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Category Archives: Contemporary Music

the Bradshaw Amphitheatre, an Homage

The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, RBA, has achieved Most Favoured Venue status with Toronto chamber music audiences. An anonymous gift makes the RBA’s public concerts free of charge. They are the product of  programme director Nina Draganic whose discriminating and eclectic tastes consistently account for line ups and full houses. A visit to Ms. Draganic’s RBA website will provide ample insight into the popularity of her concert series.

Rick Sacks was one of her presciently gratifying choices. On 24 April, he performed a concert of music for the MalletKat – two octaves of rectangular rubber pads laid out like the black and white keys of a piano keyboard and activated with, what else, mallets. A computer helps program the pads with an almost infinite number of sounds and Rick employed many of them during the concert. An hour’s worth of MalletKat music proved plenty diverse enough to hold the audience’s attention.

Rick played six works, four of his own creation. On a couple of occasions, his natural gift for whimsy struck home. In his 2009 Dragnet, a Sergeant Friday -“Just the facts Mam” tribute, Rick donned a fedora and pulled up his shirt collar to take his bow.

The program opened with a work by David Lidov, evocatively titled I Want You To Know That I Love You (An Aria). This was written in 2011 and revised in 2012. I didn’t feel loved at all and wondered if i was missing something. Perhaps. There were no programme notes.

A commission by Rick was GOLEM (2014) by Musique Concrète composer Giels Gobeil. Although to me overly long, GOLEM is the work of a professional and the first work by Gobeil involving a performer. The industrial or factory sounds were, for the most part mesmerizing. I believed Rick when he said prior to playing the work, that it was extremely difficult and he was still working on it. At concerts end, GOLEM elicited questions from the audience about its notation.

Lullaby (2010) by Sacks, is a simple construction of sampled sounds of a naturally amplified German version of an Mbira. Lullaby is a beautiful work and without the traditional buzzing of shells or bottle caps attached to Mbiras played in Africa, it was profitably adapted to the MalletKat. Tender and affecting, Lullaby created a dramatic presence.

The last work was the premier of Rick’s Andronicus, which, on a couple of occasions and much to the delight of the capacity audience, he accidently referred to as Androgynous. Dedicated to the Bradshaw Amphitheatre and the Canadian Opera Company, Andronicus is a skillfully arranged pastiche of operatic excerpts triggered by strikes on the MalletKat. Andronicus ended in parody with a much too long high soprano note allowing Rick, mouth opened wide, sanpaku eyes ablaze and a supplicant’s arms outstretched, to accept his audience’s long and grateful applause.

Rick Sacks is the artistic director of Array Music, a composer, a percussionist and conductor. In this author’s opinion, Rick’s term as Array’s Artistic Director has wrought significant changes bringing  Array Music into an elite group of Canadian contemporary music educators and presenters. I look forward to Array’s Young Composers Programme in the last half of this month. (May 2014.)

R.E.

 

 

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Reflections on the Nature of Marimba Music.

Scan

Prelude:

After the defeat of China’s army by the British in the first Opium War, (1839-42) Japan, concerned with the possibility of a foreign invasion, adopted Dutch military music for fifes, drums and trumpets to discipline and train their Samurai warriors in western infantry tactics. This was the first western music sanctioned by Japan since the expulsion of foreigners in 1640. In 1875, Japan’s government introduced a nation wide public school music program based on an American model.  By 1965, only 90 years after this official embrace of western music, the influence of Japanese composers began to be felt in western avant-garde art music circles [1.].

The Marimba in Japan:

The programme above is from Ryan Scott’s first DMA recital, played in Toronto, Ontario on 22 January, 2014. Ryan’s DMA thesis will probe Japanese art music for marimba. His work on this project has been facilitated in part by New York City resident and former Keiko Abe student Alan Zimmerman. Alan gave Ryan access to his encyclopedic knowledge and massive library of Japanese compositions for marimba, dating from its inception as art music in the 1960s, to the present.

Ryan anounced from the stage that prior to 1965, Japanese marimbists played arrangements of traditional folk songs and western classical music. Marimba virtuoso Keiko Abe (b.1937) convinced prominent Japanese composers to write art music for marimba and manufacturers to upgrade the quality of their instruments.[2.] Between 1965 and1985, more than 500 works of art music were written for marimba by Japanese composers and many of them are still performed today.

I had thought to write a critique of Ryan’s performance, but instead,found myself musing over his announcement regarding Keiko Abe and Japanese composers. I began thinking about the marimba in North America. What follows is almost entirely anecdotal, but during a lengthy telephone conversation, Ruth Cahn, who has been in the middle of most things percussive for many years, confirmed most of my remembrances. Thank you Ruth. Nevertheless, I take responsibility for all errors and the opinions expressed.

