments) on Saturday, April 8 at , 8:30 PM.  The next month CMS will present “The Music of Karl Berger” with Karl Berger (piano), Steve Gorn (bansuri flutes, clarinet), Sana Nagano (violin), Jason Hwang (viola), Tomas Ulrich (cello), and Ken Filiano (bass) on Saturday, May13 at 8 PM.

In June CMS heads upstate to Big Indian, NY in the Catskill Mountains for an expanded workshop intensive at its upstate home, Full Moon Resort.  The workshop will be split into two parts. The first will take place June 12 -16, featuring Warren Smith, Peter Apfelbaum, Min Xiao Fen on Chinese modes, Joe McPhee, Tanya Kalmanovitch, Ken Filiano, Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, and others.  The second part will take place June 19 – 23, featuring Billy Martin, Cyro Baptista, Mark Guiliana, Gil Olivera, Allen Herman, Adam Morford and others.  Musicians and non-musicians can sign up for either part, and if they register for both workshops, they will receive a 25% discount.

CMS will be back in Manhattan for a series of concerts by the CMS Improvisers Orchestra at the El Taller Cultural Community Center 215 East 99th Street.  The concerts will take place on three Saturday evenings, April 29, May 27 and June 10 and will feature special guests composer/violinist David Soldier (4/29), poets Papoleto Melendez and Bernardo Palumbo (5/27) and percussionist Valerie Naranjo (6/10), along with CIO regulars Peter Apfelbaum, Warren Smith, Graham Haynes and Ken Filiano, among many others.

On Labor Day weekend, on Saturday, September 2 at 8:00pm, CMS will be at Woodstock’s legendary Maverick Concerts to present “In the Spirit of Don Cherry,” a septet led by Karl Berger and featuring CMS associate artistic directors Steven Bernstein and Peter Apfelbaum, Mark Helias, Tani Tabbal, Bob Stewart and Ingrid Sertso, exploring musical themes from Cherry’s 50 year-old landmark recordings Symphony for Improvisers and other recordings.

CMS’ Fall 2017 Workshop will take place at the Full Moon Resort from October 2-6, featuring composer/guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Billy Martin, Omar Tekbilek on Turkish music, bassist Ken Filiano, Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso and additional performers to be named.

The CMS 2017 season will conclude with a second concert series at El Taller on four Saturdays: September 30, October 28, November 25 and December 9. Special guests and artistic collaborations will be detailed at a later date.

Peter Apfelbaum, Joe McPhee, Warren Smith, Tanya Kalmanovitch, Min Xiao Fen and CMS Co-Founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso To Lead Spring 2017 Workshop

June 12 – 16 Workshop Features Intensive Workshops, Jam Sessions and Intimate Concerts in a Spectacular Mountainside Setting

Creative Music Studio (CMS) associate artistic director Peter Apfelbaum, percussion master Warren Smith, reed player Joe McPhee, Chinese pipa player Min Xiao Fen, violist Tanya Kalmanovitch join CMS co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso as Guiding Artists for the CMS Spring 2016 Workshop intensive, June 12 – 16 at the ear-inspiring Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY.

Register Now

The workshop will be held in conjunction with a second workshop the following week, June 19 – 23, led by Billy Martin, Cyro Baptista, Mark Guiliana, Allen Herman and others (a 25% discount will be offered to those who register for both workshops).

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CMS™ NYC Workshop Intensive, March 31 – April 2

Guitarist/bandleader/composer Nels Cline along with percussionist/composer Susie Ibarra join Creative Music Studio™ Artistic Directors/Co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso as Guiding Artists for the CMS™ NYC Workshop Intensive, March 31 – April 2, conveniently located at the Greenwich House Music School in Greenwich Village.

Workshops include daily CMS 'Basic Practice,’ including rhythm and vocal training, improvisers’ orchestra sessions and two master classes per day with Nels and Susie, as well as jam sessions with Guiding Artists. Bassist Ken Filiano and other musicians will be on hand to work with participants on a more personal level, informally coaching, playing and tutoring daily. Meals will be provided. The cost, including meals, is $350; registrations before March 1 will be only $300.

Register Now

This workshop, the first CMS has conducted in New York City in over twenty years, features a single CMS Guiding Artist working with participants in two extensive workshops each day, creating multiple opportunities for artists to work directly with participants as individuals or in ensembles. As in the past, there will be daily CMS basic practice (breath work, rhythm and vocal training), as well as 90 minutes each day with Karl Berger leading orchestra of improvisers.

A recent CMS workshop participant said, “Ultimately, music must be an expression of our freedom, not our boundaries. I found my freedom at CMS, in my ability to play what I hear and to hear what I play. This is more than a lesson in music; it is a lesson for life.” And, another said, “When I returned from the workshop I picked up my instrument and was blown away by the change in my mental and physical approach to playing. I was no longer afraid to play, no longer in doubt of the truth and power of my own inner music. My playing was reborn.”

CMS Workshop Guiding Artists in 2013 – 2016 have included: Vijay Iyer, Dave Douglas, John Medeski, Henry Threadgill, Joe Lovano, Steve Coleman, Hassan Hakmoun, Pauline Oliveros, Fabian Almazan, Marty Ehrlich, John Hollenbeck, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Billy Martin, Oliver Lake, Don Byron, Tyshawn Sorey, Peter Apfelbaum, Tony Malaby, Cyro Baptista, Marilyn Crispell, Steven Bernstein, Adam Rudolph, Jason Hwang, Amir el Saffar, Kirk Knuffke, Kenny Wessel, Steve Gorn, Mark Helias, Tom Rainey, Thomas Buckner, Judi Silvano, Harvey Sorgen, Tani Tabbal, Ken Filiano, Badal Roy, Warren Smith, Omar Tamez, and John Menegon, in addition to Creative Music Foundation co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso.

CMS Workshops feature two full days of intensive workshops, master classes, intimate concerts and informal jam sessions that inspire active listening, personal expression, improvisation and musical exploration. Musicians of any instrument, including voice, are welcome as are non-musicians. Adults who played music earlier in their lives can benefit from this lifelong learning opportunity that offers participants a once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn from and play with music masters, and to simply spend time with them in an informal, personal setting. The non-traditional atmosphere of the Creative Music Studio Workshop encourages participants to experiment, push beyond limits, genres and categories, to take risks, and to develop their own deeply personal musical expression.

Register Now

“CMS is always about musical diversity and this workshop promises to continue that legacy,” said Karl Berger, CMS’s artistic director. “CMS is renown for creating a space where artists from varied backgrounds mix, teach and play, and transfer deep knowledge about music and life. Nels and Susie are perfect to continue this practice.”

CMS NYC Workshop Schedule:

Friday, March 31 (1:00 – 5:30pm):

1:00 – 2:00 Orientation

2:00 – 3:00 CMS Basic Practice

3:15 – 5:15 Improvisers’ Orchestra

5:15 – 5:30 Listening Meditation

Saturday, April 1 (9:00am – 5:00pm):

9:00 – 9:30 Light breakfast, snacks

9:45- 11:45 Master Class/Workshop

12:00 – 1:00 Lunch

1:15 – 2:30 Master Class/Workshop

2:45 – 3:45 CMS Basic Practice (rhythm/vocal)

3:45 – 4:45 Improvisers Orchestra

4:45 – 5:00 Listening Meditation

Sunday, April 2 (9:00am – 10:00pm):

9:00 – 9:30 Light breakfast, snacks

9:45- 11:45 Master Class/Workshop

12:00 – 1:00 Lunch

1:15 – 2:45 Master Class/Workshop

3:00 – 4:00 CMS Basic Practice (rhythm/vocal)

4:00 – 5:30 Improvisers Orchestra

5:30 – 5:45 Listening Meditation

6:00 – 7:15 Dinner

7:30 – 10:00 Performance/Jams

Register Now

Guiding Artist Biographies:

Nels Cline, Guitarist/Composer/Bandleader
Up to the mid-2000s, guitarist Nels Cline was probably best known for his work in the group Quartet Music (with brother Alex Cline, bassist Eric Von Essen, and violinist Jeff Gauthier) as well as other projects in the jazz, rock, and avant-garde idioms, and for his general involvement in the West Coast's improvisation community. However, since 2004, Cline has been a member of Wilco, which has opened up a much larger audience for the guitarist than is typical for even the most well-known of avant jazzers and creative improvisers.

Born in Los Angeles in 1956, Cline began playing guitar around the age of 12, when his twin brother Alex began learning the drums. By the time Cline reached his twenties, he was heavily involved in L.A.'s improvisational community and, in 1978, appeared on his first recording, Openhearted, by multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia. He went on to appear on over 70 releases, lead several of his own groups—including the Nels Cline Trio and the sextet that followed, Destroy All Nels Cline—and tour internationally with a variety of bands. As a composer, Cline has scored two films in addition to writing much of his own material. He has also produced albums for himself, G.E. Stinson, and Jeff Gauthier, among others.

Bassist Eric Von Essen and Cline met up in the late '70s and began working together, recording an album of duets called Elegies that was released in 1980 on the Nine Winds label. Von Essen got involved in an orchestra with violinist Gauthier, and it wasn't long before the three formed a group of their own. Alex Cline sat in on their first concert and eventually joined the three permanently, resulting in the group, Quartet Music, which remained together throughout the '80s. In addition to his work in Quartet Music during this decade, Cline worked with Liberation Music Orchestra West Coast, was a member of a rock band called Bloc, worked with Julius Hemphill as well as Charlie Haden, and released his first album as leader, Angelica, which included members of Quartet Music, saxophonist Tim Berne, and more.

The first half of the '90s found his new Nels Cline Trio hosting a weekly improv series for four years and recording as many albums. During the '90s, Cline also worked with Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth), Stephen Perkins (Jane's Addiction), Mike Watt (Minutemen), and the Geraldine Fibbers. A duo recording by Cline and percussionist Gregg Bendian covering John Coltrane's Interstellar Space was released by the Atavistic label in 1999. That same year, the California Music Awards named Cline Outstanding Jazz Artist of 1999. The next year, he released Inkling on Cryptogramophone, beginning a collaborative relationship with Andrea Parkins that would continue for the next several years. Destroy All Nels Cline was next, followed by the formation of the Nels Cline Singers, who released their first album, Instrumentals, in 2002.

In 2004, Cline was asked to join Wilco and has toured and appeared on all subsequent albums by them. He still had time for other projects, however: there have been several one-off collaborations during the ensuing years and two albums by the trio of Cline, Andrea Parkins, and Tom Rainey. In 2004, the Nels Cline Singers released Giant Pin, which Cline followed with an album of Andrew Hill compositions in 2006, the sublime New Monastery. Cryptogramophone subsequently issued two more releases by the Nels Cline Singers, Draw Breath in the summer of 2007 and the two-CD package Initiate in 2010. Later in the year, Cline released Dirty Baby, a double-disc collaborative project with poet and producer David Breskin. Add this project to all the work Cline has done as a sideman since the turn of the century and you've got one extremely busy, prolific, and versatile guitarist. In April of 2014, he appeared as a guest on Joan Osborne's Love and Hate album, and as a full collaborator with Medeski, Martin & Wood on Woodstock Sessions 2. In 2014, Macroscope, with the Nels Cline Singers, and Room, a duet offering with classical guitarist Julian Lage, appeared on Detroit's Mack Avenue Records.

After recording Star Wars with Wilco and a tour, Cline signed to Blue Note. His debut for the label was the double-length Lovers. Realizing a long-held dream, the set was inspired by Bill Evans, Jim Hall, Gil Evans, and Henry Mancini. Cline created an ambitious, self-proclaimed "mood music" project with an 23-member ensemble. Lovers contained jazz and Great American Songbook standards alongside originals and covers of songs by Annette Peacock, Gabor Szabo, Sonic Youth, Jimmy Giuffre, and Arto Lindsay. The single/video "Beautiful Love" was issued in early June of 2016. The album was premiered live at the Newport Jazz Festival in July, and released in August. (Billboard Magazine)

Susie Ibarra, Composer/Percussionist/Educator
Composer/Percussionist Susie Ibarra creates live and immersive music that explores rhythm, indigenous practices and interaction with cities and the natural world. She is a 2014 TEDSenior Fellow. Her work includes , Musical Water Routes in the Medina of Fez, a music and river route mobile app in collaboration with architect Aziza Chaouni, May 2016 Sacred Music Festival of Fez, Mirrows and Water, a composition and sonic installation commissioned for Ai Wei Wei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Signs at the sculpture trail of the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, Wyoming 2015; Digital Sanctuaries, a modular music app walk that remaps cities with sanctuaries of music and engages with historical and cultural sites within a city with music composed by Electric Kulintang commissioned by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and City of Asylum Pittsburgh; Circadian Rhythms, commissioned for Earth Day 2013 at Renssalear RPI EMPAC, inspired by endogenous rhythms for 80 percussionists and 8.1 surround sound of Macaulay Library recordings; The City, a Radio Radiance commission for Young Peoples Chorus of NYC; We Float, a 2014 commission by Ecstatic Music Festival with singer songwriter Mirah, a sonic retelling of space explorations; and The Cotabato Sessions , a digital music film and album that captures one family legacy of gong-chime kulintang music in Mindanao, Philippines . She is a Faculty member at Bennington College where she teaches Performance, Percussion, and at the Center for Advancement of Public Action. Her teaching at the Center focuses on her work in rebuilding cities with the arts, art intervention and advocacy for human rights extended equally to women and girls.

Karl Berger, PhD: Composer / Arranger / Conductor / Pianist / Vibraphonist / Consultant
Founder and director of the nonprofit Creative Music Foundation, Inc., and creative leader of the legendary Creative Music Studio, Karl Berger is dedicated to the research of the power of music and sound and the elements common to all of the world's music forms. In addition to his composing and playing, Karl is known around the world for educational presentations through workshops, concerts, recordings, and with a growing network of artists and CMS members worldwide.

Karl Berger is a six time winner of the Downbeat Critics Poll as a jazz soloist, recipient of numerous Composition Awards (commissions by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, European Radio and Television: WDR, NDR, SWF, Radio France, Rai Italy. SWF-Prize 1994). Professor of Composition, Artist-in- Residence at universities, schools and festivals worldwide, PhD in Music Esthetics.

Karl Berger became noted for his innovative arrangements for recordings by Jeff Buckley ("Grace"), Natalie Merchant ("Ophelia"), Better Than Ezra, The Cardigans, Jonatha Brooke, Buckethead, Bootsie Collins, The Swans, Sly + Robbie, Angelique Kidjo and others; and for his collaborations with producers Bill Laswell, Alan Douglas ("Operazone"), Peter Collins, Andy Wallace, Craig Street, Alain Mallet, Malcolm Burn, Bob Marlett and many others in Woodstock, New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, Paris and Rome.

He recorded and performed with Don Cherry, Lee Konitz, John McLaughlin, Gunther Schuller, the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra, Dave Brubeck, Ingrid Sertso, Dave Holland, Ed Blackwell, Ray Anderson, Carlos Ward, Pharoah Sanders, Blood Ulmer, Hozan Yamamoto and many others at festivals and concerts in the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, India, Phillippines, Japan, Mexico and Brazil.

His recordings and arrangements appear on the Atlantic, Axiom, Black Saint, Blue Note, Capitol, CBS, Columbia Double Moon, Douglas Music, Elektra, EMI, Enja, Island, JVC, Knitting Factory, In&Out, MCA, Milestone, Polygram, Pye, RCA, SONY, Stockholm, Vogue and others.

Ingrid Sertso: Vocalist, Poet
Through her work with such avant-jazz musicians as Don Cherry and Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso established herself as a captivating, adventurous vocalist, capable of blending jazz, African, South American and other worldbeat influences into a distinctive, hypnotic sound.

Although Sertso didn't become well-known until the release of Dance with It in 1994, she spent over 20 years honing her art. During the late '60s, she lived in Europe, leading her own trios and performing with the likes of Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry, Steve Lacy, Karl Berger and Leo Wright; she also worked as a music teacher at several institutions in Europe. In 1972, she became a permanent resident of the United States and she released her first album, We Are You, on Calig Records. Over the next few years she taught, while she performed in North America and Europe with the likes of Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Lee Konitz, Sam Rivers, Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Moses, Dave Holland, Perry Robinson and Jumma Santos. In 1974, she released Kalaparush on Trio Records in Japan. It was followed in 1975 by Peace Church Concerts on India Navigation/CMC Records.

In 1975, Sertso became a faculty member at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She stayed there through 1975 and 1976, before moving to the Banff Centre of Fine Arts in Calgary, Canada. She had two residencies at Banff before moving to the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York, where she became the co-director. While working at the Creative Music Studio, she began singing in the Art of Improvisation with Berger and David Inzenon. In 1979, she toured major European cities as a solo artists, supported by the Woodstock Workshop Orchestra. She also released an album on MPS Records that year.

During the early '80s, Sertso remained a co-director at the Creative Music Studio, while continuing to record and perform with a variety of musicians, including such mainstays as Don Cherry and Karl Berger, as well as Paulo Moura, Nana Vasconcelos, Steve Gorn, Dan Brubeck and Mike Richmond. In 1984, she performed with the Music Universe Orchestra at the Kool Festival in New York and released a duet album, Changing the Time, with Berger on Horo Records in Italy. She also toured Europe twice during this time and she also toured West Africa with Olatunji and Aiyb Dieng.

Sertso's career picked up momentum during the latter half of the '90s. She held a series of concerts and workshops in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and she regularly tour the US on club and festival circuit. Sertso also toured Europe twice and sang solo vocals on Berger's orchestral ballet, The Bird. She was one of the co-leaders of Rhythm Changes, who released the Jazzdance album on ITM Records. During these five years, she also performed and recorded with a variety of artists, including Pauline Oliveros, Lee Konitz, Frank Luther, Anthony Cox, Leroy Jenkins, Jimmy Cobber, Linda Montano and Karl Berger.

In 1990, Sertso catapulted back into the mainstream jazz spotlight through her version "Until the Rain Comes" on Don Cherry's Multi Kulti album. Shortly afterward, she began working on a new album, but she became sidetracked by collaborating with Karl Berger and guitarist Paul Koji Shigihara. The trio blended original compositions with Sertso's poetry, improvisations and interpretations of traditional tune. Sertso also regularly performed poetry readings at the Tinker Street Cafe in Woodstock and the Knitting Factory in New York, and she also regularly played clubs along the Northeast coast. In 1994, she released her comeback album Dance with It, which earned positive reviews. —Stephen Thomas Erlewine (All Music Guide)

Ken Filiano: bassist
Bass player, composer, improviser, Ken FIliano has been performing throughout the world for thirty years, collaborating with leading artists in multiple genres, fusing the rich traditions of the double bass with his own seemingly limitless inventiveness. Ken leads two quartets, Quantum Entanglements, and Baudalino's Dilemma (Vinny Golia, Warren Smith, Michael TA Thompson), and is a co-leader of The Steve Adams/Ken Filiano Duo and TranceFormation (Connie Crothers, Andrea Wolper.) His extensive discography includes a solo bass CD, “subvenire” (NineWinds), and “Dreams From a Clown Car" (Clean Feed), which presents his compositions for his quartet, Quantum Entanglements (Michael Attias, Tony Malaby, Michael TA Thompson). Ken has performed and/or recorded with Karl Berger, Bobby Bradford, Anthony Braxton, Connie Crothers Quartet, Bill Dixon, Ted Dunbar, Giora Feidman Quartet, Vinny Golia ensembles, Taylor Ho Bynum, Jason Kao Hwang, Joseph Jarman, Raul Juanena, Joelle Leandre, Frank London, Tina Marsh, Warne Marsh, Dom Minasi, Barre Phillips, Roswell Rudd, ROVA Saxophone Qt., Paul Smoker, Fay Victor Ensemble, Pablo Zielger, and many more. Ken is on the teaching roster at the New School in New York, and is a guest artist lecturer at School of Visual Arts and Hunter College (New York). He teaches master classes in bass and improvisation, and has a private bass studio in Brooklyn.

Register Now

Cancellation Policy:

CMS reserves the right to cancel the workshop by March 11, 2017. In the event of cancellation, anyone who has signed up will receive a full refund, excluding any fees paid to register.

Taxes and Fees:

As a 501c3 nonprofit, CMS does not need to charge sales tax for this event. But there will be modest registration fees via EventBrite for registering.

CMS™ NYC Workshop Intensive, March 31 – April 2

Mark Dresser and Nicole Mitchell Join CMS Co-Founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso At CMS Los Angeles Workshops

Register Now

The CMS LA Workshop runs 9:45am–7pm, followed by evening concert performances and open jam sessions with Guiding Artists. Daily CMS 'Basic Practice' includes rhythm and vocal training, improviser’s orchestra sessions and two master classes with Guiding Artists.  Other musicians will be on hand to work with participants on a more personal level, informally coaching, playing and tutoring daily. Gourmet meals will be provided. Cost, including all meals, is $350. Early registration before December 15 is only $300. Partial scholarships may be available by inquiring directly to CMS. 

This workshop, the first CMS has conducted in Los Angeles, features a single CMS Guiding Artist working with participants in two extensive workshops each day, creating multiple opportunities for artists to work directly with participants as individuals or in ensembles.  As in the past, there will be daily CMS basic practice (breath work, rhythm and vocal training), as well as 90 minutes each day with Karl Berger leading orchestra of improvisers.   

