Report on first Creating Music Together retreat

I hear an occasional schhhunkck as one of the melting icicles slides off the eves onto the ground. I sit at a table in the workroom in the late morning. A musician sits on the other side, four seats to my left. I can hear a third typing on her keyboard, and others moving about the room. I keep hearing the vocal parts for a funk tune. And am dancing and moving about my chair. I get up and walk around. Then sit down again. The energy in the room is palpable.

Ice through the window

Ice through the window


The first Creating Music Together retreat took place January 3-10, 2018 at St. Mary's Retreat House in Oxford Michigan. Thirteen musicians, seven women and six men, gathered for seven days and seven nights of creating new music together, cooking, cleaning, listening exercises, vocalizations, rehearsals, informal performances, and silent time.

Meals together at the table.

Meals together at the table.

Daily Schedule:

Days were structured around meals. Two people and usually one Kitchen Coordinator prepared each of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Another two or three members helped with washing up. Assistants also prepared meals and washed up.

  • 6:30 am breakfast team begins preparation

  • 7:15 am sitting

  • 8:00 am breakfast (transition out of silence)

  • ~8:45 am washing up

  • ~9:45 am morning group session

  • 11:00 am lunch team begins preparation

  • 1:00 pm lunch (transition out of silence)

  • ~2:00 pm washing up

  • 2:00 pm (on two days) Housework: cleaning toilets, sanitizing door-handles, and other housework for those not washing up

  • 3:00 pm afternoon group session

  • 6:00 pm dinner

  • ~7:00 pm washing up

  • 8:00 pm evening session

  • ~10:00 pm sharing reports followed by vocalization

  • ~10:45 pm silence begins

On most days, silence began after the evening sharing of reports and ended before breakfast. On two days, it ended at lunch.

Morning sitting and evening reports in the circle.

Morning sitting and evening reports in the circle.

Informal Performances:

There were three rounds of group music creating, performance, and notation cycles. The group of thirteen was divided by lot into three groups: two groups of five and one group of three. Each group included one of the Assistants, who assumed the role of midwife/referee. Their main job was to support each group and the individual participants in listening to their inspiration, communicating it to the other members of the group, and to help prepare the group for performance. Part of the role included keeping track of time to ensure that each piece got as much time and attention as possible within the time available.

The first round of performances took place at meal times. It was quickly apparent that the group desired to give each performance their full attention, and subsequent performances took place during the morning and afternoon sessions.

Remarkable Moments:

There were some remarkable moments. Many on the retreat commented that they had done things they never thought they could do. This was the case for me as well, having to stretch, and step into roles I had never assumed before.

Each person on the retreat, including the four Assistants and two Kitchen Coordinators, wrote and performed three new pieces, and contributed fragments to each of two large group pieces. Four participants, including a former cop, had never written a piece of music before. One musician completed their first piece of music since 2004, and one participant, who only two years ago had struggled to complete a single composition, completed more than twenty scores during the week. The spirit and mutual good atmosphere of the week was noted by all.

What's Next?

There was a lot of energy on the retreat, and many who were there remarked that they found themselves completing pieces when they returned home. We've just confirmed that there will be another retreat, and the organizing team will meet soon to discuss the when and where. More details to follow.

So for those who are interested, I invite you to begin saving $95/month to attend.

I stand outside in the cold, looking at the red-orange glow from the papers of the scores as they burn. The flames have subsided. I feel a strong wrench in my gut. I haven’t noted this sensation before. I want to save something from the week. I stay with the sensation for a moment. It passes, and I relax. The moment I spent in the workroom studying each score comes clearly to mind and I know that the music that appeared on the retreat is still available to me.