The Marimba in America:

Clair Omar Musser, (1901-98) a marimba virtuoso, composer, arranger and conductor, organized concerts for marimba orchestras. One of the first of such groups was a 25 piece, all-girl marimba ensemble for a Paramount Pictures event in Chicago. In 1933, Musser presented a concert with 100 marimbas and in 1950, a concert with 500 players for a  Chicago railroad fair. His repertoire consisted mainly of arrangements of popular classics along with compositions of his own. Musser was also an engineer. The marimbas he designed for the J.C. Deagan Company are considered today the finest of their kind ever made. [3.]

The Percussive Arts Society:

Founded in 1961, the Percussive Arts Society (PAS) today has a membership that includes percussionists from almost every university, college and conservatory in North America. Administered primarily by and for university percussionists, the PAS acts as a nexus for students, teachers, composers, performers and manufacturers, providing them access to school programs, pedagogic trends, new instruments and music.

Leigh Howard Stevens:

By 1980, a nascent group of educators and performers began to champion the marimba as a solo instrument and the popularity of marimba playing grew exponentially. Arguably the most influential marimbists was Leigh Howard Stevens (b. 1953). Stevens studied with Vida Chenoweth [4.] and later created an entire system for marimba playing. He devised a new grip, new mallets and a new marimba design, all complimensts to his vision. Stevens also wrote hundreds of etudes, and a vade mecum to disseminate his ideas. His work has influenced marimba composition and performance and has been adopted and adapted by marimba players throughout the world.

 Marimbas in the United States:

A marimba provides melodic and harmonic components often lacking in all but a few percussion programmes of the past. In most major music schools, marimba studies have become the backbone of  its percussion department. Importantly, this helps validate percussion studies within academia. Post graduate degrees, often unavailable to percussionists  prior to the marimba’s ascendency, are today, the norm, even for students who eschew traditional instruments and specialize in solo marimba performance.

Marimba Music in the United States:

Two major concertos for marimba were written before 1960: Paul Creston,1940 and Robert Kurka,1956. From 1969 forward, most concertos were being written by foreign composers. [5.] In 1987, John Serry completed a marimba concerto commissioned by Leigh Howard Stevens and other marimba soloists followed suit with commissions of their own. Unlike Japan however, only a small amount of solo music for marimba has been written by America’s art music composers. One of these, by Jacob Druckman (1928-96), is Reflections on the Nature of Water (1986) a masterwork, now almost thirty years old. Aside from the Druckman work, practically all pedagogic, ensemble and solo recital music has been and is being written by percussionists. A recent national marimba competition provided applicants a repertoire containing 15 compositionds, 13 of them written by percussion teachers.

Their music has failed to make an impact on audiences outside percussion circles. It is commonly based on classical forms and structures and is heavily influenced by basic marimba technique or the latest fad. Their music also demonstrates the American percussionist’s preference for loud, fast, continuous and repetitious music. [6.] For example, soon after the appearance of Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood, in 1973, percussion students and teachers began writing pattern music and continue doing so. In the words of a professional musician and friend, “Most composers are arrangers”.

Conclusions:

Note: The works on Scott’s program above by Yoshio Hachimura, particularly Ahania II, and Tokuhide Niimi, differed in substantive ways from many American compositions for marimba. They were mesmerizing, rhythmically and harmonically ambiguous and occasionally weightless. Remarkable too were their sudden, surprising silences and absence of expectation. [7.] The latter, best described by John Cage who said of his close friend, “I love Takemitsu’s music because it doesn’t lead me anywhere”.1

I was impressed by Ryan’s lack of histrionics, all too common among players today, and the concentration of his mature artistry which allowed the music’s unique qualities to appear without his intervention. Michio Kiazume’s Side by Side is a congenial and equally virtuosic substitute for Xenakis’ Rebonds and was played with clarity and panache. I was delighted.

Ryan is commissioning a select group of composers. One being a marimba concerto by Erik Ross (2007). On the program above, the work by Oesterle for marimba and koto is a welcomed addition to the repertoire.

Ryan Scott has two more recitals and as rumour has it, he plans to present both by May of this year. I look forward to hearing another half dozen works from Japan, all new to me and I thank Ryan for instigating these ruminations.(Ryan’s last two recitals will now be played in the Fall of 2014.)

Foot Notes:

[1.] See Burt, Peter: The Music of Toru Takemitsu, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

[2.] Many percussionists including myself, were familiar with the works of  Keiko Abe before her first visit to North America in November,1977. Though impossible to quantify, her presence inspired many students to play modern music and encouraged marimba soloists to write their own original compositions.

A detailed comparison of the grips, mallets and styles of Abe and Stevens and their effects on marimba performance would make interesting reading and a beneficial companion to Scott’s thesis.

[3.] If one wishes to hear a large marimba orchestra playing typical Musser repertoire, one can purtchase the CD The Marimba Festival Orchestra conducted by Frederick Fennell and recorded in the Eisenhower Theater of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. The orchestra was assembled by Lee Howard Stevens and featured soloists Gordon Stout and Bob Becker. Resonator Records by Marimba Productions, Inc. 1999.

