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HessFest 2016 Part 17: A Flight Odyssey

One of the oldest work of literature that arrived to us is the Iliad (the dramatized history of Troy's war). This was also the first literary work to have "spin-offs" (that is, new literature based on characters of the first work, often secondary characters): many other tales are set after Troy's war and narrate the return of Greek heroes back home. The most famous of these works is the Odyssey. So, let me tell you what happened to me coming back home from the HessFest 2016 events, my own personal odyssey.

I wake up at 6am, in time. Shower, packing, coffee. There is a taxi van waiting in front of the hotel, but it's not ours (it's waiting for other people who are not shoring up). In fact our taxi van is late... and when it arrives, it's also not a taxi van: it's a normal car. We consider briefly taking the van, but we don't want to "steal" it from the people who booked it - even if they are not showing up. Our driver is able to fit 3 of us (guitars included) in the car, but one of the safety belts does not close properly, so the safety belt alarms rings all through the ride to the airport.

I enter the terminal and scan my pass. Now, I need to go back in time to 6 months ago when I booked my ticket: it was booked as a no-stop flight from Chicago to Edmonton. But one month ago, United Airlines canceled that flight so they rerouted me through Denver... when I called them about it they told me that if I didn't like it I was free to change it for any other flight or get a refund... but one month before the events there were no flights left. So, I didn't like it, but I took it because all alternatives were worse - but rather than being home at noon, I will be home at 3pm.

So I scan my pass. And lo and behold, the flight to Denver is canceled. The scanning machine tells me that I can get another flight solution rerouting through Huston, TX. I don't think so. The Customer Service desk gives me a different solution through Toronto (with that, I will be home at 5pm)

I ask 2 specific question to them: 1. Will I have enough time to get to the connecting flight even if I'm going through customs ("yes, and you won't have to go through security again") 2. Will my luggage go straight to Edmonton without me picking it up in Toronto ("yes definitely"). Take note of these, dear reader, because every single statement in these answers is a lie...

So I get to my flight to Toronto, we land safely, I run through customs, run through the luggage carousels, run to the "connection" door... and they ask me "did you cam here on a United Flight" "yes" "then you left your luggage into customs.

Turns out, United does not transfer luggage from one flight to another in Toronto. I need to go back into customs. I need a form for that, then I need to wait "under the blue clock in the lobby" for a guard to escort me.

Did I mention my flight is taking off in 50 minutes?

I go under the blue clock. A guard arrives, he walks reeeeeeally slow because he has a walking cane. He is escorting another person and "he will be back for me". It take 15 minutes for the guard to be back. Always. Walking. Really. Slow. He takes me and another person (in the meantime,other 8-9 people were collecting under the blue clock to go back into customs...) to a customs guard. The other person with me asks the officer if he can take the luggage of his friends to, to which the guard replies with a simple "no". So, that other person flips off completely and starts to YELL at the guard. I take care to show that I am NOT with him, I also try to calm him down. In the end I grab this person and simply move him through the door, while apologizing to the guard. Heck, I don't need to get stuck here right now.

We get our luggage, and to get out of customs we need to go through an inspection. Great. That's another 20 minutes lost waiting in a line, only to be told "yes, you can go through".

I run through the connections door again, check in my luggage, run upstairs for terminal D, get through security, see what gate my flight is in (on the opposite side of the terminal), run through the terminal, and arrive at the gate precisely when they are closing the door to the aircraft.


They transport us (me, and a crying woman who arrived just before me at the gate...) to the Customer Service. They put me on the standby list for the next flight (so I can be home at 7pm), and just in case they book me on another flight (that would take me home at 11pm...).

I go to the gate of the next flight (walk all through the terminal...) and I write a FB post. Then they change the gate (walk through the terminal again). I grab a bite to eat. They start filling up the flight. Apparently there are a few more people before me on the standby list... so when all regular passengers are in they go through their list. And hey! I get the very last free spot! I am overjoyed! I grab the ticket, walk through the bridge, enter the aircraft and walk to my seat.

But there is someone else on my seat. And their ticket have the correct seat number too. I talk with the flight attendant and after a couple of calls, a representative of Air Canada tells me (I'm still standing in the middle of the aircraft) that there has been a mistake and I have to go back to the gate.

At this point I have to confess that my answer was not quiet, and that I probably hurt some people's sensibilities. Make that "I definitely hurt some people sensibilities".

