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Percussion Ensemble Extravaganza Livestream and Info

 

Tonight's livestream can be found here:

Percussion Extravaganza Livestream

 

Program notes, composer, and soloist information can be found below. 

 

Malachite Glass—Nigel Westlake

 

Malachite Glass is a twelve-minute work for percussion quartet and amplified bass clarinet. The work was commissioned in 1990 by the Australian percussion group, Synergy Percussion. Nigel Westlake, an accomplished clarinetist with an affinity for the bass clarinet and a close relationship with the members of Synergy Percussion, composed a fascinating and unique work for the unusual chamber ensemble. Westlake said of the piece:

 

Malachite Glass further explores ideas found in some of my previous works for Synergy such as Omphalo Centric Lecture. When writing for marimba I always refer to its ancient counterpart, the African balofon, the music of which is frequently based on repeated rhythmic ostinati. Throughout Malachite Glass, two of the percussionists play marimbas. The other two play a selection of traditional and modern percussion instruments and provide the driving motor of the piece. The bass clarinet is treated as an equal rather than as a soloist, & burbles & shakes its way throughout, supporting the rhythmic drive & providing melodic fragments.

 

In preparation for tonight’s performance, the percussion ensemble visited the Edward M. Ryan Geology Museum at Adams State University to study specimens of the green/teal glass-like mineral that served as inspiration to the composer and is the title of the work.

 

Tonight’s bass clarinet soloist, Alyssa Powell served as instructor of single reeds at Adams State University for three years and will be moving to Columbus, OH this fall to begin doctoral studies at The Ohio State University.

 

Ashen Skies—Caleb Pickering

 

Composer and percussionist Caleb Pickering wrote Ashen Skies for the Adams State University Percussion Ensemble in the summer of 2016. Caleb and I studied at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas together and his music, energy, and performance ability always inspired me. Pickering visited Adams State University this spring and performed a solo recital, taught private lessons, and worked with tonight’s performers.

 

The piece requires intense dexterity for the musicians, including a single performer plucking a guitar with his right hand while playing three note chords with mallets on tuned metal conduit piping with his left hand. The piece is in ABA form, utilizes rhythms in hocket, and requires the three musicians to interact subtly to create a sonic soundscape of both definite and indefinite pitched instruments.

 

To learn more about Caleb Pickering and his compositions, visit his website here.

 

Uneven Souls—Nebojsa Zivkovic     

 

I had the great pleasure of performing this work with the composer, Nebojsa Zivkovic at the Adelaide Conservatorium at the University of Adelaide in South Australia in 2014. Zivkovic’s Uneven Souls is virtuosic for the marimba soloist and ensemble combined and alternate between haunting melodies and maniacal rhythms. When junior percussion major Dryden Hill expressed interest in performing this work, we agreed he would not only learn the marimba part, but would coach the ensemble and sing the chant melodies in preparation for tonight’s performance. While I provided insight into my experience working and performing with the composer, tonight’s musicians made this work their own.

 

~Intermission~

 

Xochiquetzal—Robert Xavier Rodriguez

 

In the summer of 2016, Dallas-based violinist Chloé Trevor and I discussed the possibility of collaborating on a unique work for violin and percussion. We’ve performed together with the Music in the Mountains Festival Orchestra in Durango, CO for several summers but have never performed together outside of the orchestral setting. We agreed to undertake the challenge of putting together the monumental Xochiquetzal for violin soloist and percussion sextet and rehearsed as an ensemble for the past three days. This chamber concerto is thoroughly explained by the composer:

 

Xochiquetzal is a 22-minute Chamber Concerto for Violin and Percussion Sextet. Xochiquetzal was designed as a companion piece to Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra (1950). It is also a companion to my own previous composition for percussion ensemble, El día de los muertos (2006). El día de los muertos and Xochiquetzal are both programmatic works based on Mexican subjects. Both contain folk melodies, and both may be performed with dancers.

 

Xochiquetzal was an ancient Mayan goddess associated with music, dance, beauty, love, fertility, and female sexual power. She is a similar figure to Aphrodite or Venus in Greek and Roman mythology. The name “Xochiquetzal” (So-chee-KET-sal) means “feather flower,” combining the Nahuatl words for “feather” (quetzal) and “flower” (xochitl). Xochiquetzal is always portrayed as young, beautiful and richly attired, accompanied by hummingbirds and surrounded by yellow marigolds. Marigolds were Xochiquetzal’s signature flower, and they were said to have sprung magically from her tears. Her consort was Tlaloc, the powerful and terrifying God of Thunder and Rain, with whom she had a tempestuous relationship.