[4.] The importance of Vida Chenoweth and her teacher, Clair Omar Musser, are worthy of attention.

Vida Chenoweth ( b.1929), one of Musser’s students at Northwestern, played her first solo recital in Chicago in 1956. She performed concerts world wide until an accident prevented her from playing at her former level. She is a member of the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

[5.] See: Conklin, M. Christine: An Annotated Catalog of Marimba Concertos Published in the United States Between 1940 – 2000. Marimba Concertos listed, chrinologically, alphabetically by composer, with orchestration, marimba size, date of composition, an interview and reviews, DMA thesis, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 2004. UM number 3134393.

[6.] I sent trombonist/composer Vinko Globokar an ensemble improvisation recording. His reply, paraphrased, was, ” This is typical of American music. Continuous, repititious. For the trio improvisations, our percussionist brings only two or three small instruments. Our idea is to never repeat. Always search for new ways to make sound”.

[7.] See Takemitsu, Toru: Confronting Silence, Fallen Leaf Press, Berkeley, California, 1995. Pgs. 51-57 contain Takemitsu’s thoughts on his use of silence and the concept of Ma.

 

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SCENES from ARRAY MUSIC HALL

Scene I, 15 December 2013.

The televised concert specials from New York City are predictable. They feature everyone I’ve heard before and didn’t want to hear again. Over and over, the same pastiche of music hall tripe, broadway warbles and symphonic war horses featuring the only pianist, cellist and singer in the world.

On the Toronto home front, creators of concerts besides being more modest, have considerably fewer formulaic thoughts and produce resoundingly successful entertainments of high artistic merit without Big Apple budgets, celebrity hype and hyperbole.

Case in point, the recent Array Music Benefit, 15 December www.arraymusic.com. My ticket to ride included dinner! All delicious and all prepared by Array Music supporters and staff. The best chicken wings I’ve tasted in this hockey, wing and beer society and that’s saying a lot. Array space was set up cabaret style with tall round tables and scattered seating. The entertainment was in three short, but riveting parts, each followed by ample time for drinks, eats and schmoozing.

Though Marie Joseé Chartier is known for her choreography, dancing and leading her own dance company, http://www.chartierdanse.com, she is also no mean chanteuse. Marie Joseé sang two a cappella songs. The first one, during which she flirted with me, was by Rogers and Hart, Everything I’ve Got, made famous by Blossom Dearie. The second was La Vie en Rose, the Edith Piaf hallmark. Moving with ease through and around her audience in a wispy white floor length dress, Ms Chartier made both songs memorable with enchanting, unaffected performances.

Patricia O’Callaghan, www.patricia-ocallaghan.com, sang Zu-Potsdam Unter Den Eichen by Kurt Weill and Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs by John Cage. Reading Wikipedia I learned O’Callaghan was an exchange student in Mexico when she decided that rather than becoming “either a rockstar or a nun” she would combine both these ambitions by becoming an opera singer. This non sequitur in and of itself endeared her to me. She studied opera singing at the University of Toronto and became infatuated with cabaret music. I think her voice is lovely and she is a fine musician. Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs was the best of many I’ve heard over the years- true to the score with no vibrato and rendered in time, the closed piano accompaniment played clearly and with delicate authority by percussionist David Schotzko. A beautiful taste of Cage and an example of impeccable ensemble performance. Schotzko also played drumkit on the Weill and Gregory Oh played piano normally.

In the midst of the evening Array Music Artistic Director, percussionist and composer Rick Sacks sang his Rap styled song I Does Art , written in response to a long forgotten uproar over some art censorship in Toronto during the early 1980s. Rick continues to surprise me. I love this song and its performance was reality itself, both poignant and humorous. I learned he had at least three more songs in his oeuvre and if they are anywhere near as good as I Does Art, he needs to record them.

Three delightful songs by Allen Cole were next: Falling in Love with You and the Clam Song, both from an Array Music commission titledThe Wrong Son; and The Girl in the Picture from The Girl in the Picture, another Array Music commission. Patricia O’Callaghan sang Falling in Love with You and The Girl in the Picture  accompanied by Greg Oh at the piano. The Clam Song was sung by Rick Sacks with accompanyment by David Schotzko on bongos and wood block.

The entire evening was a culinary, social and musical success.  Sacks has plans for the Array Music space infrastructure, including among other things, HD audio and visual recordings of concerts and an elevator. Array Music is just three blocks from my home so it is taxi and TTC free. A boon by any standard. It is becoming the venue of choice for some of Toronto’s most interesting and talented performers.

My wife and I joined two friends for an early dinner at Boland’s Open Kitchen on  New Year’s Eve. Our easy patter lighted upon art galleries in Toronto and I admitted to being an infrequent visitor, knowing little about today’s artists and their output. One of our dining companions, Joanne Tod, is a well established and successful Canadian artist presently specializing in portraiture though during her long career, she has created work in many mediums. Joanne is a regular art gallery visitor, but opined that many young artists latch onto the latest fad and stay there, unable or unwilling to take risks. Assuming the role of  music critic, I offered pretty much the same opinions about some keyboard percussion music.

