The Adams State University Percussion Ensemble Presents:
Programming for ensembles should carry a heavy burden. Asking students to commit untold hours of individual preparation, sectional rehearsals, instrument building, mallet selection, full ensemble rehearsals, research, recording sessions, and post production work for a single performance requires consideration worthy of their education and artistic growth. As an educator, I first consider the individual students involved.
What’s needed for their development, grounded in pedagogy, and aligning to their career goals? How can we reach a high level of artistry and musicianship through repertoire in a relatively short timeframe? Does the music represent the greater needs of the community? Are the genres and compositional aspects of the music performed diverse and representative of the world in which we live? We wrestle with these relevant and pressing topics in every rehearsal.
Tonight’s performance is a snapshot of what it is we strive for as a collective. We find collaboration through chamber music to be of the utmost importance. We believe representation matters. Our programming, preparation, and commitment to the greater good certainly has intrinsic value for each of us, but performing for you, friends, family, supporters, colleagues, and peers, is our pursuit. We put ourselves wholeheartedly into staging tonight’s concert, in collaboration with outstanding soloists, to present to you the best of Adams State University.
Mexican composer Carlos Chávez delivered one of the earliest serious works (1942) for classical percussion ensemble in his setting of Toccata for Percussion Instruments. Initially intended for performance by the avant-garde American composer John Cage’s percussion group, the extensive sections of rolls proved too difficult for Cage and his musicians. The three movement work utilizes traditional compositional techniques and a standard percussion battery of instruments. Written less than a decade after the premiere of the first true percussion ensemble work, Edgar Varèse’s Ionisation, Toccata provides context of the early repertoire for our medium.
In tribute to Veteran’s Day and the storied history of rudimental military drumming, The Infantryman is a modern portrayal of the technical demands every percussionist must master to carry on the ancient tradition of martial music.
Percussion instruments are frequently used to evoke atmospheric imagery. The proliferation of modern percussion instruments paralleled the space race of the 20th century and are routinely utilized in film scores representative of outer space. Marilyn Bliss composed Aurora Borealis in response to author Barry Lopez’s writings on life, the history, and ecology in the arctic region in his book, Arctic Dreams. Lopez describes the aurora as “pale gossamer curtains of light that seem to undulate across the arctic skies.” Bliss means for her work to inflect the “shimmering, almost tangible” quality of the aurora with a deeply meditative and spiritual presence.
In 1972, American composer Steve Reich wrote and premiered Clapping Music. Scored simply for two musicians, the piece begins in a unison pattern with one performer phasing the pattern an eighth note at a time, creating eleven variations. In total, there are thirteen sections of clapping—the first and last being in unison. The pattern is:
1-2-3, 1-2, 1, 1-2
This hourglass shape of rhythm begins with a grouping of three, followed by a grouping of two, then a single note before reversing to a grouping of two and back to three. The rhythmic pattern, inspired by an African bell pattern known as Atsiagbekor, represents a shift in Reich’s early experimentation in minimalism from tape phasing to rhythmically-notated phases.
To extend the concept of “clapping” into metaphor, one may contemplate the idea of the performers clapping on stage while the audience quietly listens. In fact, how an audience does (or does not) participate in performances varies throughout different cultures, many of which influenced and inspired Reich.
Tonight’s performance of Clapping Music will transform immediately into Glenn Kotche’s arrangement of Clapping Music Variations. Kotche, a Grammy-winning percussionist with the band, Wilco provided an outline for development of Reich’s pattern—an outline we’ve adapted into our own variation.
The second half of tonight’s performance is a collaboration with musicians very close to the Adams State University Percussion Studio. In addition to Dr. Matthew Valverde, tenor and Dr. Tracy Doyle, flute being on faculty at Adams State, my colleagues and I are also on faculty of the Mt. Blanca Summer Music Conservatory, led by artistic director and tonight’s featured soloist, violinist Dr. Sarah Off.
Hammers is a work inspired by a walk through the busy and aurally-stimulating New York City soundscape. Construction, industrial, and transportation sounds are present 24 hours a day and composer Allison Loggins-Hull’s composition portrays a “manic sensibility” experienced in America’s greatest city.
Grammy-winner and Princeton University composition faculty member Steven Mackey says this about his work, Madrigal:
Madrigal is a short study in words and music. I wrote the text and music together to allow a negotiation between the melodic line, harmony, and partly an orchestrational decision made by shaping the singer’s mouth. The choice between a word with a long “O” sound versus one with a long “A” sound is like deciding between a trumpet and a clarinet. This process also afforded me with occasions to use text to reinforce ad hoc and asymmetrical rhymes in the harmony and vice versa.
With steadfast ardor my ancient companion speaks.
At ev’ry turn and ev’ry straight
at ev’ry tick I bid him wait
the murmur ceaseless rustling
the hourglass gently whispering
“perhaps we can break your heart full.”
I drink your water. I draw in the shallow sand.
The softest touch. The sweetest taste.
How trying not to gulp in haste.
the murmur ceaseless rustling
the hourglass gently whispering
“at best we can make it artful.”
A trap a reef a gypsy a thief
you cannot banish one wonder where she goes
that child who vanished as the daughter grows
the bandit leaves clues memories
Time my heartbeat seasons
Time my sadness reasons
Time eternal reason (foil to) my reason
coin of the realm
it is time measuring degrees
of my fragility
The past is spent the future is an IOU
your treasure is now
The murmuring rustling ceaseless whispering murmuring rustling
The whispering murmuring rustling
It takes an adventurous and highly-skilled violinist to perform Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra. When Dr. Sarah Off and I discussed performing this masterwork of the percussion repertoire—a work rarely performed due to the demands of the violin part—I was delighted by her energy and enthusiasm for the collaboration. Sarah is a consummate professional and inspiring artist, educator, and SLV native.
The late American composer Lou Harrison wrote numerous exciting and truly unique works for percussion despite lacking the traditional European or “East Coast” music education. Like his contemporaries Henry Cowell, John Cage, and other members of the “West Coast Group” of composers writing non-traditional works, Harrison scored for percussion instruments beyond the standard battery. Clock coils mounted to a guitar body, a percussively-played upright bass, found metal objects, tuned metal conduit, and a variety of gongs are just some of the requirements for this work. In three movements, this epic composition challenges the violin soloist and percussionists alike in angular dance-like rhythms, layers of timbres and textures, and virtuosic technical demands of the soloist.