“I found my freedom at CMS, in my ability to play what I hear and to hear what I play. This is more than a lesson in music; it is a lesson for life,” said a recent CMS Workshop participant.  Another participant said, “When I returned from the workshop I picked up my instrument and was blown away by the change in my mental and physical approach to playing. I was no longer afraid to play, no longer in doubt of the truth and power of my own inner music. My playing was reborn.”

Recaps, videos and testimonials from past workshops are available here.

CMS Workshop Guiding Artists in 2013 – 2016 have included: Vijay Iyer, Dave Douglas, John Medeski, Henry Threadgill, Joe Lovano, Meshell Ndegeocello, Hassan Hakmoun, Pauline Oliveros, Fabian Almazan, Marty Ehrlich, John Hollenbeck, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Billy Martin, Oliver Lake, Don Byron, Tyshawn Sorey, Peter Apfelbaum, Tony Malaby, Cyro Baptista, Marilyn Crispell, Steven Bernstein, Adam Rudolph, Jason Hwang, Amir el Saffar, Kirk Knuffke, Kenny Wessel, Steve Gorn, Mark Helias, Tom Rainey, Thomas Buckner, Judi Silvano, Harvey Sorgen, Tani Tabbal, Ken Filiano, Badal Roy, Warren Smith, Omar Tamez, and John Menegon, in addition to Creative Music Foundation co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso.  

CMS Workshops feature two full days of intensive workshops, master classes, intimate concerts and informal jam sessions that inspire active listening, personal expression, improvisation and musical exploration. Musicians of any instrument, including voice, are welcome as are non-musicians.  Adults who played music earlier in their lives can benefit from this lifelong learning opportunity that offers participants a once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn from and play with music masters, and to simply spend time with them in an informal, personal setting.   The non-traditional atmosphere of the Creative Music Studio Workshop encourages participants to experiment, push beyond limits, genres and categories, to take risks, and to develop their own deeply personal musical expression.

“CMS is always about musical diversity and this workshop promises to continue that legacy,” said Karl Berger, CMS’s artistic director. “CMS is renown for creating a space where artists from different generations and varied backgrounds mix, teach and play, and transfer deep knowledge about music and life.  Mark and Nicole are perfect to continue this practice.”

Register Now

CMS LA Workshop Schedule:

Friday, January 27:

7pm –                  Orientation

8pm - 10              Improvisers Orchestra

10 - ?                   Jams

Saturday/Sunday January 28, 29:

9:00  – 9:45          Light breakfast, snacks

9:45 – 11:15         CMS Basic Practice: Rhythm/Voice Training 

11:30 – 1:00         Master Class/Workshop

1:00 – 2:15           Catered Lunch

2:30 - 5:00           Master Class/Workshop

5:15 – 6:45           Improvisers Orchestra

6:45 – 7:00           Listening Meditation

7:00 – 8:15           Catered Dinner

8:30 – Midnight      Performances/Jams with Guiding Artists


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Guiding Artist Biographies:

Nicole Mitchell, flutist, composer, bandleader, educator 

Nicole Mitchell is a creative flutist, composer, bandleader and educator.  As the founder of Black Earth Ensemble, Black Earth Strings, Ice Crystal and Sonic Projections, Mitchell has been repeatedly awarded by DownBeat Critics Poll and the Jazz Journalists Association as “Top Flutist of the Year” for the last four years (2010-2014). Mitchell’s music celebrates African American culture while reaching across genres and integrating new ideas with moments in the legacy of jazz, gospel, experimentalism, pop and African percussion through albums such as Black Unstoppable (Delmark, 2007), Awakening (Delmark, 2011), and Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler (Firehouse 12, 2008), which received commissioning support from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works.

Mitchell formerly served as the first woman president of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and has been a member since 1995. In recognition of her impact within the Chicago music and arts education communities, she was named “Chicagoan of the Year” in 2006 by the Chicago Tribune. With her ensembles, as a featured flutist and composer, Mitchell has been a highlight at festivals and art venues throughout Europe, the U.S. and Canada. 

Ms.Mitchell is a recipient of the prestigious Alpert Award in the Arts (2011) and has been commissioned by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Ravinia Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Chicago Sinfonietta Orchestra and Maggio Fiorentino Chamber Orchestra (Florence, Italy).  In 2009, she created Honoring Grace: Michelle Obama for the Jazz Institute of Chicago. She has been a faculty member at the Vancouver Creative Music Institute, the Sherwood Flute Institute, Banff International Jazz Workshop and the University of Illinois, Chicago. Her work has been featured on National Public Radio, and in magazines including Ebony, Downbeat, JazzIz, Jazz Times, Jazz Wise, and American Legacy.

Nicole is currently a Professor of Music, teaching in "Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology," (ICIT) a new and expansively-minded graduate program at the University of California, Irvine. In November 2014, ICIT was approved for the unleashing of a new MA/PhD program, which will be offered starting fall 2015.  Mitchell's recent composition, Flight for Freedom for Creative Flute and Orchestra, a Tribute to Harriet Tubman, premiered with the Chicago Composers’ Orchestra in December 2011 and was presented again with CCO in May 2014.  She was also commisisoned by Chicago Sinfonietta for Harambee: Road to Victory, for Solo Flute, Choir and Orchestra in January 2012.  Her latest commission was from the French Ministry of Culture and the Royaumont Foundation in October 2014, which supported the development and French tour of Beyond Black - a collaboration with kora master Ballake Sissoko, Black Earth Ensemble and friends. Currently Mitchell is preparing her next commission supported by the French American Jazz Exchange, entitled Moments of Fatherhood, featuring Black Earth Ensemble and the Parisian chamber group L'Ensemble Laborintus, to premiere at the Sons d'hiver Jazz Festival in late January 2015. 

Among the first class of Doris Duke Artists (2012), Mitchell works to raise respect and integrity for the improvised flute, to contribute her innovative voice to the jazz legacy, and to continue the bold and exciting directions that the AACM has charted for decades.  With contemporary ensembles of varying instrumentation and size (from solo to orchestra), Mitchell’s mission is to celebrate the power of endless possibility by “creating visionary worlds through music that bridge the familiar and the unknown.”


Mark Dresser, bassist, composer, educator 

Mark Dresser is a Grammy nominated, internationally renowned bass player, improviser, composer, and interdisciplinary collaborator. At the core of his music is an artistic obsession and commitment to expanding the sonic, musical, and expressive possibilities of the contrabass. He has recorded over one hundred thirty CDs including three solo CDs and a DVD. From 1985 to 1994, he was a member of Anthony Braxton’s Quartet, which recorded nine CDs and was the subject of Graham Locke’s book Forces in Motion (Da Capo). He has also performed and recorded music of Ray Anderson, Jane Ira Bloom, Tim Berne, Anthony Davis, Dave Douglas, Osvaldo Golijov, Gerry Hemingway, Bob Ostertag, Joe Lovano, Roger Reynolds, Henry Threadgill, Dawn Upshaw, John Zorn. Dresser most recent and internationally acclaimed new music for jazz quintet, Nourishments (2013) his latest CD (Clean Feed) marks his re-immersion as a bandleader. Since 2007 he has been deeply involved in telematic music performance and education. He was awarded a 2015 Shifting Foundation Award and 2015 Doris Duke Impact Award. He is Professor of Music at University of California, San Diego.

“Calling contrabassist Mark Dresser a virtuoso is like saying Albert Einstein was good at math.” San Diego City Times. 

“Mr. Dresser, a bassist who is one of the great instrumental forces in recent American jazz outside of the mainstream… New York Times


Karl Berger, PhD: Composer / Arranger / Conductor / Pianist / Vibraphonist / Consultant 

Founder and director of the nonprofit Creative Music Foundation, Inc., and creative leader of the legendary Creative Music Studio, Karl Berger is dedicated to the research of the power of music and sound and the elements common to all of the world's music forms. In addition to his composing and playing, Karl is known around the world for educational presentations through workshops, concerts, recordings, and with a growing network of artists and CMS members worldwide.

Karl Berger is a six time winner of the Downbeat Critics Poll as a jazz soloist, recipient of numerous Composition Awards (commissions by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, European Radio and Television: WDR, NDR, SWF, Radio France, Rai Italy. SWF-Prize 1994). Professor of Composition, Artist-in- Residence at universities, schools and festivals worldwide, PhD in Music Esthetics.

Karl Berger became noted for his innovative arrangements for recordings by Jeff Buckley ("Grace"), Natalie Merchant ("Ophelia"), Better Than Ezra, The Cardigans, Jonatha Brooke, Buckethead, Bootsie Collins, The Swans, Sly + Robbie, Angelique Kidjo and others; and for his collaborations with producers Bill Laswell, Alan Douglas ("Operazone"), Peter Collins, Andy Wallace, Craig Street, Alain Mallet, Malcolm Burn, Bob Marlett and many others in Woodstock, New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, Paris and Rome.

He recorded and performed with Don Cherry, Lee Konitz, John McLaughlin, Gunther Schuller, the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra, Dave Brubeck, Ingrid Sertso, Dave Holland, Ed Blackwell, Ray Anderson, Carlos Ward, Pharoah Sanders, Blood Ulmer, Hozan Yamamoto and many others at festivals and concerts in the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, India, Phillippines, Japan, Mexico and Brazil.

His recordings and arrangements appear on the Atlantic, Axiom, Black Saint, Blue Note, Capitol, CBS, Columbia Double Moon, Douglas Music, Elektra, EMI, Enja, Island, JVC, Knitting Factory, In&Out, MCA, Milestone, Polygram, Pye, RCA, SONY, Stockholm, Vogue and others.


Ingrid SertsoVocalist, Poet 

Through her work with such avant-jazz musicians as Don Cherry and Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso established herself as a captivating, adventurous vocalist, capable of blending jazz, African, South American and other worldbeat influences into a distinctive, hypnotic sound.

Although Sertso didn't become well-known until the release of Dance with It in 1994, she spent over 20 years honing her art. During the late '60s, she lived in Europe, leading her own trios and performing with the likes of Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry, Steve Lacy, Karl Berger and Leo Wright; she also worked as a music teacher at several institutions in Europe. In 1972, she became a permanent resident of the United States and she released her first album, We Are You, on Calig Records. Over the next few years she taught, while she performed in North America and Europe with the likes of Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Lee Konitz, Sam Rivers, Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Moses, Dave Holland, Perry Robinson and Jumma Santos. In 1974, she released Kalaparush on Trio Records in Japan. It was followed in 1975 by Peace Church Concerts on India Navigation/CMC Records.

In 1975, Sertso became a faculty member at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She stayed there through 1975 and 1976, before moving to the Banff Centre of Fine Arts in Calgary, Canada. She had two residencies at Banff before moving to the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York, where she became the co-director. While working at the Creative Music Studio, she began singing in the Art of Improvisation with Berger and David Inzenon. In 1979, she toured major European cities as a solo artists, supported by the Woodstock Workshop Orchestra. She also released an album on MPS Records that year.

During the early '80s, Sertso remained a co-director at the Creative Music Studio, while continuing to record and perform with a variety of musicians, including such mainstays as Don Cherry and Karl Berger, as well as Paulo Moura, Nana Vasconcelos, Steve Gorn, Dan Brubeck and Mike Richmond. In 1984, she performed with the Music Universe Orchestra at the Kool Festival in New York and released a duet album, Changing the Time, with Berger on Horo Records in Italy. She also toured Europe twice during this time and she also toured West Africa with Olatunji and Aiyb Dieng.

Sertso's career picked up momentum during the latter half of the '90s. She held a series of concerts and workshops in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and she regularly tour the US on club and festival circuit. Sertso also toured Europe twice and sang solo vocals on Berger's orchestral ballet, The Bird. She was one of the co-leaders of Rhythm Changes, who released the Jazzdance album on ITM Records. During these five years, she also performed and recorded with a variety of artists, including Pauline Oliveros, Lee Konitz, Frank Luther, Anthony Cox, Leroy Jenkins, Jimmy Cobber, Linda Montano and Karl Berger.

In 1990, Sertso catapulted back into the mainstream jazz spotlight through her version "Until the Rain Comes" on Don Cherry's Multi Kulti album. Shortly afterward, she began working on a new album, but she became sidetracked by collaborating with Karl Berger and guitarist Paul Koji Shigihara. The trio blended original compositions with Sertso's poetry, improvisations and interpretations of traditional tune. Sertso also regularly performed poetry readings at the Tinker Street Cafe in Woodstock and the Knitting Factory in New York, and she also regularly played clubs along the Northeast coast. In 1994, she released her comeback album Dance with It, which earned positive reviews. —Stephen Thomas Erlewine (All Music Guide)



Register Now


Cancellation Policy:

CMS reserves the right to cancel the workshop by January 11 2017.  In the event of cancellation, anyone who has signed up will receive a full refund, excluding any fees paid to register.

Pauline Oliveros, Fabian Almazan and Steven Bernstein Go Deep at CMS Fall Workshop – Read Kurt Gottschalk’s Recap


CMS Fall Workshop 2016 Chronicles

By Kurt Gottschalk

Monday, September 19:

A pair of double bassists took the Roadhouse stage Sept. 19 in the second of a series of evening encounters. Both were in dark shirts and cargo shorts, both wearing big grins, one barefooted the other in stocking feet.  Before they even began, they were drawing good-natured gibes from the musicians in the audience. They played a brief improvisation, Ken Filiano, stage left, steering the ship as Leigh Daniels, to his right, looked on entranced.

It was more or less the eve of the Fall 2016, Creative Music Studio workshop and it was more or less a night for feeling one another out. Already a camaraderie had begun to develop. Having already done a round of introductions and shared a big meal and drinks, they now were setting about what they had come for.

Pianist and CMS Guest Artist Angelica Sanchez is coordinating the evening performances, announcing that a guitar trio would be up next and asked if anyone wants to play who isn’t on  the list. Sitting in the front row, participant Bob Drake motioned and was given the choice – as are all the players – to either pick a band or draw names. He chose the latter, resulting in bassist Daniels’ return to the stage for a pleasingly sympatico duet with analog electronics.

Then came the first all-star set of the week: cofounders Karl Berger (keyboard) and Ingrid Sertso (voice) with Omar Tamez on guitar, Donny Davis on reeds, Joe Hertenstein on drums and Ken Filiano on bass, beginning in a drift before everyone was even set up, slipping into some casual bop and, at length, into abstractions on “Blue Moon.” It was, perhaps, a tribute to the Full Moon Resort, the modest Catskills getaway where CMS has been holding its semi-annual workshops since its rebirth in 2013. For the rest of the week, a couple dozen participants were to be involved in daytime workshops, covering improvisation of course but also breathing, movement, voice, rhythm, world spirituality and more. Evenings would see more performances, including other guests and workshop leaders, including Fabian Almazan, Steven Bernstein, Iva Bittova, Pauline Oliveros and others.

But for now, they were just playing, with each other and for themselves.


Tuesday, September 20:


“I thought I heard some pretty good listening.”

– Bob Sweet

“We don’t learn something here, we take it out.”

–  Ingrid Sertso

“I don’t practice, I already practiced. If we keep playing the same licks, they’ll lose their spontaneity.”

–  Pauline Oliveros

“Blend any note with any note. Don’t be afraid. Harmonize through dynamics.  Listen to all of it.”

–  Karl Berger

“Pay attention to every moment, every sound, every sound of every sound. That’s beat for beat attention.”

–  Karl Berger

“There’s no such thing as pitch, only sound that you constantly hear and adjust.”

–  Karl Berger

What does it mean to listen? The question needed to be asked, if not entirely answered (or so it seemed), before any instruments could be picked up on the first full day at the Creative Music Studio’s fall workshop on Sept. 20.

Such preparations involved workshops with Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso focusing on breath, voice, rhythm and polyrhythm followed by a session led by composer and sound philosopher Pauline Oliveros focusing on active listening.

Oliveros described playing her accordion with Stuart Dempster on didgeridoo in a huge, demilitarized underground cisterns with a 45-second decay — a “hall of audio mirrors,” she called it — for five solid hours. That session inspired the name she gave to her work and research, “deep listening.” Ever since, she said, she has been working to define “the difference between hearing and listening.”

Oliveros also spoke about her work with instruments designed to allow deaf people to “hear” tones by receiving the vibrations tactilely. “I’ve learned there is a lot to learn about listening from deaf people,” she said. She then addressed her own hearing loss at 84 years of age and concerns about finding a hearing aid that isn’t designed solely for hearing speech.

The session included a 15-minute “listening meditation” after which the participants were divided into small groups to discuss their listening experiences and then to compare with the whole of the group. Implicit in the activity was the idea that if you can’t listen to your environment, you can’t listen to the musicians you’re playing with.

“I’m trying to transmit to players the deepest part of where we get our music from, if we are able to do that,” Oliveros said.

The morning’s exercises seemed to pay off. After lunch and a session of body awareness, the players committed a gentle group improvisation under Oliveros’s direction without giving in to the temptation to solo and found a mutual, organic resolution. The teacher, however, was not finished challenging her charges.

“What you misunderstood created an interesting texture but what was missing for me was reinforcing that environmental sound,” Oliveros said.

“I just want to wail on top of that,” said reed player Donny Davis, drawing laughs.

“I know, I could feel the tension,” she replied.

Oliveros instructed the group to reinforce (not to echo or overpower) a naturally occurring sound inside or outside the room through several rounds of solo, duo and trio exercises. They then tried another group piece, this time more daring, more variegated, exploring nonmusical sounds still without the intrusion of ego.

“I thought I heard some pretty good listening,” laughed drummer Robert Sweet, a workshop participant and author of the book All Kinds of Time, a history of the Creative Music Studio.

With that established, the participants undertook group playing in the CMS Composers Orchestra under Berger’s direction, beginning with an improvisation on a single note, then learning the system of hand gestures he uses to guide group improv.  Next he gave them a set of boppish lines, quickly woodshedded them and and then applied a quick 45-minutes of schooling to create a convincing performance reminiscent of the Charles Mingus jazz workshop.

The evening’s performances began with what could only be described as a significant meeting between Oliveros, Sertso and guest artists Czech violinist and singer Iva Bittova. It was simultaneously exploratory and charming. Then followed a very satisfying pair of jams on various two Ornette Coleman pieces with Berger and Sertso, Davis, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, bassist Ken Filiano, drummer Joe Hertenstein, pianist Angelica Sanchez and guitarist Omar Tamez.

A few student ensembles which seemed to bring the evening to an early end, with the name to watch out for being Nikki Malley. She showed herself to be inventive, exciting and not lacking in musculature on her vibraphone. A first-meeting duet with Guiding Artist Fabian Almazan on piano and Hartenstein on drums quieted the room. After a brief pause, unwilling to let the stage sit empty, Berger reclaimed his position at the keyboard after the students had finished for a series of duets on standards, including a wonderful take on “Take the A Train” with Bernstein and ending in a fantastically staggered reading “St. Thomas” with Hertenstein. Earlier in the day, Berger had told the workshop participants that “with music, when you play, there is no age.” But vamping on Duke Ellington and Sonny Rollins, the 81-year-old trailblazer displayed a wisdom that only comes with years.


Wednesday, September 21:


“If you are shy, I am shy. So please, let’s tune.”

– Ingrid Sertso

“We basically have a childlike nature, a purity that you have to get in touch with in order to do art.”

– Ingrid Sertso

“We give the music to the world. We don’t keep it in.”

– Ingrid Sertso

“It’s funny, we’re an intellectual society now and we’ve forgotten to sing together.”

-Karl Berger

“When you sing, there’s a vibration in your head that doesn’t allow you to think the same way. Use that.”

– Karl Berger

“As I go on in my own music, I find a play less and less. I leave more and more space.”

– Karl Berger

Day 3 of the Creative Music Studio fall workshop proved to be was a foray into Cuban rhythms. With each of the semi-annual sessions, a different world culture is selected for a day’s investigation and pianist/composer Fabian Almazan was invited to introduce the music of his heritage for the Sept. 21 workshop/master class.

After the daily body awareness session and morning rhythm and voice exercises led by CMS co-founders Karl Berger (“When you sing, there’s a vibration in your head that doesn’t allow you to think the same way. Use that.”) and Ingrid Sertso (“We basically have a childlike nature, a purity that you have to get in touch with in order to do art.”), Almazan took over with a lecture on the history and practice of Cuban music that would last from 11:30 to 5 (with a break for lunch and another body awareness session).  He explained the history of various rhythmic patterns and how those ‘musical units’ affect melodic and harmonic composition.  He showed video of Santeria ceremonies, once ‘banned’ in Cuba, now celebrated by the new government and used as a form or tourism: “San-tourism” he called it. He also showed the group the variety of Cuban instruments and their derivation from other parts of the globe, while also explaining how in Cuba, everything is used as an instrument, tapping out rhythms on a nearby recycling bin as an example.

Almazan’s influence carried over into Berger’s afternoon Improvisers Orchestra session, where the talented young pianist (who came to America from Havana at age 9) led the ensemble of participants in instrumental explorations of Cuban themes. In the slow build of the week, the afternoon session marked the introduction of soloing to the collective process and armed with decades of Cuban cultural, political and historical knowledge, the assemblage set about exploring influences from south of the border.