Scene II, 9 December, 2013.

The concert  given in Array Music by Dan Morphy, his duet partner Ed Squires and TorQ colleague Adam Canpbell, www.torqpercussion.ca began with  Eric Richards’ The Unravelling of the Field arranged by Dan Morphy for two vibraphones from the original score for one pianist playing from two grand staves in four simultaneous, but different tempi. This work has been performed with many combinations of resonant percussion instruments, all, including Morphy’s rendition, engaging and musically satisfying in every respect.

Following the Eric Richards work were the four keyboard percussion pieces that prompted my comments to Joanne Tod, . For the most part, they were based on patterns as if influenced by the music of Steve Reich. Reich himself was influenced by percussion music and percussion technique, so the composers of these works, all trained percussionists, are condemned to comparison with the more famous works of Reich, whether or not he had any influence at all upon them.

It’s the patterns that plug my ears. Pattern music is aggravating because of their forms, usually A-B-A with no attempt at transitioning. The rhythms, though sometimes complex, are laid out like dictionary entries, one riff after another, often without any discernable relationship and interminably long. The harmonies are simplistic, without any frisson to tweak one’s ears.  No more than a measure goes by before I sigh, slide a bit in my seat, get comfortable and wait for the end. A sort of trans Pacific flight mentality.

There is a sub text to the foregoing. Years ago I visited the emminent percussionist John Beck in his studio at the Eastman School of Music. John was working on a Henry Cowell trio I had recently played that contained a prominent xylophone part. John said the part was difficult to learn because it contained no patterns. I held my tongue because its lack of patterns was precicely why I had found it easy to learn. I had the same experience with the xylophone part in Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques. Seiji Ozawa once turned to me and asked, “Is the xylophone part to Oiseaux exotiques difficult?”  I knew he had scheduled the work for his orchestra on an up coming concert and knowing patterns to be every drummer’s raison d’etre, I had to hesitate before answering “No”.

After intermission came the music of Ken Shorley www.kenshorley.com. Ken Shorley, a percussionist and composer new to me, is a former student of Trichy Sankaran, a master of Karnatik music who teaches at York University in Toronto. As Shorley announced, his compositions are influenced by the classical music of South India. He incorporates the vamps or brief motifes used by mridagam players in extended solos, but only as starting points. His works are not arrangements. They are fresh, inventive creations which to a great degree, conceal their heritage. There were moments of surprise, delightful quirks. I never had the sense that Shorley was padding his music. This was clean and lean music trimmed of fat and artifice. And they were all played from memory by Shorley, Adam Campnell and Dan Morphy.

Music of Ken Shorley:

About Time (tambourine trio) – 2011
Helix (darabuka, frame drum, caxixi/tala bells) – 2012
Three Into Five (frame drum trio) – 2002 (rev. 2012)
Cobra (gongs, bells, frame drum) – 2012
Sarvalaghu (solkattu, jawharp) – 2011
Root Cellar (wastebasket, triangles, tin cans, shakers) – 2011
The Bright Side (darabuka, riq, cajon/caxixi) – 2010
Monk’s Drum (darabuka trio) – 2011

 

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Cage Encounters

Variations III, No. 14, a 1992 print by Cage from a series of 57.

Variations III, No. 14, a 1992 print by Cage from a series of 57.

Long before I met John Cage, there was a wash of popular scuttlebutt clinging  to him. He was one of the 20th centuries’ most talked about musicians. Cage was a man whose name my teacher refused to speak. During my first year of college I suggested performing one of Cage’s percussion works and his response was a withering look that shivered my timbers.

That was in 1958. I had not seen a photograph of Cage nor heard any of his music. My ignorance was rectified somewhat in 1960 when I saw Cage on the television show I’ve Got a Secret. Cage’s secret was “I am going to perform one of my musical compositions. And he did. It was Water Walk (1959) and the performance can be seen on You Tube. [1.]  My teacher had certainly known about the infamous “silent piece”, 4’33” .(1952) His objection to Cage, though never voiced, made some sense considering his academic rectitude,.

Set-up for Water Walk.

Set-up for Water Walk.

As time passes, a chronology of life’s events can become skewed. I cannot remember how or when I first met Cage, but I do recall an after concert reception in someone’s Toronto home where most of us, including Cage, were seated on the floor. Nexus had just released a recording and I offered a copy to John who said, “I don’t like recorded music, but I’ll donate this to the University of Chicago Library.” On another occasion, a casual hello may have passed between us during a Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (1984) I remember Cage having a meal with Percussion Group Cincinnati, which may not have been their name at the time. As they left the restaurant, a greeting might well have passed between us.

I know I met and spoke with him at length during a Celtic Festival in Toronto when he performed ROARATORIO (1979) with a wonderful group of Irish musicians including Paedre Mercier and his son Mel playing Bodhran.[2.]