 

To evoke the ancient Mayan world, I present simple pentatonic themes in the spirit of what Manuel de Falla called “imaginary folk music.” In the final movement, there is a quotation of “Xtoles” (Shi-TO-les), an ancient Mayan dance song notated by the Spaniards after the conquest of Mexico. Believed to be one of the oldest known melodies it also appears in my 2001 musical version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set in pre-Columbian Mexico. These folk materials interact, and sometimes clash, with contemporary sounds to create a synthesis of time periods and cultures.

 

The violin solo represents Xochiquetzal throughout, and the writing is virtuosic with frequent multiple stops and extensive use of the upper register. The percussion scoring emphasizes pitched instruments (two vibraphones, two marimbas, crotales, glockenspiel, chimes, timpani, seven tuned roto-toms and six tuned nipple gongs) with a wide variety of exotic, non-pitched sounds. Each movement employs a distinctive timbre in keeping with its subject:

 

Xochiquetzal makes a graceful entrance, accompanied by bowed vibraphone and glass wind chimes to depict her retinue of hummingbirds; the music then grows more spirited to show her power. (II) A seductive, incantatory love spell follows with delicate nipple gongs, and the movement gradually builds in intensity. (III) Tlaloc then appears in an ominous and eventually violent Toccata featuring timpani, roto-toms, bass drum, tam-tam, thunder tube and thunder sheet. Following Tlaloc’s stormy visit, there is a mournful Adagio (IV), depicting Xochiquetzal’s tears, which are represented by crotales, glockenspiel, brass wind chimes, and gently rippling violin arpeggios. The Finale (V) is a rhythmic celebration of music and dance spiced with cow bells, temple blocks, and shakers and featuring a violin cadenza. The “Xtoles” melody joins the other themes, stacked together in a grand quodlibet.

 

I completed the score in Dallas in June, 2014 in response to a commission from a consortium of percussion ensembles from The New England Conservatory, Frank Epstein, Director; Southern Methodist University, Jon Lee, Director; The State University of New York at Onondaga, Robert Bridge, Director; and The University of North Texas, Christopher Deane, Director. Frank Epstein conducted the premiere performance in November, 2014 in Boston.

 

— Robert Xavier Rodríguez

 

The composer re-orchestrated the work for Chloé for violin soloist and piano reduction, which she will record this spring.

 

In addition to being a world-renown touring violin soloist, Chloé creates wonderfully humorous short videos on the life and work of musicians. The Adams State Percussion Ensemble was fortunate to star in her most recent video where we share the struggles of being a percussionist with impatient conductors. You can view the video here.

 

To learn more about Chloé and see her future performance dates, visit here website here.

 

Special thanks to Emily Johnson for tonight's light design, audio engineering, recording, and live streaming. 

Spring 2017 Update

 

Greetings, 

 

With spring break a mere 48 hours away, I thought I'd make an update regarding the spring thus far.

 

1. This semester is the realization of an immense amount of work for our music department at Adams State University. We've embarked on a new mission, titled "The Ethos Project-Exploring Equity Through Music." The details can be read about here on our department blog. We're examining our courses, ensemble programming, and teaching methods through the lens of inclusiveness and equity. One such way involved a commissioning project. 

 

2. The commissioning project was set into motion for our wind ensemble's performance at the Colorado Music Educators Association Conference this past January. We commissioned all new works that were inspired by the culture and geography of the San Luis Valley. The works, tailored specifically for our ensemble, can be performed by ensembles of a varying size and instrumentation. Several of the works, including my commission of Jennifer Bellor for "Querencia," a work for vibraphone soloist and wind ensemble, featured faculty member soloists. We also held a very successful student composition competition and featured three student works. The associated concerts have been terrific, and for the remainder of the semester, we are recording the works in collaboration with our recording arts class. I'll write more about these endeavors in the coming weeks.

 

3. My wonderful friend Chiho Sugo, a professor at Gunma University in Maebashi City, Japan and an amazing clarinetist spent her sabbatical here in Colorado. In addition to working with our students, collaborating on several recitals, and traveling throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe when she could, we managed to record a CD for marimba, flute, and clarinet. We are in the mixing phase and plan to release the album this September at a series of concerts in Japan.

 

4. I've had the pleasure of hosting two wonderful young percussion artists on campus for residencies this spring- Chris Wilson and Caleb Pickering. Their differences in style and musicianship were perfect contrasts and outstanding for my students and I. Thanks to both of them for their time with us!

 

5. The end of February/first of March was spent traveling in the Midwest. I visited Kansas City, toured the Jazz and Negro League Baseball Museums, heard some great music, and ate at some great BBQ establishments.

 

6. The reason for the trip was work--first a residency at Northwest Missouri State University with the percussion studio there. Great students and my friend Katy Strickland is doing terrific things there!