During the first piece, Berger walked slow circles, playing his red melodica and eyeing individual players closely before signaling them to take their turn. Almazan moved from keyboard to clavé to drums to explain how the parts of a second piece would fit together into a succession of solos over group rhythms.

“There isn’t really pitched material except for the singers so when you’re not playing the themes, you’re playing percussion,” he explained, leading the players to mute their strings, tap their keys, clap their hands or drum on folding chairs.

The afternoon workshops ended with the ‘listening to the sound disappear’ meditation, a staple of CMS daily listening practice.

The evening performances began with the featured band this time, Almazan, Berger, Steven Bernstain, Donny Davis, Ken Filiano, Joe Hertenstein and Omar Tamez playing a far-reaching set, Almazan and Filiano both blurring the edges with deft use of volume knobs. Half phrases flew around the stage, “My Favorite Things,” “I’m Beginning To See the Light” and perhaps the alien message from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

The second half opened esoterically enough, with a duo of Jared  Samuel on synth and Filiano making even more dramatic use of his effects pedals and bowing, and another duo of Nicki Malley on vibraphone and Bob Drake on analog electronics. A quartet of flautists provided another break in the rotation but for the most part, the afternoon’s rhythmic practice seemed to push the evening jams. A final improv (by Drake and Filiano) was even postponed until the following day, the audience/performers seeming genuinely excited to leave their nightclub and rest up for the coming day.


Thursday, September 22:


When I saw the Grand Canyon, you know Ornette Coleman, “The Skies of America”? I wrote him a postcard.

– Ingrid Sertso

We’re all a little lopsided in one way or another. We have to break through these habits.

– Karl Berger

Think of music as the silence that is framed by a sound.

– Karl Berger

We’re talking about really fundamental stuff, just feeling each beat, that’s enough.

– Karl Berger

Anywhere you are, you can practice.

– Karl Berger

We hesitate to use our voice and we don’t remember turning hearing into listening.

– Karl Berger

Something happened, I don’t know why, but everybody just talks, nobody sings.

– Karl Berger

We do a lot of involuntary thinking. You just use your breath and it’s gone. It comes right back, of course, but then you do it again.

– Karl Berger


If I had a record store, I would just sort the records by name.

– Karl Berger


Steven Bernstein’s Koan Factory:

“Everyone knows what diatonic is? It’s the key you’re in. You’ll die if you leave the tonic.

I’m interested in music that explores more than one key at a time.

Learn everything. There’s no such thing as wasted knowledge.

Even fixed rhythm is not fixed. There’s good changing rhythm and bad.

In this whole thing about western music, whether you’re talking about Count Basie or Bruce Springsteen, it’s all about arpeggios.

It’s good to know your scales but if you’re improvising, it’s important to have all the arpeggios under your fingers

What you play is not the music. The note that comes out of your instrument is not the music. To me, what people hear is the music.

If you have sound, rhythm, melody and a little bit of magic, there’s no chance of failure.

Take that soprano and put it under the back wheels of a car. I’m just trying to give you some good, professional advice.

If you can play one song really well and you really understand how it works harmonically, you can play any song.

Keeping your instrument out of the case is a really important habit to have. You need to develop the practice of practice so you play everyday.

These cats who come out of conservatory, I say ‘man, you can play everything but a gig.’

It doesn’t have to be notes. Notes are just easy, that’s why I like them. There’s only 12 of them – how hard is that?

After a couple of full days focusing on listening and breathing, of feeling their bodies and finding their singing voices, the final day of sessions at the Creative Music Studio fall workshop offered some nuts and bolts under the guidance of trumpeter/composer Steven Bernstein. In particular, Bernstein reinforced to the participants the need for strong instrumental technique and an awareness of the audience.

“What you play is not the music, he said. “The note that comes out of your instrument is not the music. To me, what people hear is the music. A lot of times, what people see onstage is the music. It’s all about getting music to other human beings.

He had the assembled players work through exercises with arpeggios then apply them to a piece of his own written in an Ethiopian mode. After the previous day’s exercises in Cuban music, it was compelling to see how readily an orchestra can be recalibrated with a few tools and some careful guidance.

“In this whole thing about western music, whether you’re talking about Count Basie or Bruce Springsteen, it’s all about arpeggios,” he said. “People talk a lot about scales. It’s good to know your scales but if you’re improvising, it’s important to have all the arpeggios under your fingers.

He then offered to the group what he said are the four essential elements of music:

• Sound – ‘You better have a good sound. Once you have a sound you listen to other people and say ‘how can my sound fit into this music?’

• Rhythm – ‘A rhythm that is not continuous is still a rhythm. If you go out and stand by that stream for 10 minutes, there’s a rhythm there. It’s not a Motown song but you might still want to play it.”

• Melody – ‘Melody is the mind’s way to make sense of things, it allows us to create order. One note repeated three times is a melody because your mind is going to go ‘oh, you played three notes.’

• Magic – the fourth element, he said, is magic. “Those four elements are all you need to make good music. If you have sound, rhythm, melody and a little bit of magic, there’s no chance of failure.”

The afternoon session was spent working through Ornette Coleman’s “Round Trip” and with Bernstein extemporizing on the value of knowing one song through and through.

“If you can play one song really well and you really understand how it works harmonically, you can play any song,” he said. “I really believe that works, because there’s only one set of rules for music. How does the melody function, how does the harmony function, how does the rhythm function?

And, of course, he stressed the importance of daily practice.

“Keeping your instrument out of the case is a really important habit to have,” Bernstein said. “You need to develop the practice of practice so you play everyday. It’s really something everyone needs to develop in order to play an instrument.”

Karl Berger took over the rest of the session to lead the group in another piece with a focus on dynamics. “For not doing this more than once, that was amazing,” he said after they finished, in what would be the last piece of formal instruction. “There’s nothing else to do but listen to the sound going away.”

The evening performances began with Bernstein on slide trumpet and Berger on vibes, joined by vocalist Ingrid Sertso, saxophonist Donny Davis, guitarist Omar Tamez,  bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Joe Hertenstein for a take on “Art Deco.” Together they connected the dots between Don Cherry (who wrote the tune and with whom Berger played) and the spirit of multiculturalism and global music (which Cherry embraced and Berger and Sertso have followed in their work with the CMS) collective improvisation and a vision of jazz that looks not just forward but backwards as well (Cherry wrote the piece for Billie Holiday). They then took on “Round Trip,” the 1968 Coleman piece they’d worked on during the afternoon, Berger switching then to piano. (A bit of incongruous irony there: The piece was originally recorded during Coleman’s classic quartet’s tenure but as a side project without Cherry.)

Plenty more went down that night, the premiere of the CMS Gamelan Orchestra (of a sort) including Bob Drake on analog electronics, standup comedy from Bernstein and Sertso, a nice duet of electronics , solo trombone,  some verse backed by bass, a little country-fied bop – all the participants played, along with guiding artists, and just past 12, a lovely “Round Midnight” by Berger and Bernstein. But let’s just say it ended there, with Billie, Don and Ornette, on a small stage at an out-of-the-way Roadhouse somewhere in the Catskills.


Notes from Rob Saffer, CMS Executive Director:

Another great week: abundant generosity among musicians, among people; ears changed, lives changed (at least a few).  Thanks again to our guiding artists – Pauline, Fabian and Steven – and to Ken Filiano for his constant presence and help organizing the evening jam sessions, to KB and Ingrid, Matthew Cullen, Geoff Baer, Karin Wolf and Kurt Gottschalk. Thanks to our family at Full Moon who always make us feel at home. And, ultimately that’s what CMS is about – feeling at home. Participants constantly tell us how CMS is like no other music workshop, retreat or camp – the non-competitive nature of CMS offers participants a chance to do things they’ve never done, take chances, make themselves vulnerable in a safe, supportive encouraging atmosphere. “It’s like coming home” many have told us. This week was no exception. People took musical, emotional and personal risks, rose to new challenges and came away excited by new tools to try over the coming days, months even years. As one participant told me, “Three days was hardly enough to absorb all that musical wisdom; I don’t know if a lifetime would be!’  And, that’s what CMS is all about.

Steve Coleman, Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph Wow Participants at CMS Spring Workshop

June 13, 2016 – Guiding Artists Steve Coleman (2014 MacArthur Fellow), Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph, along with a host of other world-class musicians, enthralled participants at the CMS Spring Workshop 2016. Joined by Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, Hamid Drake, Ken Filiano, Taylor Ho Bynum, Angelica Sanchez and Omar Tamez, Tani Tabbal and Harvey Sorgen, the workshop was a study in rhythm.

CMS Spring Workshop 2016
Full Moon Resort, Big Indian, NY
Notes by Janine Nichols

Monday, June 6:


People with and without instruments arrive all day. Around 5pm, we gather in the Valley View House to eat, drink and introduce ourselves. More than a few are from Mexico. Someone has come for a second time because last year she was a one-handed xylophonist with a broken arm. Some have been to four or five workshops, many never before. Omar of Planet Earth pledges lifelong fealty to Karl and Ingrid. Gus from down the road is here for the third time, to explore the silence. A vocalist has returned for the 5th time because “everything I learn here has improved all the difficult music I play.” Several are members of Adam Rudolph’s improvising orchestra; Karl notes that New York is one of the few cities that can support multiple improvising orchestras.

Maya, a music therapist, is “picking up [her] trumpet again.” Karl responds, “You’re playing the trumpet here?” Crowd wants to know if he cares to rephrase the question, but Maya doesn’t flinch. Yes, she is. Later, they speak on the porch. She didn’t know about the connection between CMS and Don Cherry. But her father was a trumpeter who worshipped Cherry and so does she. Just the other day, she was talking about Cherry in some café when Lonely Woman came over the speakers. She took it as a sign she’s only now reading.

Karl and Ingrid give a brief history of CMS, its beginnings in a motel with 5 buildings, the crisis that accompanied the election of Ronald Reagan and continued as the country became more and more conservative. Don Cherry and Nana Vasconcelos insisted it be re-established, and Karl praises CMS executive director Rob Saffer for what he is calling CMS 2.0, drawing in new artists, a new generation, a rebirth. He encourages everyone to take a copy of the two books on the history of CMS, to appreciate its place in the musical continuum, Music Mind and All Kinds of Time, both by Robert Sweet, a CMS participant for decades.

After dinner, we will convene under the Roadhouse timbers to play some music.

It’s a rustic, peaked pine lodge with a wonderful sound. Many lingered at dinner, and wander in at their leisure. There is no pressure to take the stage, but it is wonderful to see one after another setting up: Angelica Sanchez (piano), Hassan, Ingrid, Omar (gtr, perc), Ken Filiano (bass, eyebrows*), Harvey Sorgen (drums) Omar, of Mexico and PlanetEarth here for his 5th workshop, has pocketsful of tricks. So much depends on color.

Adam and Hassan unleash a headlong groove, others step onto the moving sidewalk/flying carpet. Hassan begins to sing, trance swelling now. Omar now with a string of shells in his fretting hand, then whistling into the hand, making birdcalls; the groove moves on and from his shirt pocket comes a string of tiny brass bells, later, a lone maraca. Barely acknowledging his guitar.

Karl, in jaunty cap, on melodica and vibes, Adam Rudolph on box drum (cajon), bass (Ken Filiano) bowing with Hassan, Harvey Sorgen (traps)…. Angelica covers a tempo change. She is the bridge-builder, bridges like the ladders in one’s dreams, in which the rungs vanish behind you, having served their purpose. Hassan, whose daughter with the impossible eyelashes, lies asleep in her mother’s arms, is the constant, the trance never sleeps. Now there’s whalesong coming from somewhere, but where? Turns out it’s songing from the bass; Ken has many, many colors. Omar continues to surprise, pulling a harmonica out of his pocket to augment Karl’s melodica. Angelica keeps spanning the changes.

Adam is now still and listening. The sound is spare: bass, drums, tempered vibes, Hassan rests.

I look at the audience, composed mostly of workshop attendees, but the show is open to the public, too. Many are smiling, some are agog, others nodding, seeing with eyes closed, every foot in motion, lots leaning in to see how that sound is being made…One man is reading the new book about CMS, All Kinds Of Time.

Karl solos, Angelica provides thought-full commentary, weaving lines, connecting players, musics.

Do I hear an ocarina, a slide whistle? It’s so small I can’t see it, but I hear wolves calling. Underwater.


“The End,” says Ingrid.

A second piece:

Almost immediately, like a magician, Omar produces a kalimba. Adam wakes. He looks away from Omar, mostly because that’s what the cajon requires, but also as if he prefers to watch with the eyes in the back of his head. Sanchez takes her first solo, pushing the notes out in clusters and flourishes. Karl taps in strict time on the edges of the marimba making a sound like a succession of passing trains.

“The End,” again!

A third:

Ingrid recites, Karl on piano. Comes bass, hand percussion. The song goes something like this. The words, when you’re not sure, are what you think they are.

“Music is an energy, like the sun…….The constant movement of the waves……The ribbon of the butterfly and the drone of the earth….. Music space and silence. And in its color, color like a rainbow, magical, magical sound…………. There is a bell, at the dance, and all I want to do is dance with you. Here there is music, the ? fruits of the universe, it was law of ________ and rhythm. And mind and body intoxication: Music.

—————–beyond words. And there is a singer and a song. All I want to do , All I want to do is sing, please let me sing………All I want to do is sing. Please let me sing, please let me sing……..Music is an energy, like the sun. Expression deepest is oneself. Is music is music is music is music is…….ditditditditditdit———- Conflagration a rhythm. Intoxication……..Music is an energy like the sun…….The constant, constant, constant movement of the waves, the waves……….

Music is an energy like the sun


Congas, talking drum, vibes.

Angelica, like a chiming clock, then dividing the time, piano in the foreground, background, seamless, changeable, she is a deep listener. Omar palming the opening of a PVC pipe I mistook for a digeridoo and later find out he calls a “piperidoo” (much easier to get past the TSA than the real instrument). He can make is whistle too. Rudolph with small Tibetan bowls atop two congas. Piperidoo now like the foghorn I first expected. He follows by trapping a clave between pipe and thigh.

Melodica reclaims the melody with stabbing piano commentary. Sudden ending.


After a small break, the listeners take the stage. Many, but not all, have been to the workshop before. Electric mandolin, violin, two guitars, two vocalists, drums, euphonium. Chuck, the geologist for New York State, who “uses [his] voice as an instrument” contains curious multitudes: Beatnik poet, cartoon characters, percussionist, Foley artist, R2D2, a conversation heard through a wall. He sings as much with his hands as his voice; he does not hold the mike so as to leave them free. When he is not singing, he is gesturing.

Now the vocalists enter into a conversation in a private language you used to speak when you were a child and now apprehend as pure sound; nothing lost, something recognized. The stringed instruments want their turn. They are swarming; Yatsuke is singing into her mouthpiece. Those still bellied up to the bar suddenly break out into applause.


Yasuno on Euphonium leads, languid. Hillary sings, language unknown, universal. Accompaniment reduces to a pulse. Her song began as a lament, possibly religious in nature, but now returns to dialogue and to Earth. The strings want back in; the drummer has wandered off. Volume rises and falls. Ken Filiano, of bass, silver hair and diabolical yet welcoming black eyebrows, scrutinizes the players, taking their measure; he is smiling. For the first time I notice he is wearing short pants and am charmed. He asks the drummer why he is not playing, then heads to the stage and picks up his instrument. The drummer returns, but the cymbals have gone. Still, let’s finish this thing. They establish a bottom, as is their wont. Chuck has a spirited convo with Ken. Hillary sings in half-Indo-nese. Everyone makes a solitary comment. Is any of them the ending? Not yet. Hillary goes full Yoko, a delirium of strings. Comes a melody from the euphonium again. Fever sets in, subsides. Strings want to stay up, talking frenetically, all night, but the bass wants to play whole notes. Mando chimes while Hillary chatters. Electronics invoke a countdown. I am the one left to applaud. Everyone else is onstage!

*All hail Mike Shore for the wholly original observation/attribution.

Tuesday June 7

CMS Basic Practice


The day begins with Savia Berger leading everyone in a series of movements designed to improve body awareness. In the morning, most bodies feel stiff, perhaps still tired. Her gentle sequence of exercises and movements was designed for musicians but anyone would benefit from the practice. In the morning, the movements will loosen your limbs and focus your energy, prepare your body to make music; performed before bedtime, the same movements will help you to sleep well and deeply.

She knows from experience: dancer and Pilates instructor.

She does not ask that you remove your shoes, so as to encourage you to do any of the movements at any time of day. Her description of the movements follows:

“Make your feet parallel to each other. You should be resting on all three pads of the foot, ankles not collapsing in or out. Soften your knees and drop your tailbone. Place your hand on the top of your head and press your hand UP to the ceiling, creating space between the vertebrae.

Take big breaths, filling the sides and back of your lungs especially and let your belly expand. Check your feet again to see that they are still parallel.

Lower the eyes and scan the body starting from the bottom up, beginning with the feet, ankles, calves, thighs. Become aware of what is happening in each place. Your knee should be over the middle toe, but that can take some time to achieve and will come with time as your alignment improves. Let it be a goal. If your bent knees become uncomfortable, straighten them for a time while keeping your abdomen flattened.

Oxygenate! Inhale through your nose, with hands on belly and chest, filling the belly first, then the chest. Hold for a moment. Exhale in reverse order. Do this 5 times. Deep breathing can make you dizzy, so take it easy. Check your feet again.

Now do joint rotations, head to toe. These are especially great to do in the morning.

Turn your head to the right, roll the chin along the chest, left crown toward the ceiling; reverse. Now, place your hands on the trapezius muscles of your shoulders behind the head and, pulling down for support, roll your head left and right, eyes on the ceiling.

Neck rolls: Head up, arms at your side. Squeeze the shoulder blades as if you were grasping a pencil and raise shoulders to your ears, back and up and forward and down. Reverse: forward and up and back and down. Really pull up, you must feel a big difference.

Elbows: Bring arms out to the side. Make fists with the top of hand facing forward. Bring fists to center and make circles in both directions, keeping upper arms still, with knees bent, feet parallel. Now isolate the wrists. With arms straight out in front of you, turn them in both directions.

Now place the feet wide, bend knees, pull hipbones up, and sway side to side, then front to back. Is one hip tighter than the other? Try to keep them level. Now rotate hips in a circle.

Knee Circles: Bring feet closer together. With right heel up, rotate foot in both directions. Do the other foot.

Ankle Circles: Balance on one foot as long as you can. It’s been said that if you can balance on one foot you will live a long life.

Bend to side and slightly forward; you might want to slide hand down the top of your leg; raise the other to the ceiling. Stay centered on your feet. Keep back extended and breath deeply. You should be able to look forward, not down. Lower your body with every exhalation. Pull yourself up by lowering the raised hand. Now reach the other arm to the ceiling and repeat.

Abdominals: Hands on waist and belly. Inhale, feel the hands rise. Press into belly to exhale completely. Now widen your feet, arms out at your side, palms forward, and twist your body around in both directions. Let your legs do whatever they want.

With feet parallel and arms wide, swing the arms backward and forward, higher and further each time to your own limit. Backward is most important direction because it is source of flexibility. Let your knees bounce.

Shake out the body. Imagine your body filled with dried lentils. Shake everything, making a joyful sound.”


Karl: “When we came to Woodstock, I asked myself, ‘How can we explain how we make music and why it works? How can we help others discover the music journey they want to be on, release the music that wants to come out? ‘

We all have completely distinct voices; voiceprints are more reliable than fingerprints. People hear their voice on tape and think there’s something wrong with the recorder. I’ve heard that Sinatra didn’t like hearing his voice. It takes some getting used to. But the mistakes I made in trying to copy the music I wanted to play I now hear the music that is mine.

Let us forget about style. Let us concentrate on what is common to ALL music. What is rhythm, what is sound?

When we concentrate on rhythm and voice, everything starts to sound more in tune. In music school, a C is a C, an A is an A. It’s true and it’s not true. The last C you played is different from the one you’re playing now, in terms of context and harmonics, so different that you can never repeat the same sound again.

The proof? Assign an image to the note and then try to sing that image again. You cannot. Sound has a rhythm, a particular vibration. Physicists found the more they looked, the more they found, until the parts were so small they couldn’t see and had to theorize. Einstein said he would not have conceived the Theory of Relativity without music.

So what we are doing in practicing voice and rhythm is to lay the ground for getting to the place you want to go. So take them seriously. We are facilitating what I call the Music Mind.

Voice is the first instrument, and it could be our last. We are wary of singing—–we keep it in the shower—but tribal societies are singing all day long. We will be getting used to the sound of our voice here. We’ll be playing. It’s not work, remember, it’s play.”

Now Ingrid Sertso addresses the class.

“The voice is first. Even playing an instrument is a way of singing. The Sufis say that no sound is more living than the voice. The sound of the words comes from the way we breathe, prana. Breathing is the most important element, because breath is life-giving. If we don’t breathe, we don’t live. Let’s sit 3 minutes and breathe. Air goes into the lungs like water into a cup. No effort.

Next, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. 3 minutes.

“Now add a sound in the mid-range of your voice. “Ah” is first syllable a baby makes, simple. Ah…..”

The room swells. Every note seems represented.

Next, singers, the higher voices, improvise over top.” The singers start.

“Wait, start again. We need a tonic. We started much too high. Some of you must stay with the tonic. Start again, a woman first.” The tonic sounds. Voices rise.