John Cage, Paeder Mercier and R.E. during a Celtic Festival party in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 198?

John Cage, Paeder Mercier and R.E. during a Celtic Festival party in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1982.

Convocation Hall on the campus of the University of Toronto was the venue for ROARATORIO, January 29 and 31, 1982, and as a warm-up, members of Nexus played Third Construction  (1941) while John and Merce Cunningham sat first row center. As might be expected, it was a very special performance. Afterwards we congregated backstage to share the moment. Merce was crying. “I have not heard this since I played the first performance. This is the part I played” he said to me, referring to my Lion’s roar, ratchet and maracas etc. Cage said, “I didn’t think the piece was so clear”.[3.]

In 1984, I was one of four conductors in Cage’s Dances for 4 Orchestras. [1982] Convocation Hall is circular with a balcony and the orchestras were positioned in various places with mine on the main floor stage. As conductor of Orchestra 1, it was my duty to begin the piece. I gave a downbeat and almost immediately the hall’s cavernous space was cleaved by a raw edged sarcasm. “Robin, is that what you call piano?”  From a distant balcony, it was Paul Zukovsky in high dudgeon. Cage came to my rescue with his distinctive, mellifluous voice,. “I think it’s soft enough Paul.” [4.]

For a television show, I had recently conducted in full symphonic dress, an orchestra of 25 automobiles performing O Canada in a stadium with their horns. Someone told Cage about seeing a newspaper photograph of this event and Cage asked me for a copy which I gave him during our first rehearsal. He was delighted.

Before leaving Toronto’s Celtc Festival, I must mention the great Celtic harpist, singer and historian, Gráinne Yeats. She was married to Michael Yeats, the son of poet and playwright William Butler Yeats.(1865-1939) I had the honor of improvising music with Gráinne for the W. B. Yeats play Cuchulain. Gráinne explained much to me about the Celtic or Irish harp history. For instance,Irish warriors fought naked and were driven to fighting frenzy by the sound of the harp. She also casually mentioned her father-in-law sitting on his porch composing poetry by humming. This past March, 2013 I phoned Ireland to speak with her but she was too frail for a phone conversation. Gráinne died 18 April, 2013.

Part of the lore surrounding Cage was his tolerance for and acceptance of accidental sounds occuring during performances of his music. It was this “anything works” dictum that I accepted as truth. Nexus members, Bob Becker, Russell Hartenberger and I, played his work Amores (1943) in 4 movements for Prepared piano and 3 percussionists 7 October, 1977. The opening movement for Prepared piano is followed by two movements for percussion trio. Cage was again in the audience and our first , the 2nd movement, was a stunner. The audience spontaneously applauded after the last note. When all had settled down, we were ready for the third movement when the pianist began playing the last. Cage rose from his seat and slowly made his way to the stage. He whispered to the pianist, “the percussionists have another movement to play”. Embarrassed, the pianist stopped playing and when Cage was once again seated, we continued on. So much for urban myths.

I participated in Musicircus, Cage’s 75th anniversary celebrations during the Los Angeles Festival (12 September,1987) and was asked to play in “but what about the noise of crumpling paper etc.” (1982) [5.] I believe John prided himself on his penmanship and clarity of expression. He approached me during the first rehearsal and complained about my not playing the way he had explained in his performance note. He was, for Cage, quite exercized and I was apologetic. I told him I had read his note and was conscientiously playing as I had understood it. He told me what he wanted and that was that. After the evening performance John approached and said,” You were correct. I reread my note and there was a missplaced comma which I have moved to its proper place.” Alas, I never asked him to show me the revision.

Nexus played Branches (1976) for a Cage celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.c. (17 November, 1982) We discussed Cage’s performance notes which I understood to mean each of us was to toss the iChing coins to determine how we would interpret our parts. One of our head strong members objected to this reading and insisted we toss the coins just once to arrive at a group interpretation. We tossed one series and played. Cage later said, “Nexus does things their own way. They played  Branches linearly, not the way  I intended.”  Upon reading this, my respect for Cage blossomed and as well, his comment provided me an ah ha, I told you so moment.

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During the writing of an article about percussion ensembles in North America, I called John at his home in New York City. After the usual greetings, I asked him if he had invented the percussion ensemble as we in North America knew it. He said he did not. “It was in the air” he said. Continuing, ” I suppose I was the first to have an ensemble that rehearsed regularly. That was to play my music.”

Nexus spent an afternoon in Amsterdam shopping for cactus, an adventure that blew away my mid tour doldrums. Local technicians provided exceptionally sensitive contact mics and a very good sound system. All the prep was for Child of Tree.(1975)  After our evening performance of Child of Tree, an audience member with bravura vocal chords, called out “Bullshit”. After moving to our next set-up, I looked at the audience and said,”Cactusshit”. Next day, that was our concert review headline.

