ready to go past playing prescribed parts?

Crossing a River of Suck

You have to suck at something before you can be good at it.

Creative Strings It’s at once obvious and confounding. 

This interview from the River of Suck podcast between Andy Reiner and Cedric Easton, recorded live from the Creative Strings Workshop in Columbus, perfectly wraps up the focus of the past season for me.

Read on and circle back to listen.


Reflecting on the past season of workshops and gearing up for the next, I see that psychology has emerged as a theme for me, and I don’t anticipate this changing soon. 

What’s the point of dealing with something on the surface, like how to be a better musician, teacher, or entrepreneur, when there’s core stuff beneath it all: It behooves us to deal with whatever fundamental things hold us back or push us forward in every facet of our life.

The River of Suck is a great metaphor for this.

While the River of Suck is ostensibly about our struggles to achieve competence in every realm we’re scared of, I’d suggest that it is also about the challenge of developing empathy for people and experiences that are not our own ​

The River of Suck podcast is hosted by one of my former students-turned inspiring colleague, Andy Reiner. His guest on the latest episode is Cedric Easton, the longest regular faculty member of our Columbus workshop, a great friend and huge inspiration to me.​

As Andy beautifully describes: “We are on one side of a mythical river- churning with rapids, rocks, thought piranhas, and other unseen obstacles- and behind us is our comfort cave.

On the other side, we can see future versions of ourselves doing the things we wish we could do today.

Only by swimming with the thought piranhas can we make it to the other side towards both our impossible-seeming goals”.

Your and my evolution might naturally include multiple crossings of this river; In my case, becoming a classical violinist, only to look to the other side to become a Jazz musician, then crossing again to be a teacher, entrepreneur, writer, parent…

Ascending to a position of competence in one area creates a brief feeling of arrival and satisfaction,

and then we circle back,  afraid of sucking at something else…

The challenge is to accept ourselves regardless of where we are in these crossings.

It feels like a paradox: recognizing our power and beauty on one hand, while at the same time acknowledging how far we need to go and how small we seem relative to the scale of our universe; And finding that balance without either giving into feelings of insignificance and powerlessness or succumbing to delusions of grandeur.

The River of Suck represents all the hard work we put in to accomplish our goals. Everything happens in tiny increments, but those can be invisible to us. 

Andy and Cedric’s discussion begins with family and church, continues with musical connections, emotional pathways and choices, and features questions about self-doubt from members of the live audience. Cedric’s honest practical advice and thoughtful solutions for dealing with issues of the brain, music and life are provocative, mind boggling, illuminating, and totally humbling to me. Assuming your background as a classical musician is anything like mine, you’ll see what I mean if you give it a listen. 

It’s an incredible reveal into the diversity of ways in which we learn, and the ways in which people come into being leaders – both in a personal and musical sense.

The New Season Begins for our team at Creative Strings.

If you attended this year’s events in six cities or if you brought an event to your school orchestra program, you know why I keep doing this-


Recaps and previews 

 15 string players gathered with me for 5 days of intense practice and reflection in Asheville.  Here’s a fun moment at the end of a class when I decided to emulate guitar emulating violin:

We had participants from Europe, Canada, and the U.S., ages 16-65, including students, full-time teachers, professionals and amateurs. It was an awesome hang, culminating in a couple final performances.

One of these performances gave each participant an opportunity to perform with a professional rhythm section at a local club. Adrian Emmett Mattox, a rising sophomore at Berklee captured this video that evening:

Lausanne (Switzerland), Dallas, Toronto, Lincoln, and Columbus were incredible too.

Nissa De La Torre co-hosted in Lincoln, Nebraska, where we had two days of adult bootcamp and one day with younger kids.

An organized teacher with a developed private studio. I knew there was a lot I could learn from her.

Here’s what she said afterwards:

“I jumped at the chance to bring this level of instruction and inspiration into Lincoln, Nebraska.

Chris knows how to speak to children and adults alike and keeps everyone involved the whole time.  He offers a wealth of demonstration and explanation and gets everyone playing.  I really appreciate his combination of large and small group work, so that students can comfortably try out ideas, and get to know one another.

 His integration of creativity, approach to learning music theory ON the instrument, and his sense of humor keep people engaged.”

Our European event with Baiju Bhatt occurred for the second year, and we’ve decided to grow this into an ongoing event much like Columbus, incorporating a festival aspect with multiple teachers. Each night featured  several artists and ensembles in concert, including some incredible European student groups.

In February 2020  we are thrilled to welcome one of the pre-eminent improving cellists in the world, Stefan Braun to join us. We’ll take advantage of his presence to incorporate more chamber music coaching this year. 

Here’s a great video by Stefan:

Our Columbus event has a large community of participants and faculty which has been developing over 17 years. It’s always magical, and this year was particularly so.


Andy Reiner introducing a large ensemble piece during our Thursday community concert featuring 70+ musicians.

Creative Strings Workshop 2019

Final group pic after our Friday finale concert featuring all the small groups.

Side by side with Transit Arts, who wowed us with dance, rap, spoken word, beat boxing, turn tables, and more…

Panel discussion on “Dealing with Diversity” included Rez Abbasi, Shawn Wallace, Cedric Easton, Nicole Yarling, Jennifer Vincent, and Andy Reiner. (Full faculty listed here).

It’s amazing seeing returning campers grow and develop ongoing relationships with returning faculty.

Small ensembles perform at libraries, youth centers, assisted living facilities, cafes, and more venues around town during the week. 

Let’s Connect

We’ve already set up tickets for Switzerland and Columbus. In addition to adding new Asheville dates, I hope to add workshops in Asia/Australia, Manhattan, and possibly others. If you would like to get involved, we are looking for partners to co-host in new locations, and welcoming support of volunteers in the Creative Strings mission to impact culture and grow together in an increasingly diverse community.

Specifically we’re looking to host workshops during my New Zealand, Australia and Asian tour in late May. 

Same with Manhattan in early winter

Email me at chris@christianhowes.com to explore possibilities.

More on Personal Development

Subscribe to Andy Reiner’s awesome podcast: The River of Suck

Check out my brother Lewis’s School of Greatness Podcast

Look around this site for more on entrepreneurialism and PD for musicians in several blog posts and Podcast episodes

There’s even a new playlist on Youtube.


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