Bang: EMF Percussion Ensemble Rips Through
by Alexandra Jones
July 28, 2007, Greensboro, NC: Eastern Music Festival's eight-member Percussion Ensemble performed a survey of percussion-only repertoire at Guilford College's Dana Auditorium to show off what they'd learned at the prestigious summer program. First, a small segment of the ensemble banged out the driven "Meccanico," the first movement of Nebojsa Zivkovic's Trio Per Uno, before the full ensemble took the stage to perform Lynn Glasscock's "Dragoon." This first full ensemble piece began with a tom-based section, then continued with configurations based on the sustained sounds of auxiliary instruments like the beaded cabaña, ridged guiro, and then a choir of marimba and chimes, varied with accents from maracas, claves, and temple blocks.
Next came a piece by xylophone prodigy, teacher, and composer George Hamilton Green, a 1920s percussion icon. "Rainbow Ripples" featured xylophone soloist Josh Hooten supported by a vintage-sounding drum set and the twinkling tones of four marimba. The loping rhythm alternated between standard 4/4 and triple-duple 8/8 time, bolstered by the occasional flashy accelerando. The effect was pleasantly like that of a life-size music box; this piece in particular highlighted the great potential of tonal music for percussion ensemble. EMF faculty member and San Antonio Symphony tubist Lee Hipp joined the students to lay down a cool pizzicato bass line on "The Highway," a polyrhythmic, cacophonous journey through pulsing melodies and grandiose macro rhythms.
The undoubted highlight of the afternoon was the penultimate piece, Jon Gibson's innovative, meditative "Ambient Densities." Eric Schweikert and the Percussion Ensemble were joined by other EMF attendees to perform this piece. Each musician held a pair of stones and struck the stones together as they spread throughout the main floor and balcony. Rather than written parts, each player made a certain number of sounds in 30-second durations as indicated by a white-coated conductor. The sounds were based on the Fibbonacci sequence, in which the sum of two preceding numbers determines the next number in the sequence: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, et cetera. A spell seemed to fall over the audience as the performers milled about. At the conclusion of the piece, the players gathered around the stage, and a few sparse concluding notes were struck. Of any single piece, this one garnered the most enthusiastic response.
Ensemble director Schweikert introduced an instrument he'd constructed himself, a membranophone called a boobam, for the concert's finale, Christopher Rouse's "Ku-Ka-Ilimoku." The boobam is constructed like any other mallet instrument, with tubes of differing lengths descending beneath the keys, except that a membrane of animal hide or plastic is stretched over the top end of the bamboo or, in this case, PVC pipe, rather than a key. The resulting sound is a tight, hollow thump. Along with a log drum, the boobam evoked the ominous, martial nature of the Hawaiian war god after which the piece was named. This concert illustrated just how important a summer music program such as the Eastern Music Festival or the NC Governor's School can be for a young musician: many students don't support small groups like brass quintets, percussion ensembles, trombone choirs, or even jazz bands. The members of EMF's Percussion Ensemble used their summer together well, mastering a program of difficult and unique pieces, and they showed off their skills and their repertoire like pros.