L. to R. roadie, Dave Campion, R.E., John Wyre, 2 technicians, Bob Becker.

L. to R. Our roady,, Dave Campion, R.E., John Wyre, 2 technicians, Bob Becker.

ASLSP, for piano or organ (January 1985). This experience with Cage is related on this site in my article: John Cage Goes As Slow As possible in Halberstadt, Germany.

[1.]  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSulycqZH-U

[2.]  Before Paeder left Toronto, he sold me his Bodhran and gave me a couple of lessons. Years later we were scheduled to meet in Liverpool, but his brother’s death called him home. We never met as Paeder himself died a year or two later. One can hear Paeder’s wonderful playing on early Chieftain recordings.

[3.] Cage limited his critique of our performance to the almglocken used in place of the Cow bell. “I had in mind an old farm cowbell. This sounds too pure.”

[4.] Paul Zukovsky and I remain long distance friends. He now lives in Hong Kong. From my perspective, his major contributions to 20-21st century music are his interpretations of violin music, his conducting and the Musical Observations Inc. CP2 digital recordings which he owns and which demonstrate both his playing and conducting skills. Nexus recorded Jo Kondo’s Under the Umbrella for CP2, each movement recorded in one take, no edits. Paul also conducted and recorded the Cage Sixteen Dances (1982) also available on CP2. Nexus played the latter work with Paul in Toronto, 30 Jamuary, 1982, ( during the Celtic Festival) 15 November, 1982 in Symphony Space, New York City and two days later on the aforementioned Kennedy Center concert, November 17..

The CP2 catalogue consists of 18 splendid CDs  encompassing works from our two most recent centuries. All containing rare musical gems played and produced with the highest professional standards.

http://www.musicalobservations.com/recordings/index.html

[5.] The complete title: But what about the noise of crumpling paper which he used to do in order to paint the series of “Papiers froissés” or tearing up paper to make “Papiers déchirés?” Arp was stimulated by water (sea, lake, and flowing waters like rivers), forests, for percussion ensemble (August 1985).

 

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Japan and the Evolution of Marimbas.

Ryan Scott

Ryan Scott

On 2 December, I attended my very first Lecture/recital by a Doctor of Music Arts candidate. It was so good, I may never attend another. The candidate was Ryan Scott and he spoke about the marimba and the effects Japanese culture, manufacturers, performers and composers had on the marimba’s popularity and dissemination.

After achieving his MM, Ryan was kept busy performing with local orchestras, opera and contemporary music ensembles. To date, his major achievement in music is the preparation, performance and recording of the three Maki Ishii solo percussion concerti with the Esprit Orchestra.

As one might suppose, this project in and of itself was daunting as it required the skills of a performer, administrator, accountant and the political acumen for dealing with the dead composer’s relatives, a conductor, the orchestra musicians, the musician’s union and a recording comppany, as well as dedication, passion, patience and endurance, all attributes useful for obtaining a DMA degree. In fact, he should have been awarded a DMA for the Maki Ishii project.

Ryan was alloted 45 minutes to demonstrate and perform representative marimba works and distill his thesis to, in this case, a time line from 1968 to about 2000  with very brief references to the Meiji Restoration and forward.  I had not thought to bring a pen and paper. Never the less, they would have been useless to me given the wealth of information and the virtuosity of his playing in such a short span of time.

Ryan touched on marimba history in south east Asia, its arrival in Japan and from the mid thirties onwards, its physical improvements and ascension to a national obsession. The craze, involving transcriptions of folk, light classics and pop music, also included the xylophone which, as Ryan pointed out, is identical to the marimba except for the emphasis on tuning certain overtones in each instrument.

Then came Keiko Abe, today a justifiably venerated marimba soloist, teacher and composer. Her repertoire did not include arrangements. She wrote original works for marimba and her astounding technique. Abe convinced a Japanese company to develop a suitable instrument for her. She also commissioned her country’s leading composers  to write works for her and came to North America for concerts and university master classes in1977. What until then had been an academic percussion culture based on symphony orchestra repertoire, began to shift dramatically and rapidly towards marimba pedagogy.

To demonstrate developments in performance practices, Ryan played Ms. Abe’s first work for marimba, Michi. Michi written in the 1960s, but not published until 1979.  It requires a traditional four mallet technique. Ryan followed with his commission Look On Glass (2010) by Canadian Michael Oesterle, for marimba and koto. Look On Glass was an interesting aural treat – the blend of koto and marimba sounds during certain passages opened new sonic possibilities. It also demanded a variety of mallet techniques.

Ryan’s lecture and recital included slides of rare instruments and virtuosi as well as recordings by very early Japanese xylophone soloists, one of whom played a Suppé overture. As a percussionist I was surprised and more than a little chagrined to learn about the historically important events taking place in the late 60s, early 70s, directly under my nose, if you will, while I blithely went my way. I met Ms. Abe in  November,1977 and again in Sweden and Japan and occasionally during  Percussive Arts International Conventions. She has been a delight to  know, but I was never aware of her history, the influence of her work. So too, I’m sorry to admit, much of what Ryan spoke about. My impression was and is, that at the time, no western percussionist was aware of this rich, complex history unless they were being very tight lipped about it.