“Now stand. Walk in place.” She sings a phrase. Everyone repeats it. She adds another phrase. A new voice, high, chimes in with her own phrase. Now others. “Don’t be afraid,” Ingrid says, drawing voices toward her…

“Stop. Pick a word,” she says. “Love,” someone suggests. “That’s a big one,” she laughs and starts walking in time. “Wait,” she says, “this tempo is too fast for love!” She walks from one to another, doubles the word for the first voice, singing it as a deep long note for the next, making her way around the circle, giving everyone their own take on the word. “Pay attention to the tuning,” she says. Karl begins to tap on a homemade hobnail xylophone. “Louder,” Ingrid says. The rafters begin to fill, the quiet. It is done.

“Now we will sing a South African song. These are the words.”

We are going.

Heaven knows where we are going.

And so do we.

And we will get there.

Heaven knows that we will get there.

And so we will.

Yes, we know we will.

And we know we will.

The group works on the melody for awhile, with Karl playing it on the xylophone. The class sings it several times. We are done.


“When you give sound to your voice, your breath expands. It gives life, sound does. Also, when you sit for 3 minutes without doing anything, much unwanted information comes in. Meditation teaches you to acknowledge thoughts and let them go but with sound. Notice that as soon as you make a sound, involuntary thoughts are banished. Sound quiets the mind. You can do this all day long. Hum. Sing, whenever you can, wherever you are. Make the sigh of relief.

Don Cherry said if you want to learn a song, learn to sing it first. When you practice your instrument, sing the part before and during. It you don’t play a breathing instrument, sing along with your piano.

Patterns. I say to pay attention to each beat. It’s a journey that never ends, but as someone said to me, who wants it to end? We always start from scratch and it’s always fun. Don’t think you’re too advanced for this. Always go back to basics.”

Now he has a small drum on his knees. “Every music tradition that I know starts like this,” he says. “Every rhythm is a combination of odd and even, 2s and 3s. Why do we count, 1-2-3? To access the other side of the brain,” someone says. “Yes,” he says, the rational side.”

“Don always had a shortwave radio in his ears, listening to music from all over the world. He loved a piece in 5, ga-ma-la ta-kee. They can combine to any rhythm. Even 4/4. We are used to thinking of it as even, but it is odd and even, say, 1+3, a downbeat.”

His hands rest atop his thighs. “Ta-kee,” he says, lifting a hand at beat. “Now chant ga-ma-la. What did we do?”

“We created a feeling of 5,” someone answers. “Where did the 5 start?” Karl asks. “At ga. But it could have started anywhere. Five is very powerful. They say the planet is ruled by 5. Now add a clap to ga.” Everyone tries.

“What is happening? We are speeding up. In 5 minutes, we’ll be going twice as fast. The way to control tempo is to see it as a matrix. To play fast, you have to feel slow. You stabilize by hearing the whole matrix. Hear double and triple tempos below. We’re training your attention, not your technique.

Don’t try to think the beat. Thinking is too slow for that. It only deals with what is in the past and in the future. Just be with the note; then you can be with the notes before and after. You want to feel like you are on a train. You might fall off. Wait for the next train. Don’t run after the train.

When you are nervous, you try to make up time, you feel disconnected so you play more, trying to cover up for being lost. But that music will be forgotten in the next moment, no matter how impressive the technique. But if you play from the heart, that music will not be forgotten, it connects with the heart of the listener. That performance from 20 years ago that’s still in your heart? Yes?

As improvisers, you can start slowly and be drawn in. You can also stop, create space, appreciate the sound of silence.

Attend how you move your hands. Don’t strike down on the beat. GIVE THE SOUND AWAY. Lift your hand on the beat. The sounds goes up and away. You see it in great percussionists and drummers; the hands move away from the drums. The longer the hands, the sticks, are on the drum, the shorter the sound.

‘I’m speeding through this process, but keep practicing. Look for the beat that you play and the beat that you don’t play. Give the sound away. When you lose focus, just stop. The next train is right behind. Start….shift the emphasis…..emphasize two beats over the other…Now favor one of them over the other……Lengthen one, either one….”

Ingrid begins to circle the chairs, giving a singing assignment to each participant. The rafters fill again.

“That’s all we do today!”

“Controlling the Elements of Sound”

“How many singers do we have here? 7-8. Is there a singer who doesn’t play any instrument at all at any level? It’s good for singers to play something and vice versa.

I think of music as organized sound: Wind (rhythm, timing, when something happens) and Where (vibration, how high or how low something occurs).

Get some control over those elements. A lot of musicians don’t have control over timing and pitch. What is control? It’s when you can manipulate it, do it on demand.

Pitch: You want to be able to recognize a sound, hear it in your head, and make it. Most instrumentalists cannot play what they hear. They don’t even know what they hear. You want to be able to make a sound without fishing around for it on your instrument. Most of us have to develop rhythm and pitch. We’re not born with it. Most of the songs we had sung to us as children, we heard it, but that understanding goes away. Music schools teach that away.

By jumping in the deep end and just doing it, you will find your own way. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study, but I’m self-taught, you can do that too. I think the best thing is DOING. That’s how you learn to ride a bike. Explaining the aerodynamics does not help.

(To the cellist) “Play this pitch. Listen for it…. Good. Now describe the process you went through to find it.”

Cellist: “As a player, I’m used to ADGC, so I recognized the tone relative to you.”

SC: “OK. If you know your intervals——-that’s important. There’s no such thing as C, C#. We made them up, just like money. If you’re the last person on earth with a trombone and a million dollars, it doesn’t mean a thing.

The more you practice, the easier Wind and Where become. You won’t have to think about the mechanics. When you’re speaking, you’re thinking about ideas, not conjunctions and adverbs. If you’re still doing that, you haven’t practiced enough.

There’s always something more complex than what you can do. So, we’re always students. Most things that are difficult are difficult because they’re unfamiliar.

Know where you want to go. If you don’t know, you will waste a lot of time. Know the types of sounds you’re attracted to, the people who are doing the kinds of things you want to do. You can’t do everything.

My concentration is ‘spontaneous composition.’ Some of you call it improvisation, but I think my term is more accurate. It’s like conversing. Say I’m talking to you. This exact conversation has never happened. I could have had a conversation like this, but musically, I’m composing in a group setting, and I have to have control over my part of the language so I can understand and respond and communicate. Most musicians have their hand over the mouth. They hear a vague shape and respond with a vague shape.

Sometimes musicians can be speaking different languages and still understand each other. Then, instead of telling a story that’s like one you’ve heard before, you’re now telling a brand new story. All improvisers have some things worked out, that’s the truth. Some people concentrate on performance, memorization of songs, those are skills. But the greatest ones can create on the spot what they hear in their head.

When you’re a kid, the first language is emotional, mama learns to understand the child. Then nonsense talk comes, and some of that stays your whole life. Then words come. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Scales, keys, rhythms —– all have their place, because they help you to organize the sound. Some people resist that, but I think that holds you back.

Start by singing. Place the sound in different areas, keys. The beginning of spontaneous composition is variations on a theme. Let’s begin with Happy Birthday. But let’s keep control over the timing because that produces the form. Time used to be very different. People didn’t live by minutes and seconds. There were church bells….

I think we improvise all day every day. But spontaneous composition is different because I want it to stand on its own. People give a speech, a comedian has a routine, they can improvise within it, handle the heckler, smoothly go in and out. And you can’t tell where unless you have seen them more than once, many times. Spontaneous composition doesn’t have to be based on something pre-existing. Let’s not dwell on the details, it’s just making stuff up.”

Q: “Is it replicable?”

SC: “Depends how good your memory is. Or you might be interrupted and forget what you were trying to say. Part of the reason why musicians can’t remember what they played is because what they played was random.

Humans organize according to some kind of reference: Nowadays we call it the Tonic. We relate all other tones to that. We have that with rhythm in terms of pulses, like the heartbeat. Everything has its opposite, there is polarity, and humans perceive it, it’s our way of looking at nature. It’s the 5th in our system.

Thesis and Arsis, anyone know what that is? Downbeat and upbeat.

He sings a phrase, adds a rhythm. “The last note needs to be on the beat. Don’t think about it. Just aim, that’s how you get there. Plan things so they will happen in the moment. Throw the ball where the guy’s gonna be. There’s a moving geometry. We don’t think about it when we do it all the time.

About the pitches I was singing. Anyone know the notes, the intervals, the keys? I recommend them all. Draw the pattern in the air. How far up and how far down? This is a whole other level of complexity that requires another language to describe. Intervals might be best. Most people who know intervals know scales, but not always the other way around. You need to speak a shared language if you want to be specific with the shapes.” He asks several people to describe the phrase he played.


SC: “ Nope.”


SC: “Yes! But if you don’t call the last note 1, then all the numbers are different. Let’s call the last note 3. Now what are the numbers?” He waits until someone says, “a minor.”

“That’s right, a perfect minor.

Now describe the phrase using whole step and half-step; I use tone and semi-tone. But with that language, there’s no reference. It stands alone.

Remember: Everybody sounds like crap in the beginning. The doctor doesn’t hit you and you’re born playing Giant Steps.

Let’s go back to Happy Birthday. Here are the numbers:

56517 56521 53176 43121

Let’s play it backwards, I can do that as long as I know what One is.

Now when I say the melody, I’m including the rhythm. Kids get the geometry, but not always the pulse. When people sing this song, it gets all out of shape.”

He plays first phrase of Happy Birthday, sings “I have a dry reed.”

Improvising around room. Maria Grand, his student and sometime Five Elements bandmate, plays it first. The next player plays it in a different key. She tries again. Still in a different key. Third try is the charm.

“Now pass it along, keep it moving.” A singer makes a small hole in the form. “Don’t do that,” he says. The next person adds a phrase at end. “That’s not going to be helpful to next person; set it up for the next person,” he says. Fourth person drifts in pitch and time.

SC: “The thing is if you can’t hear it and sing it in your head, you’re not going to be able to produce it on your instrument. In fact, if you can’t sing it, it’ll be even worse on an instrument. So SING ALL THE TIME, with focus on what you’re singing, the tonal and rhythmic qualities. Start with simple songs. Don’t try to run before you can walk.

He looks at his watch, says, “I don’t want lunch. So if you want to stay here with me, please do.”

He works through lunch, meeting with students, not eating, just teaching, demonstrating, mentoring. The circle gets smaller (people are hungry), more intimate, deeper, listening to his transmissions. He takes them through various exercises based on the human pulse/heartbeat, varying the patterns.

SC: “We want to be more creative. This means looking at things in a variety of ways, backwards, upside-down. Change the frame, loosen it up.”

Afternoon Session

“The Rhythmic Content of the Octave”

SC: “Humans can identify octaves and they’ve been hearing it for a long time, hearing intervals for a long time. I have never found any other creature that does this.

An octave is a note whose function is so close to another’s that we call it the same thing. We do the same thing with rhythm because humans like cycles: the sun and the moon, the movement of the planets.

If you cut or fold a cycle in half again and again, what happens when you fold a single octave in half? Generally speaking, any chord can be substituted by its tri-tone.

But if you fold it again, you can function within the minor third.

You can have a whole universe in 12 notes, we’re used to that. You don’t play them all, but they’re available to you. But you can have a universe in 3 notes too.”

(He uses hands and feet to demonstrate a rhythm) “I’m moving the downbeat around. What am I doing exactly and how? I’m skipping one beat, then starting the pattern again. It’s an arrhythmia that comes from relating rhythmic cycles to tonic cycles.

The point is one movement is dominant and the other is subdominant. Which is which and why? In chords, scales and keys, there is a dominant. But those are all different measures; The same chord plays a role in several keys. If we’re in key of C and go to key of G, is that dominant or subdominant?”

There are votes for both.

SC: “Can we come to consensus? I don’t care what it is; I just want you to agree. Whether you start from the perspective of the origin or the destination changes the dominant/subdominant relationship.

I say to forget about triplets because when you’re thinking about triplets you’re thinking in twos. I want you to think in threes. The three is like the weak left hand. That’s why I advise you to practice hearing and playing in threes.

Think about this. C Mixolydian to F Ionian: What is the difference? To move from Mixolydian to Ionian modes we either keep the same starting point and change the pattern, or change the starting point and keep the pattern. Moving the downbeat changes the way you hear the same pattern. Most people can only play one rhythm at a time. Most horn players plat on top of the section but not inside the rhythm.

We’re trying to get to the rhythmic version of tone, which is modulation – exploring the two semitones in each scale. The tonic or rhythm becomes the pulse, like the ground wire for electricity.’

As we move around the circle of 5ths, only one semi-tone changes at a time. Amin has the same semitones as C major but it plays different roles.”

This is heady stuff and Steve’s spent countless hours trying to understand all of it.

“Now when I say “melody,” I’m including the rhythm. Kids get the geometry, but not always the pulse.

Assigning pitches to rhythms adds details to rhythm that we are not accustomed to having. We have lots of ways of describing pitches, but few of describing rhythms. “Just feel it” doesn’t help instruct us, doesn’t give us a map.

In ancient times, there was no concept of dominant. It was called the “preparation,” it prepared your ear for the next sound.

I’m trying to help you get out of your western ears, to hear and think differently. Concepts about musical modes, about anything, come from humans, they’re man made. Giraffes don’t hand down modes. These concepts are illusions – humans exist on illusion.

These musical maps I’m showing you help us locate where we are in tonal and sonic space, where things are musically. They’re general principles that underlie all music.”

A hand goes up.

Q: “Isn’t the structure transferable from one Ionian octave to another?”

SC: “No, because the structure depends on where the first pitch is, which determines where the semi-tones are, which affects the rhythm when pitches are assigned to beats.

Emotion is crucial. Different keys have different feels, they make me, us, feel differently. You can feel a shift, that something has changed. You want to be conscious of these glitches in the octave so that you can control them and you can glitch where you want!”

He begins to play.

SC: “What song was I playing?”

There are a few answers before the right one.

SC: “All The Things You Are. Those of you who could identify it could fill in the blanks and know what it was.

In my head, I have a whole lot more going on than what I can play on a monophonic instrument. I have a whole band playing in my head. When you play with me, you’re trying to hear the same thing that I hear in my head because that’s what will keep everything together. That’s when things get strong, when you can fill in the blanks.”

He plays duet with Maria. “What song was that?”

No one can say. He removed more information from the song that he did with All The Things You Are.

SC: (smiling) “You’re not going to understand any of these things this afternoon. You will teach yourself. The repetitions have to happen on your own. You can’t learn anything by just talking about it. Repetition builds skill, strength. Nature gave you a brain, dreams, intuition — use them. They will open you up.

The players that matter to you: Look how they breathe, how they move, put their horn together. That’s what you can learn from other musicians.

I’m not much into strict methods. I like to improvise. I have some warm-ups, but I try to create new warm-ups all the time. I want to be better at creating because I want to be creating all the time. I don’t find I get better at creating by practicing the same thing all the time. I give making up stuff priority; not so much the master technician.

My sloppy technique thing is aesthetic, mostly about who I listened to, Von Freeman’s raggedy sound that I loved so I tried to put it in mine. We’ve called it the “professional beginner sound.” That’s what I hear in Charlie Parker, a childlike quality I want to have. And not everybody likes Charlie Parker.

You know about the Five Pentatonics, right?


C D F G Bb

C Eb F Ab Bb


C Eb F G Bb

Why do these things exist and why were they developed independently all around the planet at different times? Now you’re studying yourself.

I’ve had people argue for ignorance. I don’t have to know about keys, whatever. Then why are you here? Do you want to move forward? Do you want to learn, see what you haven’t seen before? Many times they’re just intimidated by how much there is to know. What you know will always be very small compared to what there is to know.”

He begins a gorgeous riff on 3 notes in the last phrase of Happy Birthday, Suddenly, there is a dramatic cloudburst. First rain, then hail. It’s loud on the barn’s tin roof. The drummer Aaron Latos starts playing along with the weather patterns. After a few minutes Steve joins him and they’re off. Everyone gathers around, listening, watching this spontaneous meeting. After ten minutes Maria joins in and it really sings. After some time, the rain and hail stop and all that’s left is music.


Karl Berger

Karl: “We should all spend part of our day fine-tuning our senses.

Like Steve said, there’s no such thing as C and Eb, etc.

Asks for an A from piano. Now a chord with an A in it, then another chord with an A in it.

Close off one ear with your finger so you can hear your voice inside when a new chord comes. What happens? Notice anything?

The first thing is that you change the pitch depending on the note’s role in the harmony. Every note IS a harmony, even on a single note instrument. You have to understand the harmonics to be in tune. Even a fixed tone instrument like a piano, you play other tones with it in order to tune it.

In a big group like this, you listen to look for a place to tune in. A note is not a note, it’s a sound, and it can’t be repeated, as I said this morning. Let’s see what kind of tolerance level we can get.

I’d like horns and strings to play a long tone and stick to it. Try to play the note so that it works harmonically with what you’re hearing. Good. The note is also vertical, there are dynamics. Dissonance is artificial if you always try to harmonize.

Now come right in on cue. You don’t hesitate. You come in. Boom.

Note from KB to guitarists, Play softly. Or, STFU. Excuse the word “shut.” OK. As soon as the sound comes up, you try to weave around it. It can’t be a long tone, because that’s what they’re doing. It’s just about listening. You don’t all have to play at once. You can be exchanging.

Singers: Try to figure out where there is room in the range for you. You don’t have to sing loud. Once you’ve found it you stay there.

I can hear that you’re all trying. Don’t try, play. Then you can make adjustments.

If we are all too much in the same range, you have the option to hop an octave up or jump down. Again.

I forgot to talk to the keyboards. You do what the guitars do, you play around what you hear, in that harmonic range, but not in long tones. You might explore extreme octaves. Listen for where the holes are.

Now we will experiment with creating a piece of music. I will show you the hand signs I will use. This is a long tone, a long tone that extends a little out of range. (Points at ceiling) Really extreme range. Short, staccato. Glissando. That’s it. I’m taking the cues from you.

This evening I want to learn a piece of mine called Five Feelings.”

Ingrid: “We recorded it once with Nana Vasconcelos.”

He plays a phrase, and the band learns it by ear. He lengthens it. They learn it. Now he plays another phrase. They learn it. They connect them. They roll it around until everyone has ownership.

Karl: “Now let’s just hear the rhythm. To drummer: You have to give us the One. In such a big group, without the One they will become disoriented.

Now, play as if we are playing in Carnegie Hall. We either make a lot of money or we lose our shirt.

Breathe. Watch the conductor. Points at cello, violin. Voices begin to explore the harmonics. Silence. Signals to rhythm section. Asks for the front end of the phrase from horns and voices. Sax solo. Now he asks for the whole phrase. Trumpet. She takes a brief solo, then plays long notes against the phrase. It’s holding together; the instrux to the drummer made a huge difference. Bass solo. Asks for new notes from the chorus. Ingrid adds a phrase. Now he solicits a solo from a guitar, then a violin to play with her, trills from the chorus. It is all very spare, light. Then a sudden chattering erupts, voices and strings. A just as sudden silence; piccolo sustains. Guitar and lightness returns. Asks for shivering sounds from strings, whole notes from chorus. The players are growing in confidence, as individuals and as a band. Their hesitation is disappearing.



Now, we gather for meditation.

Karl explains that this instrument was designed by drummer Jack DeJohnette to produce a healing tone. It’s made by Woodstock Chimes whose owner used to attend CMS in the 1970s along with Jack. We will have a minute of silence and do a practice called ‘listen to the sound disappearing.’ That’s all.

It soon begins to rain, adding to more sounds to listen disappearing.

Tuesday June 7

Expect the unexpected. Tonight at the roadhouse there are a half dozen red-robed monks in the audience, from the monastery in Woodstock where Karl and Ingrid study. There are also more, many more members of the public than last night. In fact, it would be considered a near-full house anywhere on a Tuesday night and the night is young. Mostly it is the teachers on stage; the students are likely still absorbing all they heard and did today. The adepts display a lot of pent-up energy; their playing is intense right out of the gate.

The evening begins with a quiet reading of a poem by the lama, Trungyam Rinpoche.

Ingrid says:

There is

A beautiful

Snow-peaked mountain

With peaceful clouds wrapped round her shoulders

The surrounding air

Is filled with love and peace

What is going to be is what is

What is love?

There is no fear or leaping into the immeasurable space of love

Fall in love? Or are you in love?

Such questions cannot be answered

Because in this peace of an all-awaiting presence

No one is in

and no one is falling in

and no one is possessed by another

A moment later, the band launches into another song-poem, this time in high velocity. As the song and the evening rolls on, there is one solo and one soloist after another at which to marvel, moments of synchronicity.

We are honored to have Ingrid’s fan club here, indicating the red robes. We invite her fans to the stage to do a quartet they have prepared for the occasion. They climb up but there is a delay because their instruments — singing bowl, wooden flute, hand cymbals, small temple bells of wonderful clarity, are in the car. “Our music is aspiration of rain. Just close your eyes……….” The room is silent, everyone intently listening to the lovely combination of percussion and Trungyam’s soft, clear flute playing.

Omar’s got a Jew’s harp. It’s going to be a duet with Ken Filiano on upright bass. Bells on a string, a chime, wolf calls, night birds. Ken has so much to say and so much technique he can say all of it. Now it is very late, and the young Swiss saxophonist, Maria Grand, steps in. She is a student of Steve Coleman and he brought her here to help him demonstrate his ideas. The woman who flew here from Cologne just for the workshop is playing the piano and Omar has picked up his guitar. Authoritative and beautiful.

