Creative Strings Workshop: Part Two

Had a blast learning with these guys. Micah and Andy (back) were fantastic coaches!

Had a blast learning with these guys. Micah and Andy (back) were fantastic coaches!

Small ensembles offered personal coaching in a supportive cohort.

This is second in a series of blog posts recapping my experience participating in the Creative Strings Workshop in Columbus, Ohio. 

Part One: A Musical Convergence in Central Ohio
Part Two: Small Ensembles Offered Personal Coaching in a Supportive Cohort
Part Three: Late Night Jams, Spontaneous Clinics and Takeaways

For much of our day, work was centered around small chamber style ensemble of 5-6 players. Each group was paired with two coaches who brought their unique style and background to our nascent string band. Our morning coach, Micah Tomas offered his expertise and experience as an accomplished jazz pianist. We swung into more fiddle stylings in the afternoon with Andy Reiner. However distant jazz and fiddle genres seemed, I found many common threads.

Though much of the workshop was contained with in the common spaces of our residence hall, an essential part of the immersive Creative Strings experience was to prepare a repertoire to play during several public performances throughout the week.  These included gigs at local libraries and a final community concert on the last evening of the week. Needless to say, nerves amongst even the well-schooled musicians within the group were heightened. In the space of 2 days, how were we supposed to prepare songs that were completely new within genres less familiar to our classical training?  It was akin to learning a new language in the morning and having to order food from a menu in that language in the evening. 

“Now is the Time” (cover) by Charlie Parker. Performed as part of the Creative String Workshop and Festival 2018.

The nature of a performance looming brought about a clear intention for us to learn and learn quickly. Among many common elements of non-classical genres, I've come to understand much of the music comes from simple and often easy-to-remember melodic themes and that creative playing. Whether a simple jazz lead or a celtic fiddle tune, these are just foundations to the "creative" element of the Creative Strings Workshop. 

You can see the result of our small ensemble sessions in the videos included. Though I won't get into much of the particulars, I will say that these ensembles/bands became a tightly knit cohort by the end of the week. Much of the attraction to participate in CSW was a desire to improve our improvisational skills. Technically, that means composing on the spot as you hear the music. On a deeper level, I've come to understand that improvising or taking a solo is as much finding your own voice and expressing your musical ideas clearly. So the ensemble came to be a supportive environment to discover and bring out our authentic voices and ideas. Often the nature of performing leaves a musician vulnerable, particularly if the song or the tune comes directly from their voice and their heart. Though the tunes learned were jazz standards or simple 16-bar tunes, playing a song with our own voice, with our own handwriting can leave a player feeling a bit exposed. 

“Across My Path” by Micah Thomas. Performed as part of the Creative Strings Workshop and Festival 2018.

By the end of the week, there was a growing confidence in myself and each musician in the group. Tunes seemed tighter, solos were more articulate and the music came through as joy. On its own each small ensemble session offered more personal instruction and encouragement to help reveal our voice through our instruments. The urgency of performing and making our newly found voices heard in a public space though nervy, created a more bonded ensemble both musically and socially. Through these leaps of faith and moments of growth, I love how music can make such indelible memories.