No western percussionist except perhaps Alan Zimmerman who, before Abe travelled to North America, flew to Japan to study with Abe and meet percussionis Yasunori Yamaguchi and Sumire Yoshihara as well as a number of Japan’s leading composers. Alan was incredibly generous to Ryan with his time  and gave him access to his collection of  more than150 early Japanese marimba scores.

During Ryan’s presentation I was sitting with Frank Morphy, former oboe and English horn player with the Toronto Symphony and his son Daniel, a superb percussionist with TorQ Percussion Quartet. As we were leaving Frank said, “Aren’t these events advertised? There are only about three percussionists here.” I had to remind Frank of the Nexus concerts in Toronto. “People would drive from New York and Ohio to hear us”, I said “but we rarely had more than one or two students attending from the university, even when we were playing there.”

Well, it’s their loss. Ryan’s topic, unlike a preponderence of DMA topics I’ve heard about, is an interesting, well thought out, well researched and useful percussion history. Much like The Military Band in the United States Prior to 1834 by Raoul F. Camus, Ryan Scott’s thesis in book form, with index, bibliography, photos and audio examples, would be a significant contribution to percussion litrature and music history.

To order Maki Ishii Live, three concerti wit the Esprit Orchestra:

http://www.innova.mu/albums/ryan-scott/maki-ishii-live

Ryan Scott home page:

http://ryanscottpercussion.com

Ryan Scott, Yasunori Yamaguchi and Sumire Yashihara in Japan.

Ryan Scott, Yasunori Yamaguchi and Sumire Yoshihara in Japan.

 

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TORQ IN ARRAY MUSIC CONCERT HALL

TorQ Percussion Quartet in the Array Music Concert Hall, 20 November, 2013.  L. to R.  Adam Campbell,  Jamie Drake Daniel Morphy, Richard Burrows.  Cell phone photo by Frank Morphy.

TorQ Percussion Quartet in the Array Music Concert Hall, 20 November, 2013.
L. to R. Adam Campbell, Jamie Drake, Daniel Morphy, Richard Burrows. Cell phone photo courtesy Frank Morphy.

TorQ struck again, pun intended, this time with a concert of music for Prepared Piano by John Cage, all arranged for traditional percussion instruments by members of TorQ.

I last heard TorQ in the Toronto Dance Theatre, playing works which were choreographed for existing music, as I reported on this site in TorQ Ensemble: Morphy, Rolfe, Reich and Cage, 28 June, 2013. That concert was an unforgettable experience. Consequently, I was prepared for this one to be at best, less memorable.

This TorQ program began with Bacchanale (1938-40), a vivacious complexity of rhythms and tempi written for dance and the first work by Cage for Prepared Piano. Of the 20 movements in Cage’s Sonatas and Interlues, (1946-48),TorQ members arranged and played 11: 8 Sonatas and 3 Interludes. The first half ended with an exquisite arrangement by Jamie Drake of the mezmorizing In A Landscape (1948), the only unprepared piano work on the program and ended with an arrangement of a John Cage oil painting titled Chess Pieces (1944). The program was appropriately titled Sonatas and Interludes.

Western percussion ensembles and the Prepared Piano are commonly thought to have been invented by John Cage: the percussion ensemble to provide him with solutions to compositional issues and later, the Prepared Piano to provide him with a percussion orchestra free from extra players, their accoutrements and expenses. However, there were important antecedents to both the western percussion ensemble and the Prepared Piano and Cage himself affirmed this during a phone conversation. When I asked him if he had invented them Cage said, “No, they were in the air”. His exploitation of both genres popularized them and they became indelibly associated with his name. The Prepared Piano proved to be an instrument that offered fresh insights into the aesthetics of sound and influenced generations of performers and composers.

The piano is a percussion instrument. When its strings are affixed with nuts, bolts, erasers and other knicknacks, its sounds are altered dramatically, and it sounds even more percussive. Thus, Cage’s Prepared Piano music was written on a percussion instrument altered to sound like other percussion instruments. Somehow, TorQ‘s  arrangements for quartet and multi percussion had closed an historic circle in music history. Or have they opened a new one?

I was seated with my wife and the very fine percussionist Alison Bent who has recently become part of TorQ‘s management team. Some of the Toronto notables in attendance were John Miller the music impresario of the Stratford Summer Music Festival [1.] and Ray Dillard, percussionist, recording engineer and President of the Toronto Musician’s Association. Also in the audience was Toronto pianist Henry Kucharzyk, whose fine recording of the Sonatas and Interludes (1990) provided inspiration forTorQ arrangers.