Karl: “I want to introduce Hassan Hakmoun now. Adam Rudolph will join him. Hopefully. We will see where it goes from there.” I decide to close my computer and go for the ride………

……A mighty groove surfaced, and suddenly I was having the old dream again, galloping a white horse across a desert, into the wind and sand and heat. This is a dream dear to my heart and it is seeming very real .I am in a trance, of course, and I am not the only one. The room is transfixed. Gnawa.

Off we go again. I close the screen again. The groove is insane. I gallop along, all the while trying to apply concepts I heard and tried all day (I can’t be the only one doing this) —- about 5s and trying to hear the band in the musician’s head, about spontaneous composition and assigning pitches to beats, fine-tuning your senses, singing all day. It may be making sense. Coleman can resist no longer and joins the two. The music is perfect, each musician complementing each other, each sharing their personality. It’s a stellar performance, one that really only happens at CMS workshops.

At the close, Hakmoun, beneath the Full Moon banner, explains: “This instrument has over 200 names. I call it sintir. It is the ancestor of the banjo. Originally it had 2 strings, but then the wife and the husband strings had a baby and a third string, a half-string was added and it acts like a drone, just as in a banjo. The third string was a student’s idea. I made this instrument in America but it took me 30 years to do it, to get all the right parts. I wanted wood mechanics, not metal, because they don’t cut the strings. They were hard to find. I use nylon strings now instead of gut because once I was playing in Thailand and my strings went down at the sound check, from the humidity. I asked for some fisherman’s line and they were so flexible, it led me to change strings. I shouldn’t really be playing these strings with bare hands; eventually your fingernails will cut them. The body is made of oak and it is electrified. That’s why I added a metal bridge. I was playing a concert near the border between Morocco and Mauritania and someone had an instrument with a metal bridge and I said, where is that sound coming from? When you add metal to an electric instrument, you get more sound. We’ll talk more about it tomorrow.”

Steve Coleman has decided to cancel his plans so he can stay for the rest of the workshop. “It’s nice here, the vibe is amazing,” I heard him say amidst endless conversations with other guiding artists, Karl, Rob, and many participants.

Wednesday June 8


Voice Practice begins with Ingrid Sertso begins with 5 minutes of ‘meditation.’ “I really don’t like to use that word,” she says, “because this exercise is very active. A teacher I had once described spirituality as a calm mind. Our creativity comes from our just being present, from our open heart. You are saying, “I am here.” Yesterday, you just sat and breathed and let the thoughts go. Today we will listen to every sound you hear, ignoring other thoughts, just listening……..

I am convinced that music emerged first because even when there is no sound there is sound. The man who created the sound chamber was expecting to hear nothing amazed to hear the sound of his own blood pressure.

OK. Now we will explore the basis of music, the OM. You breathe into the O first. Everybody can do it, everybody can sing, believe me, so please take a deep breath and start with a low note. It doesn’t have to be the same note, you can harmonize. Any note is fine, suit your voice. (all sing) Keep it going……

Good. Beautiful. Now we will sing into the M, the ma. (all sing) Beautiful. Now, whatever you hear, improvise over it (all sing, she listens) Gorgeous. Don’t be afraid, keep it going….”

The volume rises dramatically before subsiding. It is the sound of growing confidence.

“Beautiful. You know, when we don’t like our voice it undermines our creative expression. Even Vincent Van Gogh, think of the purity and innocence of those colors and he cut off his ear! It’s so important to make friends with your voice.

“Now we will sing these sounds in one breath in this sequence:

Ah….Oh…. Oo…. Ee…Eh!”

She asks everyone to stand. “Take a deep breath. Shoulders down. Always go at your own pace. Push out the air, empty the lungs at your own speed. We don’t have to finish at the same time. (All sing, she listens) Good. You know, when I was in acting school, they said to lie on the floor and put books on your abdomen. They had to move when you drew breath. It works! Try it.”

The group intones the sequence, again and again, volume growing.

“So good. Tomorrow we will do something that is therapeutic. For now, let’s turn our attention to rhythm. Walk in place. Everyone can do this, you’ll see.”

She begins to walk. She sings a phrase, voices repeat it. She adds another phrase and a few pick that up. The sound is growing more complex without becoming self-conscious. Some begin to improvise on their own. Ingrid is smiling; everyone is smiling. It sounds so beautiful. This is the kind of feeling they hoped to have when they signed up.

“I recorded with Don Cherry an album called Multi-Kulti. I had 10 minutes to learn the song. I looked at Don and said, ‘I can’t do it.’ He wouldn’t have it. I did it in one take. I was exhausted. I saw him later, and he asked how it went. I told him. He said, ‘I knew it.’ It means so much for a teacher to believe in you. And I tell you, you can all do it.’

Let’s do another song. It’s an African song.” She sings a much longer phrase; it seems too much too much to remember. Karl begins tapping it out on the hobnail xylophone, not so much to accompany the singing, but to plant it in everyone’s mind while while Ingrid breaks it down. It comes together, beautifully.

“You sound so good. So many more harmonies!”

Karl Berger

“I’m asking: What were we doing yesterday? Gamala takee, yes. And being on the train, yes. The moment we say ‘This feels great,’ we fall off the train. You can’t be your own listener. Listen to everyone ELSE. Ideally, you don’t remember what happened at all. Get out of the self entirely.

We need to learn little techniques to help us stay on the train or get on the next one. When I came to NYC in the 60s, I was eager to hear my heroes. I wanted to see the drummer Billy Higgins, who played with Mose Allison, a blues singer. I thought Billy must be needing some money. Why would he want to play a repetitive blues rhythm all night? I thought maybe he would switch hands to keep himself interested. But no, he played with full attention all night. He would leave out a beat, sometimes too, but no one would notice because once you’re used to hearing a beat you hear it whether it’s played or not. And he had this great smile; he was high on the music.

Later I realized he was retuning, whenever he fell into an automatic beat, he did something to change it, to refresh it. It’s all very quick. When you do something automatic, your mind will wander. Improvisers have a lot of freedom to refresh, retune, but you can do it with written music too.

When you practice, don’t just practice scales. Practice things that you develop yourself. Write your own phrases and practice them. Create your own exercise material. You want to practice your own music.

“What else did we talk about yesterday?” soliciting answers. “Right. Give away the beat. Think of the beat leaving you, you are giving the music to the listener, the audience, the world. Don’t underestimate the power of that.

Let’s practice some rhythms we don’t play. Practice the 5 that I showed you yesterday; it will make the evens even easier to play. Today we’ll do a 7. How many ways can 3 and 2 make 7? 2-3-2, 2-2-3, 3-2-2.

In the east they will often start on the ta-kee. It’s as if for the feet, to allow for the dancers to turn. I like to explore the numerology, the power of numbers. How many of you think about that? Five? Maybe we can have a numerology table at lunch?

One is the start. Two is a helper. Three is a collection of 2 and 1. Four enters into a social sphere; it is also a square. The five is the number of the planet Earth; you will find it very natural if you practice it. It gets you out of the square. The six is both odd and even, 2×3 or 3×2. A person who is a 6 may be a person who sees both sides of an argument. The 7 is the day God rested; this is where you start to doubt whether this makes sense. It is the moment when the painter throws the painting into the fire, when the composer tears the paper. It is a moment to get through, past. That moment of frustration ALWAYS comes up in the creative process, you need to just sit and wait and relax. The 8 governs the finishing of things. They become real. The 9 is a state of transition. You are done with something and now need to begin another.

Our weeks should be 9 days and not 7, a mistake was made.”

Q: “What about 0?”

A: “Zero is not a number, it is an idea. We are not counting zero, we count on the 1.

Now 7 has a certain feel to it. All the numbers do. We’ll do the dance form of it, tah kee tah kee ga ma la.” He demonstrates.

“Now just kee and ma,” reducing dependence on the chant.

“Now just kee and la.”

Ingrid begins to walk around the circle, singing to them, encouraging them to replace gamalatahkee with a melodic phrase, feel the 7 in a more musical way; make the kee short and the ma long, for instance.

IS: “shigading, shigadingding, ma…………”

KB: “Use your voice, all the time. That’s your instrument, all you need to get a quiet start. It takes 49 times to be remembered and then you’ve changed your habit. You don’t have to make a spectacle of yourself in New York City, just hum.”


“Being Gnawa”

A video screen hangs from the rafters. Hassan Hakmoun is getting ready to tell us of Gnawa, a very ancient music tradition of trance music. The excitement in the room is palpable. Hassan’s transporting performance with Adam Rudolph and Steve Coleman at the Roadhouse last night had everyone still abuzz this morning, the possibility of learning from and playing with him.

HH: “Hello. Amazing to see all the family members of this instrument [his sintar] coming out. I want to show you 10 minutes of this little film about this instrument and why it makes the music it makes. We will learn something we can play together, maybe two songs, maybe half of us at a time, or maybe all of us at once and the house will fly away.”

(Looking at the screen. There is no sound; he provides commentary)

“I was born in Marrakesh. This is a ceremony of trance music. It’s used for healing and to bring people together. No invitation is needed to these kinds of performances.

(We see flowers and hundreds of burning candles). “This is the “7 Colors” performance, which is for the 7 spirits.”

(All are now entranced by his story and the images)

HH: “You see people trancing. If you ask them later, they don’t know what happened to them. From now on, every time they hear that particular song they will go into trance. The young ones always have an older one holding them to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. This is 2002 near my home. Some of these people are no longer with us.

I started playing at 14. You have to know all the songs, when to stop, how to stop. If you stop in the wrong place and the people who are trancing are not ready, you can hurt them, cripple them. The musicians follow the trancers, not the other way around. The trancers use certain movements, like putting their hand to the ground to say, “I’m done.” Tempo changes mean different things. Ceremonies start at 9pm and end the next day at 1 or 3pm.

Sometimes people from other countries come and they fall down without understanding what’s happening to them. What you bring to the performance matters, maybe someone has died. I’ve seen people jump out a windows and not get hurt, cut themselves with knives and no blood comes out. Trancers can identify unbelievers and they will show you the knife and show you how they do not bleed. It can be very scary.

This music is mostly supported by women in Morocco. At first, the music was played by the slaves for themselves, complaining about conditions. Now more people can play it, learn to play it: Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Yusef Lateef, Don Cherry, Peter Gabriel, Earth Wind & Fire, now Marcus Miller. Their interest has popularized it; playing this instrument is a ticket to see the world. That’s another reason why people are learning it. For me, the music was in my family. We were not allowed to attend the ceremonies as children, there are many ceremonies where children are not allowed, especially those where people eat raw meat. It is very scary.

There are other traditions. They go into trance, they drink hot boiling water, pour it on their skin and it turns cold like ice. This man (indicates film) has POWER.”

Q: “Do you worry that this sacred music would be misused because people know about it around the world?”

A: “We don’t publicize, but still the outreach still has helped so many musicians. They see the world, they own houses. They are not Gnawa, but they use the instruments. Many players are women now. It’s amazing to see.”

Q: “Is there conflict with other religions?”

A: “Of course, there is always conflict. Here is Republicans and Democrats. But the first person to be freed from slavery by the prophet Muhammed was the originator of this music.”

Q: “When you sang last night, was that a vocal improvisation?”

A: “No, all the Gnawa songs have singing, all have words.”

Q: “Is there cross-pollination with Haiti, Bali? I see similar activities here, with knives, boiling liquids…..”

A: “The answer is simple: Everyone came from Africa. Haitians, Brazilians, Balinese……you can play this music with people all over the world. All people are family, but some of them were kidnapped. Thank God they took their music with them to keep them company. When I play with people around the world, it is as if we are a reunited family, the trust is immediate.

Music is what keeps us apart from politicians. Without music, we would only be thinking about which country we will take over next.

OK. I want to give you some instruments. (Distributes brass castenets) Everyone should have two, one in each hand. We start with the rhythm so you have the feel, you will know where to come in when the music starts.”

The first rhythm is like a gallop, and he shows how the feel will change of itself over time. He kneels before a person having trouble, loosens her grip, places his hands over hers and shows her. Then he turns to the group and accelerates the tempo. The next rhythm canters, rather than gallops. Another is a kind of call & response. Adam Rudolph makes his way around the room, tapping on shoulders to demonstrate the tempo.

HH: “All singers please come close to me.”

Now it’s cooking, people are figuring out how their instrument fits in this groove, the volume is rising as confidence grows. After 10 minutes, who can say, the groove draws to a close.

HH: “So you can see how this can just go on for a while. Just one or two notes, just relax and let the river run; don’t fight the water. You don’t need a lot of notes.” (He makes like a flashy guitar player).

HH: (In answer to a guitar question): “I tune the strings to EAE or GDD, lower, to protect your voice.”

He lays down a new rhythm. Shows a new part to the strings, another to the drums. At some point he puts down his sinter to clarify a rhythm by tapping it out a rhythm on a drummer’s shoulders. The room swells with music.

HH: “Wow. That was good. Now it’s lunch, but we come back soon. Time lunch, not lunch time!”


Afternoon Session

Feeling Gnawa, Playing Gnawa

Before the lunchroom has fully cleared, Hassan has begun teaching the singers, seated in a small circle, a new song. He teaches another part to the horns, the strings, the drums. People are still trying to get comfortable with the castenets. It’s a fascinating thing, teaching a completely unfamiliar, utterly entrancing groove to enthusiastic learners. It’s way harder than it looks but everyone is deeply committed to figuring it out.

HH: “If you follow my feet, that will be your “1”. It’s like jumping rope, you have to know when to jump in and not get caught in the rope. (to guitarist) Don’t leave spaces between the notes. I’m always playing, hitting something.”

The first song launches. Before too long, the violinist has left the planet. Hassan’s head drops back. It goes one for countless minutes.

HH: “OK. That was good. Do we do another song or do we do another song? This one has a really beautiful melody.”

The melody rolls around and around while people become comfortable with it. Then Hassan begins specifying parts to different instruments.

HH: (giving out songlines) “Let me know if it’s too much food.”

Meanwhile, the air is full of voices. The singers ask for quiet so they can write the lyrics phonetically. Hassan sings, handing out paper and pencil. Turns out it’s simpler than it sounds, the same words stretched differently over the melody. He sings, they write. The songs begins. Time passes without measure. When everybody has it, Hassan accelerates the tempo. Again, he distributes songlines to the various sections. Coleman and Rudloph have walked in.

Q: “Did we just change keys?”

HH: “Yes, because you know the melody so I changed the lock! You will fit all the melody into less space, just like luggage. You push it in.”

There’s a performance tonight. A decision is made to rehearse the first song again. Everyone is afraid they’ve forgotten it. They haven’t quite forgotten it, turns out. The rehearsal is over, the learning continues, the performance is tonight. Hassan makes his way around the room to shake every hand.

Karl Berger

Karl wants to talk about changes in pitch. He offers three options: the octave, the semi-tone up or down, and the tri-tone. He advises everyone to listen to the fuller sound, not their own, when making their choice. He listens as the players make a continuous long tone. He gives the signals for extreme octave ranges. He walks to the singers, eliciting tones. He turns to the horns, again asking for extremes. A singer solos, then the violin. Stop.

Karl: “Let’s learn a line by heart. You’ve been doing it all afternoon, so let’s learn another one. Take this scale. In the variation, we always go one step up and two steps down.”

Everyone’s concentration is intense. Everyone is using their ears now, not so much their eyes, most of which are directed toward the floor. That will change as the session proceeds and attention must be paid to Karl’s signals and gestures.

“Let’s do this in 7, since we practiced that this morning.”

It goes well. Everyone remembers this morning’s 2+2+3=7.

“So, about the performance. People will solo. Much of the orchestrating will come from your not playing, you understand, the emphasis from one section to another, one soloist to another. OK?”

He gets ready to conduct, then stops himself. “Wait. I forgot the most important thing, dynamics. That’s the most important thing in music. When the notes go up, the overall sound rises and the other way around.” He sings and draws pictures in the air. The band plays the same thing as before, this time with dynamics. It’s very different.

With his impossibly gentle hands, Karl coaxes a vocalist who has been hiding to sing. She accepts the microphone. She has a lovely, breathy, high voice and takes a long solo, surprising herself. He turns to another and another who have not been heard from. He stops the band and keeps them singing. They can’t believe how good they sound. He signals to the piano, the mandolin to provide a little support. A sweeping gesture activates the horns. The singers keep it going. Not having held the mic, no one is now eager to give it up.

Karl takes the mic stand and places it in front of another singer not yet heard from. She displays great confidence, has a rich contralto, and scats trilling figures that come right out of the Gnawa session with Hassan Hakmoun a half hour ago. Now Karl pairs her voice with the breathy one.

Karl wants to hear what the electrified mandolin can do. He is taking notes, as a painter might consider what he can do with certain colors. He encourages the two flutes, then the clarinet, asks the chorus for a long tone, the drummers for drama. Then he stops everything, and hands the mikes to different singers and Ingrid. Small percussion, and the next thing you know everyone is in, everyone is out.

Basically, he is walking the band through the hand signals and gestures, teaching them to respond immediately, make musical turns on dimes. All are surprising themselves.

Following the Improvisers Orchestra Workshop, Karl leads the group through a deceptively simple meditation practice he learned from Buddhist monks: listen to the sounds disappearing. He strikes a gong and asks the participants to listen to the sound disappearing, which they do, eyes closed, bodies aligned in their seats. He strikes it again, and the mediation deepens. This is part of CMS basic practice, too: listening.

Wednesday night, June 8

The temperature has dropped precipitously and a few people are building a fire in the stone fireplace as people file in. The first performance is by more musicians than could fit on the stage, meaning everybody in the workshop and Hassan Hakmoun. But the public is well-represented; there are plenty of people to appreciate, dance, applaud. Everything learned in the day’s sessions with Hassan is to be performed this evening. Singers and guitar players spill off the stage along the walls. There are several guitar players in what would otherwise be the front row. The singers consult and share phonetic crib sheets and everyone is humming and running the melody on their instrument.

Hassan climbs onstage wearing black with a brilliant blue scarf and what appear to be tap shoes. He thanks Karl and Ingrid and Rob Saffer and all the participants, then launches the first song into immediate overdrive. Everyone snaps to full attention, players and listeners alike. There’s a reason they call it trance music. One woman leaps from her seat and begins to dance, shedding the winter coat she was wearing. The room has gone from cool to hot. The sound builds and builds like water put on to boil. When it gets to boiling, Hassan looks at his wife and child, both also wearing tap shoes, and they run up and dance in front of the stage. His young daughter, maybe 3 years old, kicks the groove up even higher. When it is over, no one can believe what just happened.

So they do it again! The second tune is just as groove-y, sinuous songlines in pidgin over a relentlessly propulsive beat. It’s just thrilling.

How to follow that? As luck would have it, Hamid Drake has arrived from New York City, fresh from the Vision Festival. He and Adam Rudolph have known each other since they were 14 years old. They met in a world-famous drum shop in Chicago one afternoon and have been making music together ever since. They do an improvisation with Karl and Ingrid, Angelica, Omar, the musician/magician.

The clarity and power of the drummers’ collaboration is nothing short of extraordinary; it’s been a long while since they were 14 years old; they know each other. Of particular beauty is the intensity and content of the glances Drake sends Adam, sidewise. Adam’s glances are surely just as communicative, but he is wearing sunglasses, not that that matters to Drake. Drake is a drummer of rare power, on a level with Blackwell and Haynes, both mentors, it turns out. He is surely one of the best drummers in the whole wide world.

Hassan has left the Roadhouse, which is too bad, since people were hoping he’d play with Adam and Drake. Turns out they were only putting their daughter to bed, because Hassan is now back in the room, watching from the front row, mouth agape. Here it comes. Adam and Hassan are longtime collaborators; Adam and Hamid have been close since childhood… You get the picture. It’s hard to describe the power of the sound they made, but it’s likely you would not have been able to afford the front row seat to hear such a trio in a commercial venue. The benefits of participating in a CMS workshop are many, unpredictable, and enduring.

And it shows: the participants take the stage, many of them playing beautiful, original, creative, spontaneous, instantaneous music until 4am.

Another special day at CMS.

Thursday, June 10


Following the body awareness session, we do five minutes of meditation, sitting still, letting thoughts come and go.

Ingrid Sertso

Ingrid: “When you worry that you won’t measure up, I think of this story. Dollar Brand, Abdullah Ibrahim – student crying after workshop. I can’t do this. Abdulah tells him: You have pulse, heartbeat. A natural feeling for rhythm, but you grew up with march music. You’ll feel it.’

The group moves into a circle for “tuning,” arms around each other’s shoulders. One or more people stand in the center, to receive the vibrations. Everyone in the circle intones, first, the same note as the first that emerges, then whatever note feels comfortable. Those in the center move about, absorbing the vibrations of everyone’s singing throughout their body. The effect is incredible.

We sing the South African song, We Are Going, three times, adding the harmony after the first time through. Ingrid speaks of the power of the speaking voice, which is the basis of Indian singing. She believes it is the most communicative vocal range and advises building the strength of those tones.