 

7. I then did a residency at the University of Central Missouri and attended a Gala performance for my retiring percussion instructor, Mike Sekelsky. Great students at UCM as well!

 

8. I then visited with Brad Lomax and his shop at Beetle Percussion. I'm grateful for our partnership and look forward to an exciting signature series product to come. His business is something everyone should consider--filling a niche in the percussion industry with quality, ethics, and passion.

 

9. My last stop was for the Mid-Missouri Percussive Arts Trophy Competition, hosted by Carol and Raymond Helble. I adjudicated and presented a masterclass with the multi-percussion winners. She-e Wu and Doug Smith adjudicated the marimba competition, and it's always great to catch up with two individuals I consider incredibly inspiring. Doug and I performed together on the closing concert and She-e, one of my favorite musicians to hear, was outstanding as usual. 

 

10. With our honor festivals and a faculty collaborative concert of all works by women composers celebrating International Women's Week in the rear view mirror, it's time to focus on my solo recital program, "Reikan: Japanese works for Percussion." More on this as well.

 

11. Finally, I'm migrating over some posts from my old Blogspot blog to here, with the intention of reconstituting my blogging efforts. In all honesty, I was completing my dissertation this time last year and wanted some time off from writing. However, I had the pleasure of writing nine "publish-ready" articles under the guidance of Gary Cook as part of my studies at UNLV and I need to a. get them published and b. get back to blogging and article writing. Please bookmark/share my blog page here and I promise to bring good and actionable content your way!

Thank you!

 

JWD

Practice Room Essentials

 

 

Instrument(s)
Music
Tuner
Pencil
Metronome
Recording Device
Practice Journal or Checklists
Water*
and...
Kitchen Timer

That's right, a kitchen timer. Preferably not a wind up, tick-tocking timer but an inexpensive, easy to use digital timer. The kind available at the dollar store for, well, a dollar.


When you start your practice session, you usually have goals to accomplish within a fixed amount of time. Set the goals, set the timer. As you practice, set micro goals and set the timer. You'll be amazed with the increased efficiency of your practice time and the focus you can keep throughout.

As a side note, set the timer for breaks as well. 

Kitchen timer... trust me, you'll love it and it will revolutionize your practice sessions. 
Your phone for a timer? No...too tempting.

What are your practice room essentials?
*my ideal practice situation pictured:

The Penny Method

 

 


How many times have you been making your way through your practice routine and found yourself guilty of the following:

Play, play, play, mistake, back up, play, continue (got it right!) play, play, etc....

or worse:

Play, play, play, mistake, back up, play, mistake, back up, play, mistake, back up, play, mistake, back up, play, continue (got it right!), play, play, etc...

What happened here? To begin with, you stopped and backed up. Was that part of your strategy for this session? 

The other problem is the mistake, redo, mistake, redo, got it, move on mentality. Obviously, this gives a pretty low average of success, as you are reinforcing mistakes more than the smooth performances. Here's a quick fix:

The Penny Method.

Place a stack of pennies on your music stand. Play a difficult passage. Each time you are happy with the passage, move a penny to the right, making a new stack. Happy? Move a penny. Move another penny. But what happens if you make a mistake?

Move all of the pennies back to the left and start again...

This method will do two important things:
1. Improve your average
2. Put real world performance pressure on you to get it right.

The Penny Method- do it!
JWD

Building an Inventory

 

 

How do you build a collection of the music, mallets, and instruments needed to freelance, teach privately, and make a living as a musician? 

One purchase at a time.

Like all planning, think in the short, medium, AND long term. What types of gigs might you play? Do you currently have a vehicle to get you and your instruments to the gig with ample cargo space? What can you afford today? Save for tomorrow? Can you afford rent for the extra room these instruments require? Can you borrow instruments from your institution (either as a teacher or student) or the local high school? 

While ordering the custom built marimba of your dreams will be inspiring, give you the ability to practice marimba whenever you like, and a nice big piece of furniture to add to your home, do you think you'll make a living playing marimba? To be honest, I bought the marimba of my dreams when I started teaching college...one place where a marimba is requisite. She-e Wu mentioned in a master class recently that she got her first personal marimba when she got her first marimba endorsement. She-e was great before she owned her own marimba.

Make a list of what you need for the career you desire. Then price your list, considering quality versus price point. Update your list as you purchase and your plans change. Set money aside for these purchases, and don't beat yourself up if you absolutely have to have that pandeiro but aren't sure if you'll play gigs on it. If you get proficient, there's no reason you couldn't. 

Before the marimba, bills were paid with a drum set, concert snare, triangle, tambourine, an old Deagan glockenspiel, crash cymbals, a xylophone, etc etc. Lessons were taught on these instruments, and you know, they were affordable to acquire-one purchase at a time. 