At the gate, they tell me that they are going to make an exception to the rules (I'd like to know their rules...), and book me a seat on the next flight because "it's an overbooked flight, but there's still one seat left". Wait, what? Anyway. I grab my ticket. Walk back to Customer Service (all through the terminal). I ask them if the ticket is valid and if I am on that flight or not. They say yes.

I also ask if they know where my luggage is. It's on the flight I lost, the one I tried to board, or will it be on the next? They have no idea.

This time rather than walking to the gate, I wait where I am and get some dinner. then, 10m before boarding time, I walk to the gate... all through the terminal again.

The moment I sit down I hear "gate change, the flight to Edmonton is now on gate D26". On the other side of the terminal.

At this point I feel murderous. The look on my face must reflect that since people now are taking quite large circles around me.

The flight is late, but at the end we manage to board. This time the ticket is correct, so I board the flight. I exchange a few words with a nice Polish guy that is traveling with his family. I read a bit, I sleep a bit. We land in Edmonton alright. The aircraft taxis, then stop. We stand up and grab our carry-ons.

Then the Captain voice announces: "we seem to have some problem, the bridge of the airport will not extend so we cannot get out of the aircraft. We just called the airport, so hopefully the problem will be solved soon". At this point I can't help but start laughing hysterically. This day just won't let go.

20 minutes later they fix the problem, walk through the terminal (it was the last gate), my legs are killing me. Eva and Celeste are waiting me at the exit and I get all my luggage immediately. My odyssey is over it's good to be back.

Until next time :-)

HessFest 2016 Part16: Aug 30

Last day of all events for this year. And it's a great day! Yes, we are all a bit tired (both students and trainers) because we have been at it for a long time, but we are all still pushing to reach new heights!

We play some more improvised counterpoint, and now we make it sound not only baroque, but also jazz. We do more complex rhythmic activities, and more creative ear training.

In the afternoon Mike Walsh gives us a lesson on guitar noises and stage moves (useful for anybody who plays on stage... and always funny!) then we have students coming on stage to play solos they composed during the event.

After that there is the diploma ceremony (another round of handshakes... my hand still feels funny) and we wrap up the events with a short speech from all the trainers.

When the students leave the theatre, the trainers stay to help Tom Hess and his crew to tear down all the equipment, and then we go to dinner (Pizza at Giordano's, offered by Tom Hess... who during all the events was often paying for all his table when eating out).

I hate goodbyes, but I know that I will see these wonderful people again in 10 months: the next events are in June 2017!

Back at the hotel I pack my luggage, then I go to the lobby to stay a bit more with my friends. I leave at 3am (and I have to wake up at 6am...) while some others opt to do an all-nighter. Tomorrow we go back home...

EDIT: the travel home was quite an adventure. I will write another post about it in a few hours.

HessFest 2016 Part 15: Aug 29

Today we start easy for the first hour of training, and then we move into advanced territory. From improvised baroque counterpoint to modal exchanges, from polyrhythms to advanced ear training, we push these people like there is no tomorrow.

Too bad for them, there IS going to be a tomorrow, and it's going to be harder than today :-)

Best moment of the day: Tom Hess explaining exercises on stage, and during a pause for effect we hear a LOUD thunder: a flash flood just started. Very dramatic.

As for me, at the end of one of my sessions on modal arpeggios, I mention the fact that after I finish explaining, and I ask "are there any questions?" nobody ever answers... but when I come off from the stage, I can't even finish waling the steps that someone calls me to ask me something.

So I this time I ask: "Are there any more questions?"


"Is that clear to everybody?"


"Is there anybody ashamed to ask questions?"

... nervous laughter...

"Anybody ashamed of being ashamed?"

More laughter

Then I come down from the stage and before I can walk all the steps... TWO people call me for questions :-) Guess there's no helping that!

We spend dinner and evening in business talking, but we are all tired after two weeks of high-intensity training and we call it an early night. Tomorrow is the last day, we have to make it count.

HessFest 2016 Part 14: Aug 28

After waking up this morning and giving a rapid look at emails, I noticed that I got some of the dates on the post titles in this blog wrong. Either I'm really really tired, or I'm losing my sense of time. Probably both. I correct them immediately :-)

Today is the first day of the last event of this year, the Elite Guitar Training. Our policy for it is: no holds barred, no punches pulled, they train until they drop.

In fact, we kept some of the best stuff for this event.