She also reminds all that everyone in an audience is sensitive. They are sensitive to different aspects of sound, performance, but everyone is sensitive, everyone can detect a performer’s level of honesty, integrity, effort, etc. Never underestimate the audience’s ability to discern. They wouldn’t be an audience if they weren’t discerning.

“Sing together every morning,” she advises. “Any simple song.”

“Do they still sing the national hymn in school in the morning? They should. It could bring about the end of war.”

Karl Berger

Karl begins by exploring the 7 beat further, moving the downbeat around, changing emphases.

Next, he wants to do a listening exercise. “When you play in ensembles,” he says, “ you need to learn to listen to everyone around you, not just yourself.

When you practice rhythms, you should start out slowly. That’s true with anything. I once knew a great classical pianist who would play his whole program at half-speed in the afternoon. So his 2-hour concert would take him 4 hours to practice.

I advise you use metronomes, because we have a false perception of time and though it’s not the same as the mechanical, the mechanical is a start. I had a friend who was a romantic, 19th century style. I advised him to practice his rubato with a metronome, so you’re not practicing a rhythm with a rubber band.”

Now the group resumes beating out the 7, only this time, everyone is advised to step off the train, drop out of the pattern for at least one bar, and listen in order to find a way back into the rhythm.

Ingrid has never counted on One. You need to know where the One is but you never need to accent it. Ma, la, kee are more interesting to me than the Ga and Ta.

Your sense of “now” is a musical sense, not a thinking one. Thinking is too slow for music.

Q: “Losing One is usually when I fall off the train. I’m always chasing the One to get back in. Is that true for everyone?”

A: “Yes, because mostly the way we are taught music in schools, the focus is on the One. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Always, just wait for the next train.”

Ingrid closes the session with a joke.

“A bus driver and a Buddhist teacher died. They go to the Gate. The Gatekeeper takes the bus driver in and disappears with him for a long time. When he comes back, The Buddhist says, you make me wait? I spent a lifetime helping people, spreading the Word, and you let him go in first?”

“Well,” the Gatekeeper replied, “When you were teaching, people fell asleep. But when the bus driver was driving, people were praying.”

‘Go Organic’

“Let’s get started. We have an hour and a thousand things to do. The first thing a musician needs to learn is to be on time!

My first tour with Yusef, I showed up 9:10 for a 9am call. Yusef was sitting there. Next time I came at 9 and he was sitting there like he’d been there all night.

The “Ostinato of Circularity” is one of my orchestra’s guiding principles.

Rhythms that sound complex ain’t necessarily so. If you can sing it, you can play it.

So. Violin’s gonna play it, then we’re gonna sing it”. All sing. “Everyone sorta, kinda got it? OK!”

Everyone tunes to concert G, up a whole step, up a whole step, up a whole step, a minor third. Reverse. OK. Instruments down. “Now we’re going to fly. I want you to sing it until you can play it. Then you’re sing and play at the same time, and when you can do both, then you’re going to play without singing. After that, we’re gonna do all kinds of things with it.” The group plays it a hundred times.

“The tune is called Walking The Curve. Why are starting with it? Because it contains all the ideas I want to talk about. First, does anyone recognize anything about it? It’s a 15 beat cycle against 10. It’s a pentatonic scale. Those things matter to me.

Here’s the thing. When you change your thought patterns, you can advance. But what do you practice? Everyone comes to music because of some kind of style that called them them. I call it the What. Then there’s the How: how that music was made, how you could do it. The Why is the mysticism of music and that’s a whole day, a whole lifetime’s discussion. But let’s say it begins with the moment of intention, the un-struck sound, and the struck sound, making a vibration.

When you get past style, you’re dealing with elements. When you master them, you can play any kind of music. Everything is composed of elements. Physicists postulate 11 levels. And the laws of physics become simpler and simpler, when they are discovered, uncovered.

Musicians are alchemists of vibration. We are born spiritual, but we learn “religion,” the mystery.

Sound, timbre, harmony, melody: All are one element of the dual manifestation of vibration. The other element is motion, time. You have to have control of the elements to do what you want on your instrument. Your ideas lead your technique. I’m mostly self-taught., though I did study with some great teachers. Mostly I taught myself so I could play what I could hear in my mind.

Let’s talk rhythm for a second. There are 3 aspects: language, dance, math. Math is the skeleton that allows me to hang the clothes of any style on it. Math is simpler than we think. The complex polyrhythms from around the world? All of them have both male and female qualities. The male energy is the 3; the female is 2 or 4. The Dogon people of Mali say that every rhythm is “a marriage and an interplay” between the male and female energy.

You can look at rhythm vertically and horizontally, the 2 one way and the 3, the other. The dimensionality gives a composition its form. Now, 10 against 15 is 3 against 2 three times. So let’s make sure everyone can pat 3 against 2.”

The group practices.

“Now drop out the 2, strike the right hand only.”


“Bring them hands together again”

Practice. .

“Now drop out the 3. Way harder, right? And does the tempo seem to slow down? The 2 and the 3 are female and male; the 3 speeds up, the 2 slows down. Now, switch the tempos to the other hand, drop out the 2 and the 3 in turn. I’ll cue you.”


“Switch back to the right hand. Practice this all the time! You can’t play music without being able to do this, play the 3 against the 2. Practice with a friend. Mirroring is fun.

“Sound, usula. The USULA. Low to high is tension; high to low is release. Put that in your pocket and don’t forget it.” He demonstrates the difference on different size drums. One or the other becomes dominant.

“Use a metronome. Always play something relative to something else.

Everything is based on the series of harmonic overtones. All the intervals, timbres – just as is the vibration of the universe. Recently, I’ve been thinking that the harmonic series is generated the same thing as how music is generated. The first harmonic is the octave, then the 5th. That’s dimensionality, because every 5th has a 5th, generating a spiral.”

Steve Coleman is sitting quietly, listening to Adam, head down, outside the circle, tapping out a rhythm on his lap. Other guiding artists are there, too, trying to learn more: Omar, Angelica, Ken.

“People who live close to nature tend to make music on the pentatonic scale. If you could play 3 against 2 insanely fast, what would you hear? The Fifth! 3 and 2 makes 5. The relationship of 3 against 2 is the basis for most of the music in the world, odd and even, vertical and horizontal, up and down, light and dark, you get it. The 2 OR the 3 is a pulse. When you add the other, you get dimensionality, you get a rhythm.

The more simple the rhythm, the more you have to deal with language, phraseology. What distinguishes the greats – Miles, Ornette, Yusef —– is command of the language.

The triangle within the circle defines the touchstones of the division. You have to know those.

Now play the double times on your lap and the triples with your feet. This is profound! You have to learn it. Hard, right? Practice!

A trickster walks through the village in a multicolored hat. People say, did you see that stranger with the green hat? Other people say, he had a red hat. I know what I saw! Now the trickster walks back thru the village the other way, everyone seems the other hat.” Dimensionality.

So, after lunch, we’re gonna do some spontaneous combustion, some composition. We’re going to look at little pieces of paper, sorry. Set up in rows, horns together maybe, so I can conduct you. OK. Lunch!”

People head to the dining room, heads spinning, ears open. Coleman sits under stairs leading up to the barn’s loft. He’s working with the euphonium and violin to try out what he was tapping out on his knees a while ago. It’s not what 50 other people in the room were playing in unison at the time. They play, others listen and then join in. Another spontaneous composition.

Afternoon Session

“Everybody should have 3 pages: the inter-valid matrices, the cosmograms, and the Ostinatos of Circularity. Get out your matches; we’ll burn this written music! Only kidding. Many people like to look at paper and I respect that.”

He indicates a whiteboard with two waveforms, the two and the three, which would produce a fifth if vibrating fast enough. Ken demonstrates on the string bass, dividing the strings in halves and thirds. Adam demonstrates the simple hand signals he will use to conduct the ensemble: across, back, soft, louder, low and high ranges.

“Let’s look at the matrix, #3, the Symmetric Hexatonic. It’s what Messaien called “modes of limited transposition,” half/half/whole. There are 3 tonics. Improvisers love it because it has tonal ambiguity, you’re not on lockdown, regardless your instrument. Once improvisers moved past using harmonic intervals, they started inventing new systems. But there’re only 6 intervals. But look at the Rasa, the Indian term that describes a desired emotional coloration. Once you’re inside an interval system, you’re free.

Play the chords from left to right along the top line. We can make thousands of combinations and never repeat, “deconstructions.” When you get to the end of the line, turn around and go back. Don’t repeat the last note, just turn around.”

The band plays the line vertically, then one side of the band goes horizontal and the other vertical. Something’s cooking.

“How else could we make it interesting? Ideas? No, no diagonals! Everybody asks that. That’s another philosophy, one I don’t subscribe to. My music always resolves to emptiness.”

He assigns sections to play the same line forwards and backwards, up and down. Four sequences simultaneously.

“OK, now we really have something going on. Let’s do it again. This time, we’ll start with one instrument,” he says, beginning to arrange the composition, explore individual voices. He turns to the percussion. “Half of you will play a pattern of three, fast, medium or slow. Have an intentionality to what you do, don’t vary it. Here we go……….OK. We got a vibe.

Messiaen’s book, The Language of my Musical Technique; highly recommended. Later, I would be happy to talk to you about how to make your own matrices.

Let’s look at #, Nu Clustonic. Clustonic is a concept based on two intervals and all the notes between them. So we’re going to play along the periphery of the box, make a square. I want more sound variety from the percussion, in 5; short and long tones from everyone else. Here we go….

Let’s start with percussion this time. Drummer: Put down your sticks. You have lots of sound possibilities in front of you. Play with your hands. Don’t be afraid to play fast; everybody’s choosing medium tempo too much. OK, everybody ready? Here we go….

Let’s do another, still in 5. Strings start this time…. Beautiful. Let’s shift gears. We’re touching on things.” Turns to whiteboard. He draws a triangle. He wants to talk about the ambiguity of the triplet.

“Let’s play 3A, first variation on the triplets. Two notes. Play them exactly. A thousand drummers could be playing two beats and one of them will be making your hair stand on end. Don’t be him.

3B. Much harder! Again….. OK. Something started to levitate there. Let’s try 3C….

Everything from Bach to James Brown comes out of the Pygmy forest. In my opinion. I’ve done a LOT of research.

What is virtuosity? It’s vastly overrated, first of all. It originally referred to people who looked through microscopes. You could become a virtuoso of anything; that’s up to you. If you want to master everything about your instrument, then you can be free. Coltrane said so.”

Another piece. “The Collective Us’m. In this system, you can hold a note or leave out a note. What you cannot do is get lost: You cannot break the pattern! It’s challenging. All right? Let’s see…. OK. I’m going to ask the percussion to drop out; everyone’s relying too much on the percussion. And I want some of you to leave out some notes, give this thing some shape. Start slowly….”

Drummers come in too loud. “Stop. Be musical, drummers. Don’t be a drummer. Spoken as a drummer.

The pattern is in your head. Whatever notes you leave out, if you keep to the pattern, it’s valid. And your neighbor, doing the same thing with her pattern, through her choices, sonorities emerge, quite lovely sonorities, I might add. This is gonna be a new thing because we’re going to have different patterns going at the same time. No kick drum, now; hands. If I can’t hear the singers, you’re playing too loud. Here we go….

OK. That was beautiful because we were hearing the three sides of the triplet. Fold it into what you do in your own way. Is it really 4:20? And we only go to 5:00? Wow.

OK. I’m talking to the drummers. Everybody else, we’re going to help the drummers out. Let’s all sing this rhythm while they play it. It’s called Dance Drama Pt. 3. Here we go; 4 times, then the break….” Demonstrates with his hands. “See? Not as crazy as it seems. Just three 5s and three 7s. Go….

OK. Not as hard as you thought, but now we add the groove.” He stamps it out on his foot. “Here we go….

Before we start having too much fun, I want to see if we can put some things together. I gotta show you this. Meet the Triple Diminished Cosmogram. Forget the dishwasher. Put it on your wall, don’t leave home without it.” Laughs.

“I have an ambivalent relationship with western music; I came up playing hand drums on the street. But you gotta make friends with it. This Cosmogram is a gift beyond 1000 golden doubloons for you to take home. There are 5 possible cosmograms, in fact, all based on interval systems, which if you understand, you can start anywhere, anytime. For instance, clockwise – up a whole, up a whole, down a half. You go clockwise and you never skip a note.” He divides the band in half, each playing a different thread. “This is GREAT for singers, incidentally. Learn this with a piano. GUITARISTS! The first three notes in any string produce incredible voicings.” They try, and they are beautiful. “See??”

They explore several petals of the flower-shaped cosmogram. The voices are astonishing, as promised. “Singers!” he says.“Do not be the kind of singers musicians don’t respect. Know your way around a keyboard. These matrices, the cosmogram, they will really help you. The way to practice is, in essence, look at the matrices, don’t be confined to lines, you can make turns. Find something that sounds good to you. OK, once again….”

Surprised at how quickly the time went, Rudolph is concerned about how best to spend the next 15 minutes. Karl Berger sees what’s going on, generously steps in and proposes that he surrender his Improviser’s Orchestra workshop slot so Adam can continue with the group until 6:30. Offer accepted. This barn ain’t big enough for TWO improvising orchestras! Is it?

After a 10-minute break, a flute player returns with a gash on his upper arm, cause unknown, and Taylor Ho Bynum, cornetist from Anthony Braxton’s band, is now sitting in. Talk about making your presence known.

Back to the piece. After once through Adam wants to talk about dynamics again, observing that “soft is more powerful than large. Why?” he asks. “Because soft CONTAINS loud. Got it? Again….

That was good! Drummers: Good Metal Housekeeping Award for improvement.

“OK, let’s move on to something else. An Eb pentatonic Blues.” He distributes lyrics to the singers. “This is based on Sri raga. It’s from Neitszche, an excerpt from an opera I wrote. It’s about the Dreamer. Singers: You have to be strong. You’re in charge of dynamics too. You have microphones. This song demands passion. You have to be commanding.

This is not boogie blues, right? This is on-your-knees blues. Here we go….

Wow. Beautiful. Bravo. OK. Let’s revisit Walking The Curve, the first thing we did today; make sure everyone remembers it.”

Not everyone remembers it exactly. “OK, let’s sing it again. Then we’re going to play and I’m going to cue portions of the band.”

Concluding remarks of deep wisdom: “This music is for you, not to pass around. The more you work on it at home, be inventive with it, you are welcome to contact me if you have questions about it. Singers: All those intervals are perfect for you. All right. Thanks everybody. You guys are badass.”


Karl thanks everyone, invites questions and, getting none, indeed only receiving thanks, asks everyone to stay in touch and come back soon. He talks a little about the history of CMS and his hopes for how the organization might grow. He marvels at the influence of executive director and board member Rob Saffer, who he says is not a player but is certainly a musician. Ornette called Rob a composer. In fact, Karl says Rob knows more about more kinds of music than he does. It is certain that Rob would dispute this, but no matter. He has done great things for CMS and it’s just getting started. He’s always pushing. In fact, Rob’s not even here to hear Karl speak about him; he’s outside meeting with Taylor, already planning 2017 workshops that may include Braxton and his disciples. Stay tuned.

Then we close our eyes and listen to the sound disappear 12 times. Dinner!


Thursday June 9

Karl rings a bell. “Let’s get this festival started,” Karl says into the mic. ‘There’ve been a lot of after-hours and between-sessions music-making going on. Tonight we’re going to hear the fruits of all these new musical alliances and friendships.’

“This is Piece #176,” Karl says. “Shall we read a poem by Ornette?” Ingrid asks him. “Of course,” comes the reply. They begin. There is Karl and Ingrid, Ursel (pno), Omar (gtr), Ken (bass), and the drummers Adam Rudolph, and Tani Tabbal, who played with the Arkestra while still a teen, Taylor, of Anthony Braxton’s band, just arrived this afternoon and he uses his mute (including a battered felt hat) to create a feeling of uneasy nearness to some very big and angry jungle cats, even as he quotes Miles’ Bitches Brew. Tabbal, has traveled from nearby Woodstock but Ursel is here all the way from Cologne. Germany. When they finish, Taylor says to Adam about Tani, “You guys got some history.” You can tell. They’ve been playing together for decades.

Next, an improvisation among Sam (mando), Alon (drums), Jake (gtr) and Taylor that showcases the vocalizing skills possessed by Chuck, a NY state geologist capable of unleashing Robin Williams-level torrents of vocal sounds at a moment’s notice. It is a remarkable gift and there’s probably not much call for it down at the geology office. CMS workshops are very dear to him. Alon is playing traps and his room key. Yay, sound!

During the next changeover, Karl sits at the piano and plays a quiet ‘I Remember Clifford’ by the sax player Benny Golson in memory of Clifford Brown. It is a very rare thing to hear Karl play a straight song on solo piano and the room goes quiet to listen. When he finishes to great applause he seems surprised anyone was listening. “I was just playing an interlude while you finish setting up,” he says. Lucky us.

Now that they’re set up, Sana Nagano (vln), Raoul Morales (gtr), Ken and Karl play Raoul’s composition, which he should immediately send to Ken Burns because you never know. A very tender melody, Raoul explains it’s about “saying goodbye to someone or something and knowing you’ll always have it.” Which is a good thing to think about tonight when everyone is saying goodbye for now even as they make plans to play together again somewhere, somehow, sometime soon.

Soprano Saxophone Colossus pairs Lee Odom and Gene Coleman, with Ken on bass and Royce Froelich on drums. Afterward, Lee tells Rob Saffer how much the CMS workshops have done for her (this is her second). “Last year, I was searching; my eyes were bulging out of my head. But I went home and practiced and practiced and this time, I’m really learning.” She hopes to come back in the fall if she isn’t recording in Paris. It’s good to have options.

All the singers in the house fill the stage for an improvisation justifiably called, So What Is The Plan? Chuck, Jolene, Hilary, Miriam, Mariana, Maya – so many Ms – and Ingrid, of course. Actually, Ingrid was feeling tired and was thinking she wouldn’t sing, but curiosity and her generous heart got the better of her and all are better for it. She is a truly inspiring teacher, which may be a trite thing to say but the hour is late and it’s unarguable.

What follows is the Macedonian Blues, in a key signature of 19/8. You heard that right. It was in the repertoire of The Colours, a cover band Alon was in back in Sydney. The very accomplished American blues guitarist in that band (explaining why the band was not called The Colours) had a student from Macedonia who simply could not learn a 12-bar blues. He preferred to play in 19 and 23, numbers like that. This was in his honor. Jake played guitar, Ursel, piano; Ken on bass, Sam played mando. Maya and Lee soloed on trumpet and sax. It was in F, For Sure.

Karl and Ingrid wanted to play again before heading out and chose to honor the absent titans, Don and Ornette, accompanied by Ursel, Ken, and Tani. Don Cherry’s Art Deco, his only arguable hit, came first. The lyrics are new, perhaps not as recorded. Don didn’t like his own lyrics, Ingrid said, so he asked her to write new ones, which she did, for Lady Day. They segued into Ornette’s When Will The Blues Leave, which Karl, citing the previous number, opined is clearly never. Ingrid closed the little set in her signature manner, “The End.” That’s not old-fashioned; it’s just totally her thing.

Miriam (accompanied by Sana, Alon, Raoul, Lee and Ken) vocalized a stunning lament in her beautiful contralto that resolved into the thought, “I’m Just Waiting for Something Beautiful.” The combination of Gabriel Dresdale’s cello, Alon’s soft percussion, Mariana’s voice and Sam’s mandolin is worthy of further investigation. They’re making plans for July in Woodstock. Later a rhythm and blues revue, with several guitarists (Rick Warren leading) sets out and Jolene just lets loose wailing, crying, singing, letting it rip. It was the cherry on top!

At closing time, there was a little guitar summit of Raoul, Jake and Rick Warren, his first time on stage tonight. By this time, everyone was saying goodbye, exchanging cards and CDs; there may have been some tears. Jake will be living in Sam’s old room in Harkness Hall at Oberlin next semester. What are the odds? What are the odds of any of this?

Notes from Rob Saffer, CMS Executive Director

This was a magical week. All CMS workshops are. But this was special. We had a larger group than previous workshops: more diversity of instrumentation, musical background, age and gender. Word is spreading; our workshops change not only one’s music, but also one’s life. The anecdotes keep coming – these workshops are often described as a ‘coming home’ – a place where musicians or even just fans can get back to the basics of music, feeling it in new ways, connecting with other like-minded people in an intimate, stunning setting. And, the food’s great.

Taking a five thousand foot view, this week was about rhythm. Steve and Adam shared insights about using rhythm to drive melody and harmony – the secrets rhythm can unlock. Hassan continually played with rhythm: changing, rearranging, pushing, pulling, slowing, and speeding. And there’s the rhythm of a day at CMS – basic practice, master classes, improvising orchestra, mediation – it all makes sense, it all works. It feels right in body, mind and heart.

I want to thank our friends (now family) at Full Moon – Amy, Michael, Henry, Dylan, Adam and everyone else who makes us feel so welcome. Thanks to our tireless crew of Matthew Cullen (audio), Geoff Baer (video), Janine Nichols for scribing the week’s proceedings, Michael Shore for his Tweeting, Marc Epstein for helping work cameras, Karens Levine and Wolfe for taking photos, and all the participants for creating an intimate, cooperative musical community in which everyone can thrive.