It's never too soon to start collecting your tools of the trade. Keep an eye on Craigslist, Facebook Swap Shops, eBay, and the occasional estate sale. Although this is a dark statement, many of your peers bail from a career in music and are left with music, mallets, and more that are often sold for cheap. 

Before you buy that incredible chromatic set of tuned almglocken, ask yourself if it is the top of your list, will help distinguish your career, and bring personal and financial reward to your future.

Now get to that list!

Steel Pan Banding 101 Part 2

 

In Part 1 of Steel Pan Banding 101, I addressed how I came about implementing a steel band and how you can, too. In this post, I’ll share my “why.”

 

There are three convergent reasons I started a steel band after arriving at Adams State University. I’ll briefly explain:

 

1. To build a percussion program, you need a program.  A product.

 

2. Traditional music programs struggle to be inclusive.

 

3. Students not involved in jazz have few outlets to learn popular music form, improvisation, arranging, and performance practice.

 

 Building a Product

 

Implementing a steel band gave my percussion students an opportunity to study percussion while combining with students who possessed less technical skills in the field of percussion. We could put 15-20 musicians together on stage and play great music for appreciative audiences in a variety of venues. Immediately, percussion studies were happening in quality, quantity, visibility, and with educationally sound strategies, while providing service opportunities to the university and greater community. That’s reason enough!

 

The more experienced musicians could perform complex solos, create their own arrangements, and gain teaching and leadership opportunities while other students with less formal percussion experience could play a part contributing role to the whole. Everyone could share the stage, experience the intrinsic value of music, learn about culture and style, and express her or himself in a positive manner.

 

This leads to the topic of inclusion.

 

Inclusiveness

 

Music schools typically require a series of barriers to participation. To study music, you must pass an entrance audition. To play in ensembles, you must pass an audition. In fact, the ensembles available for audition typically require students to have a formal background in reading music, private lessons, and the long-term availability of a personal musical instrument. THEN, the music that’s performed is likely derived from Western-European music traditions and performed in traditional concert hall settings. By nature, there is competition for membership and often times, a separation of the “haves” and have-nots.”

 

A steel band is an equal playing field.

 

Few students arrive to my program with actual steel band experience. Most everyone looks into the face of a tenor pan with the same perplexed look, as though peering at IKEA assembly instructions. No experience is necessary. From the beginning, everyone is learning by rote. Reading music is not an initial barrier. The music can be derived from anywhere and be appreciated by musicians and audiences alike.

 

My band has performed traditional calypsos, challenging Panorama charts, arrangements of Beethoven piano sonatas, pop tunes of today, modern compositions, jazz standards with significant solo opportunities, and even an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with cannon fire cues with onstage explosions executed by my colleagues in the Adams State University Chemistry Department. Anything goes, we can perform anywhere, anyone can be involved, and everyone learns.

 

A Valuable Opportunity

 

Even within the standard collegiate music program, it’s interesting how often a student may graduate with amazing knowledge of counterpoint, figured bass, set theory, and if they’re lucky, ii-V-I progressions, but little applicable experience creating arrangements and improvising with popular music. Throughout the years, some of my best and most dedicated steel band students were clarinetists, bassoonists, and flutists who never played in a jazz or popular ensemble. I distinctly recall “classically-minded” students being distressed when I would say a section would be “open” for solos, or I’d change the form/arrangement on the fly in order to suit the mood of the gig. I’m happy to say those students are better musicians and more flexible artists as a result. In fact, throwing curve balls on gigs has become a favorite pastime of mine and I’m never more proud of my students than when they nail it.

 

A Few Additional Thoughts:

 

--Non-western music ensembles are a must for music schools. At Adams State University, I’m happy to say that in addition to “traditional” ensembles, we have the steel band, a mariachi band, have created and performed at the state music conference with a salsa band, and regularly host guest artists with expertise in “non-western” music, dance, and culture. My percussion students frequently perform traditional Guatemalan marimba music on instruments from Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, Guatemala, perform samba with a complete bateria, and study Ghanaian singing, dancing, drumming, and gyil with an annual residency by percussion great, Valerie Naranjo. However, we can always do better. We should always look outward to suit the needs of our students, their culture, the cultures beyond our realm, and the music and culture of our ever-changing worldwide music industry.

 

--I recently met and performed with Marilyn Clark Silva who wrote her DMA document on steel band pedagogy. I love her vision of music/percussion education and look forward to future collaborations. The official title of her document is “Alternative Pedagogy for Beginning Steel Band for the Use of Underprivileged Schools and the Advancement of Widespread Affordable Music Programs.” I hope she turns this into a book. Seriously. How many struggling band programs do you know? Struggling band programs are often eliminated. But why must “band” be the standard? Steel bands can be the way. Check out Marilyn’s work.