Already at lunch more than one student lets me know that the training material we run through the morning was incredibly helpful. My answer is simply to smile... they don't know what is about to hit them :-)

In the afternoon we show the students more advanced training techniques to develop their musicality and technique. In fact some of them are so ridiculously advanced that the audience can't keep from laughing "wait... are we REALLY going to do that?" Yes, you are... and in fact after half an hour of correct coaching, all students are able to perform even the hardest exercise.

Contrary to the previous event, this one has no sessions after dinner (it would be too much for the students). It feels weird to have the evening free. We spent it by talking - again, some of the people here (especially the trainers, but not only) are some of the best guitar coaches in all the world, and are also advanced business experts. It's a pleasure to talk with them and have discussions at such a high level. My students in Edmonton are going to see the impact of all these conversations really soon :-) Just give me enough time to come back... and maybe a week of sleep before I start implementing these new ideas :-)

HessFest 2016 Part 13: Aug 27

Last day of the Creativity Week. We push the students very hard, we practically mop the floor with them :-) We combine some of the basic exercises into monster exercises of immense difficulty... and they keep going.

Some of these people have improved so much I can't help being proud. Don't get me wrong, ALL of them have improved. But for some, the change is staggering. They are completely different (and better) players than when they came in.

In the afternoon, after more hours of practice, there is the ceremony where we give them the diplomas. It's not a terribly formal affair: Tom Hess keeps us entertained for the whole ceremony with stories about the students (some of them have been coming for many years...) and we spend most of the hours laughing with the audience and shaking hands with them.

In fact, after shaking hands with all the students, my hand hurts :-) (other trainers feel the same).

Tomorrow start the next and last event for this year: the Elite Guitar Training, that is an all-around high-intensity training program reserved to the most advanced students. Some students are not staying for it, so there are some goodbyes: I'll see most of them again at the next year's event (in June).

After some more conversations and a bit of partying, I go to bed quite early. I'm not done torturing students, and I have to be in good shape tomorrow!

HessFest 2016 Part 12: Aug 26

Fifth day of the Total Guitar Creativity Week. After sleeping a bit more than usual I feel like a new person. They also have a chocolate chips muffin for me today. Life is good.

After the first hour of creativity warm up exercises I lead a breakout session. This session is held on a different room than the main theatrical venue (and not that close either). The other trainers will let me know after the session that the fire alarm of the theatre got off and they had to spend 20m outside before the fire department cleared them to reenter. When they let me know all that, I answer that it was probably my fault: the breakout session I was leading in the meantime was titled "playing with fire" :-)

In the afternoon Jacob (another trainer) and I lead another session on phrasing. We create a little real-life scenario for the students in order to get them to put more emotion in their playing... then we grab them one by one and we put them on stage to play. The results are great, and everybody has a lot of fun. In session like this you can literally see the students improving from one minute to another.

Dinner is Mexican (again). I am tired of burgers so I get a salad with... uhm... everything and Jalapenos on top. Spicy.

After dinner we do two more sessions of great restricted improvising on the guitar. Then we all meet in the hall to talk before going to bed.

HessFest 2016 Part 11: Aug 25

I literally have no idea how it is possible that I am still functional on this little sleep. And I'm a bit upset because I missed the chocolate chips muffins today too. I get an an apple spice muffin... but this is a poor substitute for chocolate.

The resort has a miniature reproduction of Bourbon Street with shops and restaurants, and we need to pass through it to get to the venue of the event coming from the rooms. Somehow walking past these shops and rehearsing my lessons for the day has become part of my morning ritual. It's good to have a few minutes to walk before working. That is, if my feet were not killing me already, despite the fact that I am rotating between 3 pairs of shoes to avoid blisters (it's working. I don't have blisters. My feet just hurt from standing all day)

In the morning we give more and more complex assignments to the students. After a quick lunch (On the Border... Mexican again!) we have a Q&A session with all the trainers in the theater. Tom Hess schools me on how to hold a lapel microphone to minimize the noise, especially when I gesticulate like an Italian (wait, wasn't the point of a LAPEL microphone that I don't have to hold it?) and the session is great fun for everybody.

We keep the sessions going with systems to control effectively the intensity of the music, and how to not be repetitive when improvising.

We have dinner at the hotel (we are simply too tired to go out to eat) and we give a couple more headache-inducing skull-splitting sessions on rhythm.