Thanks of course to the Guiding Artists who gave so generously throughout the week – Steve Coleman, Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph – and to the other artists who were on hand playing, mentoring, and sharing their wisdom: Angelica Sanchez, Ken Filiano, Taylor Ho Bynum, Hamid Drake, Harvey Sorgen, Tani Tabbal, and Omar Tamez. And we can never forget Karl and Ingrid for having the passion and insight to create CMS in the first place.

Our next workshop is September 19 – 23 with Milford Graves, Steven Bernstein, and Fabian Almazan, among others. Stay tuned.

– Rob

CMS Spring Workshop 2016 – Participant Testimonials:

“My scholarship let me immerse myself in music in a way I haven’t been able to do outside of my work and parenting for over 15 years. Everything I gained will help deepen my work as a music therapist, my own music making, and inspire who I am in the world; energized, vibrant and with a wide open heart.”
– Maya, music therapist, singer, trumpeter

“A great learning environment for methods and processes you would not normally encounter in more traditional music seminars. The guest artists are always so very helpful and generous with their time, even outside the regular sessions — during meals and student performance sessions.”
– Gene, reeds

“Because I play music nearly every day, I can get stuck in ruts in my thinking and playing. This workshop gave me a refresh and recharge. As Karl Berger reminded us, no two notes are the same. You play a G and then you play it again, and the sound waves are always different. If through the power of listening we can tune into this, then we will never hear the same note twice. There will be no ruts to get stuck in. This is why I play music. I’d like to thank the donors and sponsors of Creative Music Studios for their generosity, as they have provided me with this incredible opportunity to reconnect with my musical purpose, and to study with some of the greatest musicians alive in the world today.”
– Gabriel – cellist

“A powerful week of music-making with a wonderfully diverse and talented group. The faculty introduced a lot of great ways of thinking about sound. I’ll be processing and playing with these ideas for many months. Beyond the musical experience, CMS was remarkable for the great sense of community it fostered — unique in the openness and mutual exchange between faculty, guiding artists, and participants. Undoubtedly, friendships made at CMS will continue on both musical and social levels.”
– Sam – multi intsrumentalist

“Thank you to the lovely people who donated, allowing me to attend the CMS Spring Workshop on scholarship. I think CMS more than any organization today is committed to developing new modes of music-making while exploring the possibilities of speed of sound communication!”
– Noah, percussionist

“There are many things I got from CMS, musical stuff to life stuff. I learnt the importance of art and creativity. I always knew these things were important, but as a young musician in a materialistic world, it was hard to actually feel it. The guiding artists seem to take art and creativity incredibly seriously, so when they play, they sound so convinced and honest. Karl taught us that music really heals and changes the world, by showing us how to quiet our mind and listen to what’s really important. That so many passionate people are involved in CMS makes me realize it is my important duty as an artist to keep making more and more honest and creative music.”
– Sana, Violinist/Composer

“Being a part of the CMS community has helped me grow as an artist and as a professional. Playing music with people has a way of softening and blurring the lines between generations, socio-economic groups, races, and genders — this is why supporting young artists and musicians like me through generous donations to CMS is so incredible, because it helps bring the full potential of music into being!”
– Sarah, vocalist

“Thank you to all the donors because you are a very important part of this kind of experience. Life wisdom can show to all of us that we all need each other in very different aspects. One of the great things about CMS is that it is a community of sharing. Great things can come from this kind of workshops. Learning to listen to others before playing and learning to be in silence before trying to make music is something that we and the whole world needs.”
– Raul, guitarist

“I really enjoyed all three guest artists. Steve Coleman was particularly generous with his time — during lunch breaks, one-on-one and in small groups. Adam Rudolph made it accessible to students like me with only an elementary grasp of theory, while presenting a wealth of information that more advanced students could draw on. Hassan Hakmoun was spectacular as a teacher, musician, facilitator, and as a human being. He got all 33 of us playing Gnawa music together in an incredibly short amount of time. We could have spent all day or all week just working with Karl and Ingrid, since what they offer is so deep…”
– Hillary, vocalist

Woodstock, NY – World-class musicians taking part in the Creative Music Studio’s Fall Workshop, including composer/bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, Moroccan Gnawa master Hassan Hakmoun, drummer/percussionists Hamid Drake and Adam Rudolph, along with CMS™ co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso, are participating in four concerts Monday, June 6 through Thursday, June 9 at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY. The concerts start each night at 8:30 pm in The Roadhouse, an intimate setting to see artists who often play large concert halls or festivals.   A donation of $20 to CMS is suggested at the door. Seating in the Roadhouse is limited.

These concerts will also feature Ken Filiano on bass, Harvey Sorgen and Tani Tabbal on drums, Angelica Sanchez on piano, Omar Tamez on guitar, and other special guest artists soon to be named. The Creative Music Studio™ Fall Workshop performance line up is scheduled to be:

Monday June 6: Adam Rudolph (percussion), Hassan Hakmoun (sintir, vocals), Karl Berger (piano, vibes), Ingrid Sertso (vocals), Ken Filiano (bass), Harvey Sorgen (drums), Angelica Sanchez (piano), Omar Tamez (guitar)

Tuesday, June 7: Meshell Ndegeocello (bass/vocals), Adam Rudolph (percussion), Hassan Hakmoun (sintir, vocals), Karl Berger (piano, vibes), Ingrid Sertso (vocals), Ken Filiano (bass), Harvey Sorgen (drums), Angelica Sanchez (piano), Omar Tamez (guitar)

Wednesday, June 8: Adam Rudolph (percussion), Hassan Hakmoun (sintir, vocals), Karl Berger (piano, vibes), Ingrid Sertso (vocals), Ken Filiano (bass), Hamid Drake (drums), Angelica Sanchez (piano), Omar Tamez (guitar)

Thursday, June 9: Adam Rudolph (percussion), Hassan Hakmoun (sintir, vocals), Karl Berger (piano, vibes), Ingrid Sertso (vocals), Ken Filiano (bass), Tani Tabbal (drums), Angelica Sanchez (piano), Omar Tamez (guitar)

Directions or information about the Full Moon Resort is available by calling 845.254.5117. More information about the Creative Music Studio’s Fall Workshop is here.

CMS Workshop Guiding Artists and concert performers in 2013 – 15 included Vijay Iyer, Dave Douglas, John Medeski, Henry Threadgill, Joe Lovano, Marty Ehrlich, John Hollenbeck, Amir elSaffar, Warren Smith, Oliver Lake, Don Byron, Tyshawn Sorey, Peter Apfelbaum, Tony Malaby, Cyro Baptista, Marilyn Crispell, Steven Bernstein, Jason Hwang, Kirk Knuffke, Kenny Wessel, Steve Gorn, Mark Helias, Tom Rainey, Thomas Buckner, Judi Silvano, Harvey Sorgen, Tani Tabbal, Ken Filiano, Badal Roy, Omar Tamez, and John Menegon, in addition to Creative Music Foundation co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso.

Composer/bassist/vocalist and educator Meshell Ndegeocello, Moroccan gnawa master Hassan Hakmoun, and percussionist/composer/bandleader Adam Rudolph join Creative Music Studio Artistic Directors/Co-founders Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso as Guiding Artists for the CMS Spring 2016 Workshop intensive, June 6 – 10, at the ear-inspiring Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY.

This workshop, during long spring days and short nights, features one Guiding Artist(s) working with participants in two workshops each day, creating multiple opportunities for artists to work directly with participants as individuals or in ensembles.  As in the past, there will be daily CMS basic practice (body movement, breath work, rhythm and vocal training), as well as 90 minutes each day with Karl Berger leading orchestra of improvisers.   Additional Guiding Artists will be on hand to work with participants on a more personal level, informally coaching, playing and tutoring daily.  These will be named soon.

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Creating Community Through Sound

Day One: October 5, 2015


Heaven doesn’t have clocks.
Karl Berger

And so the founder of the CMS Fall 2015 workshop acknowledged that orientation started a little later than the printed schedule but in the excitement to begin I’m not sure anyone noticed.

Sure, the day and setting was magical; the mountains just transforming into rich fall colors, the sky a crisp blue and the air bracing. But Berger was not just talking about the grounds and environs of The Full Moon Resort.

Berger gently suggested that we were entering a kind of sacred realm - and as the workshop attendees introduced themselves it was clear that for a number of returning veterans, these workshops had become much more than just a place to improvise. The workshops had shown them a way to approach their lives outside their instruments.

One guest quoted a Tibetan meditation instruction as a way of illustrating how CMS graduates prepare to create music:

Body like a mountain,
Breath like the sea,
Mind like the sky.

But before all that - Berger gave us a few basic CMS edicts:

1. Mean what you play.
2. Don’t play what you want to play. Discover the music within that you’ve never practiced. Silence is the most important lesson you can learn here.
3. Sound, every note is a composition of many notes, overtones. So every note that you play is actually new and unheard. This realization is liberation.

Thus inspired and fed with a delicious dinner, the group retired to the Roadhouse to hear a concert by multi-instrumentalist and composer Peter Apfelbaum, bassist Ken Filiano with Berger on piano and vibes and Sertso on vocals.

The concert began before anyone realized it was happening. . .Berger and Apfelbaum seemed to be soundchecking but then launched into an abstract version of Berger’s original “Dakar Dance.” Ingrid joined the performance by announcing, “It’s cold in here, so I have to remember Africa.” It does get cold here in the mountains but by the end of the performance, a fire was burning. That’s actually not a metaphor - a resourceful attendee actually built a fire in the Roadhouse hearth.

Filiano then joined the group for a rangy and gorgeous “Lonely Woman” which had Apfelbaum switching between sax and drums.

For the final tune they performed another Ornette composition, “When Will the Blues Leave” [Karl and Ingrid’s answer, “Never ever”] with workshop attendee Aaron Latos playing drums.

The performances were fluent and masterful - Apfelbaum switching between sax, drums and piano at various times during the set and Berger even dancing a bit.

But after the ringers performed, some attendees took the stage and these rag tag children of CMS played a joyous and wonderfully damaged abstract set while Berger napped peacefully by the roaring fire. Rick Warren (guitar), Leigh Daniels (double bass), Bob Sweet (drums) and Chuck ver Straeten (vocals) started off, followed by a host of other participants playing together and experimenting late into the night. A great start to the workshop.

Day 2: October 6, 2015

Body Awareness Workshop

You can do this in the shower! - Ingrid Sertso

So what could a bunch of slouching musicians possibly learn from a program called “Body Work?” While it’s an unfortunate euphemism outside the borders CMS - it turns out that the clear teachings of Savia Berger are essential to the creative musician. I have my own daily fifteen-minute warm up sequence that has saved me from acute tendonitis for many years, but Savia’s complete body awareness training took this practice to another level. Musicians need to consider themselves athletes. . .our bodies need constant upkeep - thank god for this piece of the workshop.

And yes - Ingrid is right - doing these moves in the shower is probably wonderful, though Savia cautioned against losing your balance in the tub.

5 Minute Meditation

With any form of creative expression - you need to be in the moment. Everyone starts out innocent and pure. The magic wand in improvisation is awareness - all while letting go of turmoil.
Ingrid Sertso

The more time I spend in this community, the more I see how powerfully Don Cherry’s presence permeates CMS. Ingrid told us how Cherry would meditate before each performance and said, Before performing I have to become empty.

Voice Training

The universal sound is ‘ah’ - it’s the baby’s first cry. The ‘ah’ weaves around the breath and the breath weaves around the ‘ah. - Ingrid Sertso

Ingrid introduced the workshop to the concept of tuning the ensemble through the voice. With her direction, we were able to find a gorgeous group harmony with no effort. Ingrid then followed this up by walking us through an instant vocal composition based on various phrasings related to the word “go.”

Gamala Taki Rhythm training

With a lot of classical music groups, you can hear the paper. They do not know the music by heart. ‘By heart’ is such a beautiful English phrase and it’s very apt to what we are doing here.
Karl Berger

The Western academic musical community fetishizes counting odd meters. Now after years of practice, I can feel those meters but still struggle to put them together fluently. The Gamala Taki rhythm training system breaks up all meters into groups of twos (Taki) and threes (Gamala) - so a rhythm in 5 would be sung “Gamala Taki” or “Taki Gamala.” Removing the counting from the odd meters allows the music of the rhythms assert themselves in our playing with less effort and more fluidity.

When Karl started us off with a Gamala Taki rhythm - it felt like I was falling off a cliff of abstraction - but I was caught immediately in the pure logic of the system. The rhythm cohered with the music again! This system’s simplicity is very human. . .though of course numbers are human as well. . .but there’s a paradox: most of us, especially musicians, struggle with numbers, especially money. Could there be a Gamala Taki method for accounts receivable?

When practicing Gamala Taki, Karl reminded us to count these rhythms outward - addressing an audience - don’t turn inward and beat them INTO the body. A lesson I’ve been needing to hear my entire life.

When Karl asked the group if there were any thoughts about these rhythms and performing them with a group, attendee Aakash Mittal found the group learning environment to be a wonderful contrast to the isolated, solo practicing that makes up so much of academic music today.

If you can’t figure out where you are in the beat, wait until the next train comes in. The audience will hear the unplayed beat without a problem. In fact, they will play along with you and fill it in.
Karl Berger

Peter Apfelbaum Master Class

If you only had 2 tones how would you create drama and variety in a solo?
Peter Apfelbaum

Our extended afternoon session began with Peter’s question. . .how can we break things down to their simple parts? How can we create drama and interest by restricting the performer?

  Though it wasn’t outlined to us explicitly, Apfelbaum created an environment where we could witness the creation of a song from scratch. . .we had the privilege of working within and through his creative process for the entire day. At one point later in the session he said of his various groups, “We create everything from the ground up. The styles are all mashed up together. The music becomes a homegrown organic thing as opposed to ‘ready-made.’”

His compositions are often a rich tapestry of intertwined melodic and rhythmic phrases, all in a variety of musical ‘styles,’ and we created one together with Peter’s direction. A real revelation.

A few attendees then presented some compositions for the group to try. One composition by Aakash Mittal went through some fascinating arrangement phases with Apfelbaum’s direction. He suggested changing up instrumentation, building in more contrast, and taking the root idea of Aakash’s composition and expanding on it to create a more coherent performance.

We learned the value and drama in contrasts.

The free-est you can be in music is when you’re playing something wild against something more solid and straight ahead.
Peter Apfelbaum

Karl Berger Orchestra

Use the razor. What do I NOT want to play?

Never sound like you’re trying something, everyone who’s listening will hear that.

Listen from the point of view of the whole orchestra.
Karl Berger

The ensemble performance, under Berger’s direction, was a joy. Somehow Berger’s few simple and astringent phrases are incorporated into the ensemble immediately. It’s the mark of a great conductor. Peter dealt with many of the same issues Karl usually addresses in this session, notably how to play the ensemble vs. solely playing one’s instrument, how to tune together and how to really listen when playing in a group, playing the silence when you have nothing to add.

Listening Meditation

Karl struck a temple bowl several times.

But before he did this, he imparted some wisdom of a Tibetan Buddhist monk who had visited CMS in the early 70s, instructing the organization and its participants to: “Listen to the sound disappearing.”

And no - there’s nothing else.

Roadhouse Concert

Though there were some rumors that Rudresh Mahanthappa was feeling under the weather. . .he took to the stage with bassist Ken Filiano, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, Berger and Apfelbaum for a transcendent 40 minute group improvisation. It started with Rudresh and Kirk playing a duet. Though both are native Coloradans, it was their first time playing together. And it was well worth the wait. The two intertwined lines as if they had played together their whole lives. Later, Filiano and Berger joined in, creating a drumless quartet.    After about 15 minutes of ecstasy, another sound was heard in the distance as Peter Apfelbaum walked slowly, quietly and deliberately along the perimeter of the cozy Roadhouse playing his soprano saxophone eventually forming a quintet. And that’s when things really took off. At one point the three horns sounded more like the Moroccan musicians of Jujuka than anything else. Peter eventually put down his horn and started up on drums, truly propelling the group to even higher levels of ecstatic playing.

It seemed that the concert was over but then Berger and Filiano played a remarkable duet with Karl dancing on vibes. Berger then switched to piano and brought up Kirk for another duet, that ended perfectly.

It was the perfect end to an overwhelming day of music.

But of course - it wasn’t the end. . .CMS participants took to the stage and played long into the evening in a variety of interesting instrumental pairings - an incredible day. You mean there’s more?!

Day 3: October 7, 2015

The use of the voice is the greatest tool to shut off the thinking mind.
Karl Berger

Let’s call it the day of facing fears.

After a logy body awareness session with Savia (the temptations at breakfast got the best of me) with lots of excellent new stretches and moves, Ingrid Sertso got us tuned back into our voices again. I have to admit that the voice work, while inspirational and liberating, is just plain terrifying. . .or perhaps at the very least uncomfortable. Today we improvised vocal melodies that the entire group would repeat back - and it was hard. Facing and overcoming the anxiety of performing badly or uninterestingly; this is one of the day’s personal lessons. Of course these thoughts just get in the way of improvisation - so I pushed through and surprised myself. This voice training led us perfectly into one of Berger’s more evocative quotes of the day:

Play into the void. Surprise yourself.

We worked on additional Gamala Taki rhythm training - with a deceptively simple 8 count (Gamala Gamala Taki) and Karl had us clap on the “one” of the phrase and while only vocalizing certain syllables in the phrase. For example we would only say the “ma’s” or the “ki” in the eight count phrase. This proved to be beyond me and as a drummer who’s bread and butter ought to be counting even time - it was humbling. But it was also exciting - because now I have a huge universe of rhythm training to explore when I return home.

A listener responds to us. Give them a chance to listen. And it they’re really feeling free enough,
they might just get up and dance.

Karl Berger

The rhythm training got the group talking about playing creatively with more traditional forms of jazz. Workshop attendee Bob Sweet asked Karl if there was a way to approach standards with the creative attitude that we bring to our more abstract playing.

Berger told the group that standards were actually easier because so much had been decided for us before we start to play.

We should be able to play weddings. In any situation in music, we can be creative.

We’ve all seen tremendous musicians playing the most mundane material in the most mundane settings. There’s a way to bring the Berger awareness to every kind of gig. “It’s about beat for beat attention and remembering that you can never repeat a sound the same way so every time you play something it’s entirely new. That’s liberating.”

Master Class with Rudresh Mahanthappa

Music is a community activity, whether we like it or not.
Rudresh Mahanthappa

Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa kicked off his class with a brilliant solo and asked the attendees to comment on his performance. What kinds of concepts and feelings did his performance evoke?

    We noticed his technical fluency of course, and the “chapters” of phrasings and modes that he passed through. There were some repeated melodic motifs and a propulsive forward movement to the piece - and also a coherence to the entire composition. It felt complete. We discussed why these things might be present in his improvisation and he gave us some insight into his process.

“One of the most important things to me is groove. There’s a feeling of forward momentum that human beings gravitate towards. We’re always pushing into the moment.”

Everything we see when we wake up in the morning should be how we approach being
musicians. We seek balance.

The most important thing we should all learn as musicians, is to discover how we best learn. Figuring out what works for you is 90% of getting through each day.

Mahanthappa described his way of using visualization to practice playing difficult pieces like “Giant Steps.” Instead of spending three months holed up in a rehearsal studio, he concentrated on all aspects of the piece for three months, mainly by listening to it again and again. When he picked up his horn, he was able to access the tune in a more fluent way - and was able to bypass that special hell we know as a rehearsal studio.

Though he spoke many times about the community of musicians from which he draws energy and inspiration, he also advised us to work on solo playing.

Solo playing is really important. There’s no safety net. Those moments that we have alone with our instrument are very precious. While it’s a bit of a cliche - it’s important to make practice fun. Never judge yourself.

The attendees were interested in how Mahanthappa found his personal style of music and composition.

My first paying gig out of school was working on a cruise ship. It seemed like the dream job right? But it was terrible. After that experience I never wanted to be in another situation where my saxophone was in my mouth and I was hating what I was playing.

If you’re really following your heart, things work out 95% of the time but you have to pay the price of what that means.

Mahanthappa described years of eating rice and beans and even a moment when he didn’t have enough money for a subway fare and walked 6 hours from Carroll Gardens Brooklyn to the Conde Nast building in midtown Manhattan to deliver a CD so an upcoming show could get listed in The New Yorker. (It was listed and the gig was packed.)

Rudresh then led the group in an incredibly difficult composition that he taught to the band by rote. First he clapped out the rhythm. After a long struggle, attendee Aaron Latos discovered that the beat was palindromic and looked something like this: 44 33 22 33 22 33 44. After we shedded the pulse, Rudresh introduced the melody - which was also symmetrical (you’ll have to ask the pitched instruments what was going on here!) and the ensemble again struggled to master it. We ended this session playing the tune while various members of the group took turns soloing over the rhythm section. It was another moment of terror for me - but the four drummers were playing sympathetically if I do say so myself. After we played the tune for a while, Rudresh asked us what meter the song was in. According to him, there were two right answers:



We don’t care.

The session ended with some more discussion about Mahanthappa’s philosophy and musical path.

We learned about his approach to playing odd metered phrases in different tempos over the pulse of his songs, of his love of math, and an Eddie Harris comedy record called The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit.

“I consider myself an Indian American. The music is a byproduct of just inhabiting my skin every day.”