 

--My steel band has created leadership/teaching and career performance opportunities for my students.

 

Three points to make here:

 

1. University graduate percussion programs often offer steel band graduate assistantships.

 

2. Everyone loves steel pans. Performing as a soloist, with audio backing tracks, with a small combo, or a full band…the sky is the limit for pan and it’s a legitimate gig.

 

3. My students get valuable experience by leading, directing, teaching, arranging for, managing, and touring with my steel band.

 

I’m going to leave you with this video. This past spring semester, my students gave twelve performances in three days in all-school assemblies at elementary, middle, and high schools. Here’s a video from a 7:30am performance sponsored by Music in the Mountains somewhere in the Four Corners of Colorado. Junior music education/performance and future music therapist Isaiah Pierce fronted the band for the tour. Take a look and listen:

 

 

 

Early Summer Update

 

In 2013, I took a leave of absence from my perpetual visiting assistant professor position at Adams State University and for the first time since May of 2000, was a graduate student. After three years, countless flights, much studying, intense writing, and never enough practicing, I graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in May with a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) in Percussion Performance. As a result, I will go up for tenure and promotion to associate professor this next year.

 

 

I was fortunate to have three wonderful teachers and mentors in Timothy Jones, Dean Gronemeier, and Gary Cook. I’ll write a specific post in the future on the experience of being a graduate student after more than a decade away from school, but suffice to say, I am grateful for the decision and support to earn my DMA and I grew exponentially as a musician and educator. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the first summer in quite some time without the feeling I should be writing something…

 

My DMA document is titled, in case you were desperate to know, “Original Chamber Percussion Works for Silent or Silenced Film in Live Performance.” It’s a survey and performer’s guide of four unique compositions. It also provides a brief history of early film, history of music and sound effects in film, and information relevant to the composers, percussion scoring, and the films. I’ll put it on my website once available in ProQuest.

 

Other News:

 

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to record drums and percussion tracks for the artists of Howlin’ Dog Records. This Americana label records, produces, and distributes the music of musicians who are primarily from Texas, Tennessee, New Mexico, and Colorado. Some projects I completed this spring and early summer, all of which I’m very proud of, include:

Michael Hearne's Red River Dreams 

Shake Russell’s Little Bright Band of Light 

 

Michael Hearne and Shake Russell’s duo album, Only as Strong as Your Dreams

Ry Taylor’s Take Out Your Tongue 

 

I performed with Ry for his CD release concerts in New Mexico and Colorado, and we will hopefully do more. He has a unique style that's difficult to classify. Click on the above links and check out the music!

 

In May, I recorded tracks for Nashville-based singer/songwriter, Jordyn Pepper. She has very catchy tunes, a great presence, and will surely use this album to bring more well-deserved opportunities.

 

More recently, I recorded tracks for Austin-based singer/songwriter, Susan Gibson. She wrote the Dixie Chicks hit, Wide Open Spaces. Honestly, every song I’ve heard of hers is just as good, if not better than her most famous tune.

 

Both of these artist’s projects are in the mastering stage so more to come here. It’s always a pleasure to go into the studio and work with these singer/songwriters, with producer Don Richmond, and remind myself just how lucky I am to have such a variety of music outlets in my life.

 

Upcoming:

 

Musical events for the summer include a performance with the reggae/roots band, The Rippah Shreddahs on July 2 in Taos, New Mexico at the Sagebrush Cantina.

 

Also on the calendar in the next two weeks is a performance with marimbist Marilyn Clark Silva for a Mt. Blanca Summer Conservatory faculty concert. Marilyn is teaching chamber music at the festival and I look forward to meeting and performing with her.

 

Then it’s on to performances with the Music in the Mountains Festival Orchestra for three weeks in July. This summer’s orchestral repertoire will keep me busy with standard works as well as several exciting pieces by composers from the Americas. Here’s a link to the Summer Season. Come on up to Purgatory and hear us play!

 

I’ll also have chamber performances as part of Festival and with the Music in the Mountains Conservatory. However, without concerts to prepare with the Animas Percussion Quartet, I’m hoping to get the mountain bike on the world-famous Durango single-track. And there's always enjoying Durango's equally famous beers.

 

One side project to take place while in Durango is a video of “behind the scenes” of the percussion section at the Festival and my use of Black Swamp percussion instruments. Black Swamp makes terrific instruments and with their updated website, have a series of great initiatives underway to share their philosophy and product.