While I DO stay for some conversations, I bail out quite early. Ok, not really EARLY but earliER for sure... I still get 6h of sleeping tonight :-)

HessFest 2016 Part 10: Aug 24

Morning. Little sleep. Coffee is ok. By the time I get down they finished the chocolate chips muffin (tragedy!)

Third day of the Total Mastery Week. I can see how some of the students have had little sleep themselves - and who can blame them, with such an interesting company, one does not want to call it a day! So we have to start the day with even more energy than yesterday

In week-long events, we trainers consider the first two days as "warm up": the students get to know the basic concepts, they get used to practice 10h a day, they get a bit more confident in their skills. From the third day, that is today, we trainers start to push. We ask more from the students, we put a bit more weight on their exercises, we increase slightly the difficulty of their activities.

And it's amazing how well it works. We are not even halfway through the event and we can see already people playing in a completely different way than when they started.

Lunch is Mexican today (Chili's). In the afternoon we work mostly on integrating note choices and pitch ranges in creative lead playing.

We trainers are constantly moving between the main venue (the theater) and the other room where some of the students study. The other room has a little stage too, and I quite like teaching from there: the decor and the lighting make it look like a luxury venue... actually, we ARE in a luxury venue, so maybe I should not be surprised.

At dinner we go at Olive Garden, an "Italian" restaurant franchise. For a laugh, the other trainers ask me to be the one to talk to the waiters when we enter... only I have to speak in Italian. To the credit of the waiters, they just said "I can't really understand what you are saying" and they were still able to serve us. They don't even seem surprised. Mmmh, guess we are not the first ones to pull this prank.

After dinner we still have 2h to go, and we give a couple of special sessions to our students. In fact I announce one of the exercises as "If you don't have an headache in the next 20m, then I am not doing my job" :-) Gotta convince these brain cells to work!

Despite being tired, I stay up late even tonight. A very interesting conversation takes place and I don't want to miss a word of that... and indeed tonight I'll get only 3h of sleep. Oh well, I guess I'll sleep tomorrow... or at least that's what I said to myself every day :-)

HessFest 2016 Part 9: Aug23

Second day of the Total Creativity Week. My morning routine consists in jumping off the bed, get a shower, get a coffee, and show myself into the theatre before the crowd of students arrives.

Some students start already to show signs of mental fatigue from yesterday's training. We know how to deal with that and we kick off the day with a great 'forced creativity" exercise.

While the event is marketed to rock-metal guitar players, in practice we have a wide variety of musicians. We have a few jazz players, one classical guitar player and, believe it or not, even a pianist (who rented a keyboard at a local music store). Our exercises are aimed at making people better musicians before making them better guitar players, so yes, even a piano player can get MASSIVE value from participating.

I'm having loads of fun in teaching these students. They are concentrated, dedicated, and are ready to do everything we tell them to do.

We have a great session about the use of phrasing elements, and then we break for lunch. Since it seems to be a running joke that the hotel restaurant has very slow service, then we (the trainers) go out for lunch.There are many food franchise at walking distance, so the students can get to them too.

In the afternoon we show the students how to play creatively on modal changes and we work also on their rhythmical skills.

After dinner we have a lengthy conversation with other trainers and I go to bed quite late. Seems like sleep deprivation is the name of the game this year.

HessFest Part 8: Aug 22

First day of the Total Creativity Mastery Week. Tom Hess and other 5 trainers (including yours truly) will train a crowd of guitar players that come from all over the world in the next 6 days for 10 hours a day. The aim of the training: to make these players more creative on the instrument.

Yes, creativity can be taught. If any teacher tells you the opposite, that's your clue that they don't know how to do it :-)

And yes, we DO really train people for 10h a day... it's not an exaggeration, it's what the schedule says and what we are going to do.

We have so many students that the theatre is not enough to hold all of them. We give announcements with a number of students standing in the audience, and then they move to another room for the actual training.

The lesson we teach are innovative and many of the ideas will find their ways back to my students. And BTW, one of my students is also present in the audience today.

As it was the case for the previous week-long Hess event that I taught, the problem of working 10h a day is not the mental effort (I enjoy it), but the physical wear. We trainers have to walk around often among the students to explain them the finer points of the exercises and give them personalized answers... which means that we walk for 10h every day. My feet are killing me. Luckily, I brought more than one pair of shoes, so that by rotating between them I should not get any blister. I hope.

The day goes along smooth and we introduce the students to the basics of our methods. They don't know it yet, but the stuff we show them today is just the beginning... in a sense we are still warming up.


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