Honestly - this recap just scratches the surface of the ground we covered together - it was a really deep session with a master.

Karl Berger Improvisers Orchestra

After wrapping our heads around Rudresh’s song in 21 - we were glad to crawl back into papa Karl’s loving arms - so we could play. . .another song in 21. It was an older tune called “Open Time” despite it not being in open time.

But first we had a lesson in dissonance. Berger had the string section play a dissonant tri-tone. Then he had the dissonant violin play very faintly underneath the others. . .instead of causing a tension, the note gave the chord some color. So Berger taught us that there really isn’t dissonance - there’s just a different kind of harmony. Another liberating idea.

Karl started us out by having everyone choose any note and sustain it as an orchestra. It sounded tremendous – everyone deeply in tune with everyone else! We used that as our foundation for the group improvisation that followed. Watching Berger work an orchestra is pure magic - he draws power and grace out of the group somehow. The music that we create always sounds like Karl Berger - even though we have a ton of freedom. His style of conducting reminds me of my time working with Eye and the Boredoms. Both inspirational figures, both completely in control of their giant orchestras!

Listening meditation

Wherein we’re taught to listen to the disappearing resonance of a bowl. . .

Chainsaws used to bother me but now they are a form of practice. Their sound disappears as well, explained Karl.

Concert at the Roadhouse

The guiding artist tonight was pretty exciting for me - finally we had our guiding drummer Billy Martin in our midst! I know that Peter and Karl both sat at the drum set, and Peter is extremely accomplished on the instrument - but I’ve been hungering for a “real” drummer to play with our heavy teachers. Martin did not disappoint.

The ensemble included Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Ken Filiano on bass, Karl Berger on vibes, Ingrid Sertso on vocals and Peter Apfelbaum on wooden flute, soprano sax, tenor sax and piano. . .

During the 2nd tune, Peter and attendee altoist Gus Mancini marched in from the rear of the roadhouse, intertwining musical lines as they approached the stage. The group went through so many different colors and moods - and Gus more than held his own during a couple trading sets with Peter and Karl.

The final piece was a beautiful solo piano rendition by Berger of the Eric Dolphy tune, “2:45” that was the last song Dolphy performed live before he died in Berlin. (Story goes that Karl and Ingrid were the ones who took Dolphy to the hospital where he died.)

I tried to run out of the Roadhouse in order to get back and write up this recap - but bassist Lee Daniels collared me before I could escape, “Let’s play something.”

So it was the final moment of overcoming fear for the day.

As per usual - the CMS attendees in various combinations - Stuart Leigh, Rick Warren, Sana Nagano, Hyuna Park, Roland Parkins, Seth Kessel, Aakash Mittal, Thomas Wandell, Gabriel Dresdale and others - played late into the night, trying out some of what they learned during the day. . .and now I’m finished writing this up. It’s time for bed.

Day 4: October 8, 2015

Don’t make your feeling for the beat dependent on your instrument - the time has to be inside you.
Karl Berger

The final day has been bitter sweet. I’m exhausted. I’m disappointed that I’ve spent the late evenings holed up in my room, jotting down these notes. The days have been far fuller and more nuanced than I can capture in these missives - maybe I can try to drop in a few observations which usually fall through the cracks of my other recaps.

Definitely Ken Filiano’s super-human encouragement and positive presence is something that I haven’t even alluded to before. He’s a monster on his instrument - but he has a sensitivity to the beginners’ mind and ability that is unsurpassed. Like Karl and Ingrid, he’s a person who communicates clearly and passionately - and obviously loves helping students reach higher levels.

I haven’t mentioned the great conversations I’ve had with veterans of CMS’s first incarnation, and with other newer students and guiding artists. It’s a place full of inspiration and awareness. There’s a lot of music school recovery happening here - a lot of openness and support from the guiding artists. Peter Apfelbaum and Karl are often bringing stand-out attendees to the stage during the Roadhouse gigs. Tonight we saw performances by saxophonist Aakash Mittal, cellist Gabriel Dresdale, pianist Hyuna Park, guitarist Mike Gassman, drummer Aaron Latos, violist Sana Nagano, alongside of the guiding artist masters. . .and everyone distinguished themselves; everyone belonged up there.

The day held a tinge of melancholy; there was an awareness that we needed to listen to the sound of the workshop disappearing. We aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and dive back into rhythm training, improvisation and singing. This is it.

The day began with a sense of consolidation. The workshop’s structure is meant to serve as a model for the life of a creative artist. Part of that resides in practical approaches to living - thus the body awareness work we’ve done twice a day with Savia is foundational. You gotta feel right to play right (and write right).

Then there’s the mindfulness meditation with Ingrid - five minutes of work on emptying and being fully in the NOW. For those of us who can’t sit still, Ingrid led us in a walking meditation around the edge of the barn space - and we leave the workshop with a number of tools that can heighten our awareness of our surroundings and quiet the mind.

And then we sing. . .which again was beatific. I avoided improvising vocally as the group sung a deep bed of low “OM” tones. I’m not proud of it - but there’s gotta be some reasons for me to come back to this workshop next time! The voice is everyone’s primary instrument - it’s our first instrument and our first problem that needs solving (to paraphrase something Thomas Wandell said during lunch - “the artists’ first problem is figuring out how to express themselves”). The voice is with us every waking moment - it’s our most intimate companion - so activating it becomes one of the musician’s elemental goal.

During Rhythm Training Karl discussed the three elements of rhythm:

Pulse - the heart beat of the piece
Language - “Rhythm is asymmetrical - no language is in 4/4. Follow the language.”
Form - this could mean meter/bars/song/symphony. . .the large rhythms that inform the entire creative gesture.

We were reminded of Karl’s concept of beat for beat attention—always feel and be with each beat of a rhythm.

When Karl asked for questions I chimed in. Yesterday’s Gamala Taki training was incredibly difficult for me - and I think it revealed a great deficit in my feel of time - so I asked Karl about it. I’m a drummer - and my time is supposed to be impeccable - but after 25 years, it turns out I can barely manage an 8 count.

Thankfully many participants were feeling similarly to me and were glad for the question. Of course I thought I was the only one who couldn’t deal with the 6/4 Gamala Gamala Taki rhythm.

So Karl described the three time feels for all of us.

First you just play all the beats in a pattern. If there are 8 beats in a phrase, you play them all.

Second is feeling the beats you don’t play and being able to sit comfortably in the void between the sounded beats.

Third are long tones that run across the beats. You need to be able to sing long tones and feel how many beats pass during the long tones. This will allow you to improvise melodies over the time.

No matter what you practice, always return to the fundamentals - sound, singing and remembering that no sound ever repeats.

“I’ve worked with musicians on all levels and everything you need to learn you can learn by feel. Listening is the basis for playing - not the other way around.” – Karl Berger

Master Class with Billy Martin

Improvising is the only way to get through life.
If anyone asks me what kind of musician I am, I tell them I’m experimental. Improvising is where the experimenting happens.
Billy Martin

     Martin took the Karl Berger concept of leaving space to let the audience in and applied it specifically to soloing. Using an example of a Max Roach solo, Martin talked about his concept of “stream of phrases.” Each performance gesture is followed by silence. . .the next gesture can be seen as commentary on the first phrase - so you end up in conversation with yourself. Hopefully you can stand the company.

“Silence is what gives power to the sound. It allows you to actually listen to what you play.” - Martin

Martin also introduced the workshop to his concept of the “omniverse” - or the universe of all possible expression and language. If you visualize it like a massive grid - each area of the grid represents a different set of choices related to your performance - it could include pitch, dynamics, articulation, length, etc. Martin suggested an exercise wherein each solo phrase is pulled from a completely different area of the “omniverse” - so every short passage has its own unique quality. He also demonstrated this concept on my drums. . .and made them sound great! So I no longer can blame my drums for the sound of my playing.

Martin also discussed a few additional concepts of soloing.

Timing - i.e. when to make the statement. “Some of the greatest comedians are great drummers. They know when to time the punchline.”

Tempo - which if it’s not arbitrary, can be used to heighten the intensity of emotional states.

Rhythmic Harmony or Counterpoint - two or more pulses happening at the same time will create a feeling. The more pulses, the more complex the feeling.

Martin then introduced us to his composition based on the sound of crickets in a field. It’s a fascinating concept - and like the best ones - it was very evocative and very simple to grasp.

The awesome word of the day was stridulation - which is the act of producing sound by rubbing together certain body parts. The piece collects a set of six rhythms in various meters - 2, 3, 4 and 6 - and each person in the ensemble chooses one of the rhythms and sticks with it. If you’re not paying attention - the “one” completely disappears - and the musicians in the group were initially frustrated by this. But Billy explained that he didn’t want people to get hung up on single ways of hearing the beats. . .with all those multiple meters going on at once - you need to open yourself up to the multiple ways that you can hear this music.

Along the same lines of being inspired by stridulating insects, Martin described the orchestra as an organism - and as this organism we’re all arrangers and can drive and direct the sound in dramatic ways.

After lunch we did a long performance of his piece “Strangulation 1” which worked on the stridulation concept in a more abstract sense - as every member of the ensemble took a solo, Martin encouraged us to engage the energy of each soloist and support each performance sympathetically.

Along the same lines of being inspired by stridulating insects, Martin described the orchestra as an organism - and as this organism we’re all arrangers and can drive and direct the sound in dramatic ways.

After lunch we did a long performance of his piece “Strangulation 1” which worked on the stridulation concept in a more abstract sense - as every member of the ensemble took a solo, Martin encouraged us to engage the energy of each soloist and support each performance sympathetically.

Karl Berger Orchestra

Rhythm and dynamics are the TWO most important elements in music. The notes are in 3rd place.

The final performance of the orchestra was definitely the most in tune. The ensemble felt tight and responsive and Karl was able to introduce some melodic material that he directed the group to perform at different times during the performance. There’s something magical about the Berger Improvisers Orchestra. . .he is able to conjure a wide range of colors and sounds out of us. But I need to work on my swing time. My goal for the next session is to be able to play this fluently. I have about 8 months right? (Mark your calendars for the June 6 – 10, 2105 CMS Spring Workshop with Meshell Ndegeocello, Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph, among many others)

Roadhouse Concert

Tonight was all about the workshop attendees. Every performance had attendees playing and once again the performances went long into the night. I can still hear you guys while I write this back in my room! I think I recognize Thomas Wandell on drums!

At one point, after a ton of instrumental improvising (save for Ingrid’s incredible instant poetry) Chuck Ver Straeten said, “How about if just voices went up on stage for once?” Sarah Hooff, Aaron Latos, Annemarie Weisner, Roland Parkins, Leigh Daniels joined Chuck for a vocalizing improv.

This vocal ensemble then morphed into an a cappella rendition of “Happy Birthday” (now thankfully in the public domain - we can’t afford the publishing fees) to CMS participant guitarist Mike Gassman as only CMS freaks could do (his birthday is tomorrow - or as Ingrid might say - NOW) proving Berger's statement that even playing in a happy birthday choir can be a creative act.


I didn’t know how I would take the next morning’s breakfast. The workshop was ending. As we said our goodbyes, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s comments about music being a community activity resonated clearly. Here was a strong, empowered group of creative musicians with whom I can share ideas and perform for the rest of my life. I watched these musicians’ spirits grow stronger by the day. As I started on the long drive back to Queens I didn’t immediately throw on the radio or distract myself from the task at hand. I listened to the sound of the road disappearing beneath me and then practiced my gamala taki’s for a while. Even though I’ve been playing and creating music for at least 25 years - this was the rare time when a sharper path emerged from the chaos of this practice. Music as a way of life has refined itself away from a dream and is the NOW.

Thank you all! See you all in June 2016!

CODA 2 – From Rob Saffer, CMF Executive Director

I think I say this every time, but this workshop seemed to surpass them all. In the first day, the group cohered, an orchestra blending and listening. Maybe it’s because so many participants have been to CMS workshops before and know how to connect deeply, musically and personally. Or maybe it’s because the Guiding Artists once again pushed and pulled everyone to explore new areas of music, art and life. Or maybe it’s just the warm atmosphere of the Full Moon Resort when the leaves are burning fall colors. It’s all of those things, of course, but mostly it’s the magic that comes from the CMS pedagogy and methodology, the path of living in the ‘music mind,’ a place of open hearts, minds and ears, where listening is even more important than playing. As Karl said, Heaven doesn’t have clocks.

Once again I want to thank Matthew Cullen our sound engineer, Geoff Baer and Woodstock Films for videography, the staff of the Full Moon (especially Amy Carpenter), John “Kid Millions” Colpitts for his written insights and outsights, Mike Shore, Guiding Artists Peter Apfelbaum, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Billy Martin, Ken Filiano, Kurt Knuffke, Savia Berger, and of course the always inspiring Karl and Ingrid. And very special thanks to our supportive board of directors and generous donors (you know who you are) – without you, these workshops would not be possible.

In music,

Remember: June 6 – 10 with Meshell Ndegeocello, Hassan Hakmoun, Adam Rudolph and many more.



“I went to Berklee and grew up taking intense lessons all my life…so being at CMS was very eye-opening. We are so used to thinking that we need to study and learn more from outside resources, but CMS taught me to appreciate my more natural creativity, and to appreciate art and who we are.”

“This was my third workshop in a row and my enjoyment and appreciation grows every time.”

“Directly following CMS, I played a gig… I noticed a tremendous change in my playing. The combination of practicing free expression and the odd time signatures made a huge difference. I was just doing things that have never come out of my fingers before. Even the wrong notes worked… I kept up with working on what we focused on during the workshop and my playing again has been much more meaningful, concise and expressive.”

“I was given tools with practical applications to my daily practice. I was given new inspiration and new approaches to composition.”

“The experiences I had at CMS this October go beyond ‘chops’ on my instrument; the workshop served to strengthen my connection with my own music-making process on a really fundamental level. It’s a great ‘safe space’ to experiment, to try new things out, to be really musically vulnerable, and work on fundamentals with great teachers.”

“I will most remember the concerts and jams at the roadhouse. After a long day of good work, it was such a pleasure to wander over to the roadhouse and be washed in transcendent music.”

“At night, watching the performers, I was able to see masters working through the same things we were working on during the day. Also, getting up and jamming was crucial to this experience. Being able to apply a full day's worth of teaching and thought into an improvised situation each night was great. “

“CMS was an experience that will have a lasting effect on my music (and possibly much more). I'm still experiencing the ripples from this.”

“This workshop was exactly what I was looking for in my musical development. It is at once a very fun, yet very focused and serious environment. “

“In no other format have I found teachers as accessible or fellow musicians as engaged… I’ve grown from them in ways no other kind of music-educational context can touch. There are subtle, ESSENTIAL parts of the music-making process overlooked by four years of a traditional music conservatory and a decade of lessons that a short week with Karl, Ingrid, and the other great teachers at CMS directly addresses.”

“When explaining CMS to friends/fellow musicians, I made sure to tell them it wasn't like a music college workshop. It was a holistic experience. Everything we did added to the full experience. The meditation helped us to shut out the internal noise. The vocal warm ups were fun as well as helped us tune up with one another. I never experienced being in a group where everybody was listening and contributing their voices in such a way.”

“I always loved and did meditation on my own but it was so nice to do it with other musicians, and to see its effects on other musicians as well as on myself. I really realized that creativity is something that comes naturally if I let it, by calming my mind and by opening myself up to it. That was mindblowing to actually see it working to every one of us. I still practice this stuff on my own, and with some of my friends after CMS.“

“CMS is rare but is very important because it teaches us to appreciate what is and who we really are as artists in a simple way, rather than just teaching us more instrumental techniques and some new music theories.”

“I feel that the experience that CMS offered me was unique, in that it helped break away the barrier between my raw emotions and expression. I could also say it helped me use my instrument (guitar) as a way to channel my raw emotion… CMS was a way to take it to the next level. Having CMS makes the world a better place.”

“I feel as though CMS was integral for me continuing forward in life as an artist.”

“I learned to listen. Technical ability is important, and the more we play the better that will become, but music, improvisation especially, all comes down to listening…if one never learns how to listen then they will never ascend to the next level of true artistry and musicianship.”

“CMS is a workshop that aims to get to the heart of music as a primal, intuitive process (as opposed to the prescriptive, usual route of music education) through conducted improvisation.”

“Robert Fripp once said in an interview that playing music is like you are sitting in a room with your instrument and music is trying to get in the front door, but the foyer is too cluttered with all of your knowledge of scales and chords and theory and your fancy riffs and it can't get in. So the trick is to make room to get the door open so music can come in. I thought that was a good description of what CMS does for me.”

“Although I have been happy and grateful with my life as a violinist I have in NY, I always felt like something was missing, and I knew what it was: I just never really knew how to fully accept and to appreciate my own creative music and art, my own voice… CMS helped me find my voice to play my music my way.”

“CMS is unique in that it unites individuals with different musical backgrounds and abilities while returning each musician back to the foundational basics of music. The 'ground level' instruction at CMS, which focuses on the basics of expression, rhythm, and playing as a unit, complimented and enriched my past experiences performing and playing music. It also helped me to recognize and work towards overcoming some hangups I developed as a ‘paper trained’ musician!”


“Experiencing the teaching of Karl Berger was very humbling. He has such an incredibly deep understanding of music; I tried to hold on to everything he said. His rhythm-counting GaMaLaTaKi system turns mathematical odd meters into an accessible language. Participating in his orchestra was also an amazing experience. Being a part of that changed my view of music in a way; to express through soundscape.”

“GaMaLaTaKi and Ingrid [Sertso]’s voice-tuning work is the kind of thing that’s simple to learn but takes a lifetime to master.“

“Karl: His general philosophy and ‘packaging’ of musical concepts is an inspirational delight. He succeeds in de-coupling the (man-created) intimidating parts of music from playing, and his words helped me reconnect with and respect the natural musical tendencies we all have! He is a gifted teacher, and I would love to have more time to listen to his wisdoms during the workshops.”

“Humble but guided by pedagogical intent, Billy [Martin] was great to work with because he created musical situations that were structured, yet designed to push each musician out of their comfort zone. The ‘stridulations’ rhythm work and improv that came out of it was one to remember!“

“As for what I will I most remember it's more the attitude advice rather than technical advice. Like Rudresh [Mahanthappa] suggesting that you go watch a season of The Sopranos if you're not having fun practicing, and that if you want to get good at something you need to to stop judging yourself and do it for fun. And Ken [Filiano] and Kirk [Knuffke] are great as they really make themselves available to answer any questions. The end result is there's a lot of musical knowledge in one place to tap into.”

“Rudresh Maranthappa and Billy Martin left me with some great rhythmic ideas to work on, in particular!”


“I like that it wasn’t just about becoming a better musician, but also about becoming a better human being and an artist. The whole thing felt more intimate than any other program.”

“I am still digesting what happened on the marvelous week and I probably will spend my whole life to understand more and more.”

“My experience at CMS was a life-changer, for sure. I am a classically trained cellist who has always felt the strong power in music, but has struggled with overcoming the problem of ‘playing the page’ that Karl Berger has talked about. Meaning, you can hear the stiffness in the notes when played from sheet music, as if they were frozen, or dead. But as we know, music is a living art... The notes written on the page are meant to fly. Ultimately, music must be an expression of our freedom, not our boundaries. Or perhaps, our freedom within boundaries. So with all that being said, I found my freedom at CMS, in my ability to play what I hear and to hear what I play. This is more than a lesson in music, it is a lesson for life."

“I learnt so much from the whole workshop; it really changed my perspective as an artist and as a person.”

“These workshops have a big effect on my life. I'm just sorry I have to wait until June for the next one.”


“The Full Moon Resort was in a beautiful location in the mountains and the food was of high quality with many options. There was no shortage of coffee. Having the basics covered in this way seemed to give everyone great morale.”

“The beautiful setting is inspiring. I really enjoyed the fall foliage visible within the magical valley of the Full Moon Resort.”

“There is a wonderful sense of community, it takes place in a beautiful setting, and there is a sense of freedom and possibility.”


“I hope that I will be able to attend future CMS events – I truly was made to feel part of a family.”

“The best experience was definitely meeting all the participants and faculty as well as hearing them each play at the concerts and jam sessions. It was very inspirational. The worst part was probably leaving.”

“I’m sure some of the relationships I developed at CMS will grow well into the future, and the caliber of the attendees and admin people is so high, that it’s nearly worth signing up just to hang out with them for a few days! One of the best things about it is the mixing of ages and social mentalities… Such an interesting crowd, and I am very happy to be an alumni. “

“The key lesson I learned was that I'm not crazy and there's many other people out there just like me.”

“I enjoyed that we all hung out in the cafeteria and at the late-night concerts and sessions freely. There was something about us just being there at the barn, hanging out after our long day of music and meditation. The guiding artists have a pure way of performance and in the conversations I had with them; I realized that this whole thing about art and music matter so importantly, and that I am a part of this… It was like I knew this fact, but now I know it more in my heart.”

“My experience at the fall CMS workshop was releasing, transformative, and revitalizing. I was ecstatic to be surrounded by fellow human beings all on a similar wavelength to my own. I reached a state of focused relaxation that I have not felt in years and it has stayed with me since leaving the workshop. The generosity of the faculty was pleasantly surprising to me as well. Each and every one of them were willing to have private one on one conversations outside of the typical schedule. I was urged by all of them to stay in touch and was given the means to do so.”