 

Another side project is with Freenotes Harmony Park, whose founder is Grammy-winner Richard Cooke. I will be joined by some of my colleagues in the Festival Orchestra’s percussion section to demonstrate these public park instruments. These instruments are a cross between gamelan, giant Orff instruments, and gorgeous sculptures that can endure the elements and exposure to public park performers. I want a set in my backyard and you will too. 

 

August brings us back to the next academic year, which will include a commission of composer Jennifer Bellor for a work featuring vibraphone soloist with wind ensemble. Also in the fall semester, we are instituting a new chamber music program at Adams State University. And I'll be performing some recitals with Japanese clarinetist Chiho Sugo. She's on sabbatical from Gunma University in Japan and will be hanging out with us at Adams State University for the entire semester!

 

As a final note, I’m hereby claiming to maintain a regular routine of writing for this blog.  Watch for “Steel Pan Banding Part Two” shortly as a follow up to my March post regarding the essentials for starting and maintaining a steel band. Part Two will discuss the value and impact of a steel band in an academic setting.

 

Enjoy your summer!

 

JWD

 

Program Notes for the Adams State Unversity Spring 2016 Percussion Extravaganza

 

Program Notes by James Doyle

Watch the live stream here! 

Deep and Distant Thunder

Having spent the first 22 years of my life living in the Midwest, springtime meant eerie skies, vicious thunderstorms, and taking shelter at the sound of tornado sirens. When I first heard the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer John Luther Adams’ work, Deep and Distant Thunder, I was immediately transported to my youth. Just one movement from Three Drum Quartets From Earth and the Great Weather, Adams wrote Deep and Distant Thunder as a representation of the “elemental power and natural forces in the Arctic,” and the “ecstatic power of Iñupiat Eskimo drumming and dancing.”

 

Adams State University Art Professor Dana Provence invited me to collaborate by selecting and performing music for his Performance Bronze Pour and Powder Drawings earlier this spring. While considering the primal quality of molten bronze and burning gunpowder, the music of John Luther Adams came to mind. My students performed this work, as well as …solitary and time-breaking waves from Adams’ collection of works titled, Strange and Sacred Noise.

 

For tonight’s performance, I chose to set our performance of Deep and Distant Thunder to time-lapse photography and video captured by storm-chaser and Houston-based musician, “Pecos Hank.” His videography exhibits the terrifying beauty of Midwestern spring storms while the drums emulate the visceral cacophony of nature’s violent wrath. In order to provide a relatively antiphonal soundscape, each performer is dispersed throughout the anterior of the auditorium, providing sonic space for this bombastic work.

 

…?!

Perhaps the most unique and difficult to pronounce title for a composition, Marco Schirripa wrote this short piece for the unusual combination of solo snare drum and marimba ostinato. The snare drum soloist must possess complex rudimental drumming abilities with the finesse to balance with the more mellow, rosewood resonance of the marimba.

 

Escape: Sextet for Triangles

New York-based percussionist, composer, and collaborator Drew Worden wrote Escape: Sextet for Triangles for a concert combining early avant-garde film with live percussion accompaniment. Worden paired his work, for six unclipped triangles, to Mary Ellen Bute’s 1938 film, Synchromy No. 4. Filmmaker and producer Cecil Starr explains Bute’s film portrays “a story in abstraction of an orange/red triangle imprisoned behind a grid of vertical and horizontal lines under a sky-blue expanse, perhaps representing freedom.”

 

Bute set Synchromy No. 4 to the Toccata from J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, an organ work written approximately 200 years prior to the creation of her film. I first became aware of Worden’s composition while researching original chamber percussion works for silent or, in this case, silenced film in live performance. While percussionists have improvised or adapted scores for film accompaniment, the pairing of silent/silenced film and original chamber percussion compositions has a modest body of repertoire. The multi-media aspect of film with live musical accompaniment is as old as film itself, yet original composed scores, particularly for chamber percussion, number in the single digits.

 

Rancho Jubilee

The cajon, an instrument with numerous claims of ancestry, is little more than a resonant box and has become the “acoustic guitar” of the gigging percussionist. The commercialization and development of this simple instrument has propagated over the past fifteen years and provides percussionists with an alternative to a complete drum set sound. With less volume, floor print, and providing a built-in seat, percussionists have developed new techniques and adapted others to this wildly popular portable instrument. The cajon has grown in value both musically and commercially as builders have continued to advance the instrument in design, construction, and expressive possibilities. Rancho Jubilee, written as a trio, demonstrates the available timbre, dynamic range, and virtuosity of the trained percussionist

 

The Balloonatic

The advent of motion pictures and the peak of ragtime took place concurrently at the turn of the 20th century. It would not have been uncommon for American cinemagoers to hear pianists performing the latest ragtime hits of the era to accompany the onscreen action.