Toronto percussionist and composer Rick Sacks made his first appearance of the night playing his Kat, an electronic instrument programed for Prepared Piano. Cage never embraced electronic sounds. He did not like recorded music and donated all gifts of recordings to libraries. The Kat’s ersatz Prepared Piano sounds were at variance with the otherwise all acoustic sounds made by TorQ. The Kat simply rang false and yet, its sounds were appealing on their own.

Rick is the artistic director of Array Music and is the force behind its new music hall and administrative offices. He is an indefatigable worker. The new hall is splendid. Seating at most 50 people, it is an acoustical gem. The sound is not distorted by excessive dryness or resonance. Small dance and music ensembles not yet aware of its comforts need to check it out.

Cage was studying chess under the tutelage of Marcel Duchamp and made a painting titled Chess Pieces for an exhibit by Duchamp and other New York based visual artists. Cage painted a chess board and filled each square with snippets of music. These snippets define the form and structure of the work. American pianist Margaret Leng Tan arranged these squares of music into a piano solo. Thus, Bryan Nozny’s arrangement of Chess Pieces, is an arrangement of an arrangement of an oil painting and sounding within the purview of Cage’s aesthetic.

The Sonatas and Interludes concert was a garden of delights, always unexpected, always satisfying. I have grown accustomed to TorQ‘s artistry. They move in unison while remaining flexible. What excites me most about TorQ, is their desire to search out new ideas and realize them, time after time, in musically satisfying ways.

Note:

[1.] It was announced that John Miller has named TorQ the Stratford Summer Music Festival Artists in Residence for the summer of 2014. 

 

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Trichy Sankaran and his Kanjira meet a North American drumming tradition.

Mridangam master Trichy Sankaran.

Mridangam master Trichy Sankaran.

In 1972 I began teaching music improvisation at York University in the city of Toronto. The course was elective and the students were from various faculties on campus such as physical education, dance , English and music among others. York University offered a music program very much different from other traditional music schools. Austin  Clarkson was our Dean and musicologist; David Lidov taught composition; Peggy Sampson, a viol player, taught Early Music; David Rosenboom was the head of the Electronic Music Studio; Casey Sokoll taught Theory and Piano; and John Higgins taught Indian singing.

Trichy Sankaran was teamed with Higgins and taught Mridangam, a two headed barrel drum common to South Indian music. But the way Trichy played, the Mridangam was not at all common. Trichy was born in 1942 and began studying Mridangam ten years later. Trichy was in his 30th year when I met him. He was a recognized master musician. Today he is a legend.

Perhaps it was during a faculty meeting when Trichy and I first met. At sometime we must have asked each other if there was any music we could play together. Very much intimidated, I suggested a few military drum beats that I knew quite well and thought he might be interested in hearing. The famous British/American Reveille or wake-up drum beating would probably be a good start. Trichy came to the percussion studio and we began playing Three Camps. Trichy memorizes everything so I would play the 1st phrase, he’d play it back, asked me to play it again and so on.  Given his tradition of memorization, it didn’t take him long to memorize the entire beating.

It was a lot of fun and a heck of a learning experience, more for me I suspect, then for him. He played Kanjira, a small Indian tambourine and I played on a practice pad. Trichy is recognized as a  master soloist on Kanjira as well as Mridangam, his primary instrument. A few months later we performed Three Camps on an informal student concert.

Trichy and I had another  wonderful moment a year later during a faculty Christmas party. Trichy had brought his Kanjira and I had a Western tambourine. We began playing softly in a far corner of the room and there occurred one of those meetings of the mind. We just got in a groove and created some really incredible music. It ranged far and wide in tempo and rhythmic complexity. Without meaning to, we kind of stopped the party. Conversation ceased and people around the room were listening. In music, moments like these are rare and unforgettable.

Many years later I had the pleasure of playing a solo at a party celebrating the wedding anniversary of Austin and Beverley Clarkson. To begin the festivities, Austin asked me to come to the podium and play a flexatone solo. This was a complete surprise. Rather reluctantly I made my way among the tables of guests. Austin handed me a Flexatone and stepped aside. Just before I began to play I looked out over the guests directly into the eyes of the master, Trichy Sankaran. What in Heaven’s name am I doing and what will Trichy think? I played a brief Flexatone sonata and all went well. I was quite pleased and relieved.

Trichy and I remain good friends to this day though we rarely see each other. He is often in India and is a thoroughly dedicated teacher. When I think of him, the early, more naive experiences we shared are my fondest memories:Three Camps, our impromptu Christmas party duet and a Flexatone solo. Trichy has always been a gentleman. He is also a gentle man within whom dwells a lion’s spirit.

To experience the artistry of Trichy Sankaran and his many accomplishments and awards, I urge readers to visit his website: www.trichysankaran.com

Trici and I learning "Three Camps" on Kanjira and Practice Pad at York University ca. 1972-3.

Trichy and me learning “Three Camps” on Kanjira and practice pad at York University ca. 1972-3.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Articles, Contemporary Music, History

 

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