 

Xylophone virtuoso, composer, and recording artist George Hamilton Green (1883-1970) paved the way for percussion soloists since the early 1900s when he would perform for crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. His compositions, orchestrated for marimba band by members of the percussion group NEXUS, have become common performance ensemble standards.

 

Dr. Steve Hemphill, Director of Percussion at Northern Arizona University, took Buster Keaton’s 1923 short comedy and set George Hamilton Green’s Charleston Capers, Valse Brillante, Cross Corners, Ragtime Robin, and Triplets, Joe Green’s Xylophonia, and Frank Silver and Irving Cohn’s Yes! We Have No Bananas to accompany the film.

 

For tonight’s performance, we have three performers providing the sound effects, or “Foley” for the film, and seven other members rotating between four marimba parts, drum set, and as xylophone soloist.

 

Steel Pan Banding 101 Part 1

 

 

A blog post should never start with a disclaimer, yet here I go:

 

I do not profess to be a leading steel pan scholar, pedagogue, expert, or pan performing artist. I haven’t been to Panorama (yet!), will never publish a definitive scholarly article on the instrument, its history, or claim any anthropological or ethnomusicological expertise beyond what I’ve read and gained through experience over the past decade. There are many highly qualified experts I consider as primary sources of information. I am not one.

 

With that said, steel pan has made a dramatic impact on my percussion pedagogical philosophy, my studio at Adams State University, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I’m often asked how and why pan—how do you start a program and why it’s valuable. I’ll answer these two questions right here in successive blog posts.

 

 

Let’s start with the How:

 

Funding…this part can be tricky. I was very fortunate. I had a donor who believed in the game plan for my studio when I first started at Adams State University (more on the game plan later) and made a series of donations to the Foundation to fund the progressive purchase of pans, tuning, and later, a samba bateria. Again, I was lucky. People often ask me about grants and yes, they’re out there if you have a game plan that fits the mission of a particular granting organization (again, more on this later). Unfortunately, I don’t know of one specific place to look, and if I did, I’m likely writing the grant for one of my own projects…because…yes...I’m selfish and have more plans than money. However, look around, ask around, and think creatively.

 

If you’re at a university, you likely have an office that writes grants. They won’t do it for you, and nor should they, but stay in touch with them as they live in that world and may see grant opportunities pertaining to you. If you’re in a public school, network with parents and administrators to find grant specialists. Get involved in a local non-profit arts organization. I learned an immense amount about grant writing by working with a highly successful writer affiliated with my local live music association. She taught me a few simple rules that have paid dividends:

 

1. Read what they want.

2. Answer specifically what they want.

3. Demonstrate value and return on the investment.

4. Follow through.

 

Simple. Save everything you write and know you won’t always be successful. Stay on top of the industry phrases and buzzwords for the granting organizations and read their mission statements to ensure you can align your project with their goals. 

 

When it came time for me to do the “how” part, I asked a lot of questions of pan people in similar academic and financial situations as my own. Then I bought this book and you should, too:

The Steel Band Game Plan by Chris Tanner.

 

You can basically stop reading this blog post now. Buy the book. Read the book.

 

 

If you’re still reading, this is what I did.

 

1. I decided on Gill’s Pan Shop in Trinidad. 

The price worked for me, they had pans ready to ship, and the instruments are made in the birthplace of pan, employing locals that deserve to make money off of their homeland’s national creation. There are wonderful domestic builders here in the U.S., but philosophically, this settled well with me.

 

2. I was advised to get chrome lead and double tenors and powder coated lower pans. Also, get the cases.

 

3. The first order was for three lead pans, two pairs of double tenors, a pair of guitars, and a set of six basses. If I had to do it over, I would have waited on the basses. At the time, there weren’t a lot of electric bass players hanging around the university that I knew of so I got the bass pans.

 

4. My second purchase was for two more leads, one more pair of double tenors, and a set of cellos. I’m probably done purchasing pans and have the following instrumentation:

5 leads

3 pairs of doubles

1 pair of guitars and a set of cellos

1 set of six basses

 

There are plenty of other options (read the book, ask around, and check out other bands live or on YouTube) but this is what I did. When I can, I double the basses with electric bass. When traveling, I often times leave the six basses behind and just use electric bass. I’ll also add marimba and vibraphone if I have more players than pans. 

 

There's just one catch:

 

Pans need to be tuned. They'll likely need to be tuned more regularly than you can find money. You’ll need to hire a tuner—just like a piano tuner, only they are harder to come by. Here are some approaches to consider:

 

1. Network with pan people around your region. Chances are, a pan tuner will have to travel to you from somewhere distant. That’s certainly the case where I am. It seems planning for $100 per pan is a rate to start with and doesn’t include travel. If you partner with some other pan people, you may not have to worry about travel expenses if the tuner can squeeze you in on his or her trip. I had a pan tuner in this situation ask me what my budget was and he was willing to spend as much time as he could budget based on the money I had available.

 

2. There are many great tuners in the U.S. and if you buy your pans domestically, you may want to use that particular tuner. I’ve used Chris Wabich. He’s ridiculously busy as a performing musician in Los Angeles, teaches at the University of Arizona, and seems to be constantly traveling. It’s for this reason I try and get Chris to come out. Not only is he a great pan player and tuner, he’s a phenomenally good drum set player, percussionist, and teacher. In addition to pan tuning, he’s worked with my students and performed for us while being one of the most easy-going musicians I’ve ever met.

 

3. Get in touch with pan tuners around the country and ask them to keep in touch if they’ll be in your region. They will. Keep “money in the bank” for when these opportunities arise. It’s tempting to buy more stuff with your funds but tuning is so valuable. As a matter of fact, my pans are in desperate need of tuning right now…!!

 

What to play?:

Music is the easy part. Pan ensembles are relatively simple to arrange for. The pan community is very warm, connected, and willing to share. There are great publishers online where you can get everything from beginning arrangements to extremely difficult originals. You can use lead sheets to make your own arrangements on the fly, teach by rote, develop a systematic procedure for learning pan, or do any combination of the above. This all ties into your philosophy and game plan. 

 

Closing:

 

1. Decide on your game plan (the next blog post!).

 

2. Make a budget.

 

3. Tell everyone about your plan and ask questions of pan people, grant people, and potential partnering organizations.

 

4. Get a few pans—as many as you can afford. Once people hear pans, they are sold and will want to be a part of your group and want to listen.

 

5. There’s no “one way” to start a pan group. Buy Chris Tanner’s book. 

 

6. It’s worth it. You’ll be happy. The members of the band will be happy. The audience will be happy. We need more of this in the world.

 

Stay tuned for what you can do with a steel pan group that is far reaching, inclusive, musically and educationally rewarding, and so much fun. Part 2 will address what I've been able accomplish with a steel pan as one facet of my program. 

 

Thanksgiving Traditions: Turkey, TV, and Technique

 

If you’re like most musicians, down time comes with mixed emotions. The battle waging in my head is usually:

-I should relax

-I should practice

Will James, Principal Percussionist with the Saint Louis Symphony wrote eloquently about this very topic on his blog earlier in the year (Will’s blog is a must follow). If you find yourself experiencing one of the six reasons to do the "unthinkable" but are still struggling with the guilt of staying out of the practice room, consider this option.

 

A few years ago, I struck a deal with my Self 1* allowing for down time after long runs of concerts, teaching, recitals, clinics, and travel. Instead of jumping into the next project or working up fresh repertoire, the compromise is to revisit the basics. For Thanksgiving, the tradition has become a time-tested classic, George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control

Stick Control

 

Yes. The entire book. From cover to cover. Some of the most relevantly-wise pedagogical words you’ll ever need to know are in the Preface and section, “How to Practise Stick Control.” The book is 80 years old and still on everyone’s list. After playing through the book, you’ll likely find sections to revisit throughout the rest of the year which was the original intention—a conditioner and daily workout to keep you in shape.

 

Thanksgiving is a 4-5 day weekend. Playing through the book in its entirety is worth every minute. Take different tempos, different dynamics, and vary the repetitions beyond the “repeat each exercise 20 times” instruction Mr. Stone suggested.

 

Play along to your favorite music or Pandora station. Play with a metronome. Play without. 

 

Here’s the kicker:

If you get bored...watch TV. Seriously… Netflix, football, Law and Order marathons. To be clear, this unimaginable idea isn’t original. In Leigh Howard Stevens’ interview of Bob Becker for the August 1996 issue of Percussive Notes, Becker shared that long tabla technique practice sessions were made manageable by watching television.

 

So there you have it from a highly credible source.

 

If you left your copy at school or loaned it to a student, download a digital copy for your Kindle app. No excuses. It’s always with you.

Happy Thanksgiving and remember, “practise at all tempos, stopping at the slightest feeling of tension.” 

JWD- 

 

*from Tim Gallwey's Inner Game books/concepts. More on this in the future.

Upcoming Appearances

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    Various Venues in Tokyo, Maebashi, and Gunma University
     
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    Various Venues in Tokyo, Maebashi, and Gunma University
     
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    Various Venues in Tokyo, Maebashi, and Gunma University
     
  • September 27, 2017
    Various Venues in Tokyo, Maebashi, and Gunma University
     
  • September 28, 2017
    Various Venues in Tokyo, Maebashi, and Gunma University
     

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