Category Archives: Lectures

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:

Ryan Scott home page:

Ryan Scott, Yasunori Yamaguchi and Sumire Yashihara in Japan.

Ryan Scott, Yasunori Yamaguchi and Sumire Yoshihara in Japan.


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An Audio Visual History of Western Military and Orchestral Percussion Instruments

This audiovisual presentation examines the origins, uses and evolution of western military and orchestral percussion instruments from ancient far eastern cultures, to the beginning of the 20th century in North America.

Fascinating and provocative images of contemporary sculptures, paintings and photographs accompanied by copious recordings of relevant music. will be presented to reveal the ancestors of western percussion instruments and their development throughout western history.

They will also help bring to life the authors and composers, the performers, monarchs and military giants who helped create the modern world and the age of percussion in the West.


1. Seminal names in this history of percussion:
The contributions to percussion by King Henry VII, Henry VIII and Queen Mary of England, Machiavelli and Thoinot Arbeau, King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden, Henry Purcell, the Brothers Philidor, Ottoman Emperor Mahmet IV, George Frederick Handel, Thomas Arne, Christoph Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Ashworth, Beethoven, Ladré, Napoleon Bonaparte, Suppé, Offenbach, George Bruce, Emil Boulanger, Takashima Shirodayü, August Helmecke, Harry A. Bower, and Carl E. Gardner are explained and made clear.

2. Influences from the East:
A pictorial survey and discussion of percussion instruments employed by the armies of ancient Greece, Persia, and India suggest a source of the camp duty, Field music and military bands of 18th and 19th c. armies.

3. Warfare:
As background to the age of percussion, the tactics and weapons of armies in the Ancient world, the Medieval world, the Renaissance, guerrilla warfare of the American War of Independence, and the Civil War in the United States show how our percussion instruments were used and finally developed into the modern instruments of today..

4. Timpani:
From their ancestors in Persia and India to the early 18th c., the compositions of Philidor, Purcell, Druschetzky and Berlioz will be played and the timpani guilds and military significance of timpani will be examined.

5. Cymbals:
A worrisome provenance. AD 1066, 1096, 1623 or 1680?

6. Military Snare drums, a study of pomp and circumstance, discipline and cohesion:
An analysis of weaponry development, Medieval Swiss and Renaissance European armies will explain how the snare drum was used and how its techniques and sizes evolved from the “Great Swiss Drums” of England’s Henry VII to the drums of today.

7. Drum Notation:
A survey which begins with the earliest extant commands to drummers, will include manuscripts, documents and drum manuals from 1589 to 1869, which show the variety and complexity of attempts to write what drummers played. Arcane rudiments, beatings and terms will be discussed and interpreted.

8. Drum Rudiments:
The origins, purposes and proliferation of field drum rudiments, before and after the word first appeared in print will be discussed along with definitions and opinions about them by modern drummers.

9. Military music for fifes:
Why the Fife? How and why certain genres of music were chosen by officers and common soldiers for military duty.  Music’s effect on the lives of infantrymen, the officer class, the public, the evolution of tunes, tempi, and examples of famous fife tunes with their drum beatings will be played and examined.

10. Janissary Era in Europe:
The second siege of Vienna, and the impact of 18th c. Britain’s Janissary craze on European art and popular music will be played and examined as well as the origins of the triangle, tambourine, tenor and bass drums their techniques and players in military bands.

11. Music inspired by the Janissary era:
A presentation and discussion of landmark songs and orchestral works inspired by and reliant upon military percussion instruments – Arne, “Alfred” (1746), and Gluck,”Iphigenie en Tauride” (1779), to Offenbach’s cello concerto, “Militaire” (1847) and Suppé’s, “Light Cavalry Overture” (1866).

12. The American War for Independence, the French Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War in the United States:
The epoch of popular patriotic music, the drum corps and drummers, the apex and end of an era.  An examination of the sacred and secular music of North America and the industrial age that ended the logistical need for field music.

13. The Great Divide:
The effect on drummers and percussionists of the field telegraph, Harry A. Bower’s “Imperial Method” (1898), Carl E. Gardner’s “Progressive Series”(1919) and the National Association of Rudimental Drummers (1933) will be discussed.

Presentation Options:

The Themes above can be offered as one presentation or arranged in a variety of formats to suit individual needs of teachers and students. The minimum presentation is 2 1/2 hours.

Suggested Themes for a Presentation:

A. Snare drum notation from 1589 to 1869.
B. The Janissary era and its legacy to Western art music.
C. Notation in drum books from 1777 to 1898.
D. The rediscovery of ancient texts during the Renaissance, the Art of War, and the rise of percussion and field music.
E. The American War for Independence, the French Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
F. Bruce and Emmett’s “Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide”, and the music, life and times of the Civil War in the United States of America.
G. Rudiments and The Great Divide.
H. How Japan became the only far eastern country to officially adopt Western music, and how fifes and drums influenced that decision.

Summary and Technical Requirements:

For teachers considering an in-depth presentation of the materials in this history, an interdepartmental approach involving students and teachers of music history, composition, musicology and ethnomusicology could well be beneficial. It is suggested that this in-depth presentation cover at least two sessions a day or more.

This presentation is in Keynote, a Mac program. Optimum sound and picture quality is desired. Besides a laptop which will be provided, the presentation requires a 10′ X 10′  screen (bigger will work, but 7 1/2 ‘X 10’ minimum), a projector, a wireless Lav (Lavalier) mike, and a sound system that runs off a laptop. (The presentation contains many music examples.)

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Posted by on April 16, 2010 in Clinics, Lectures


The Early Percussion Music of John Cage A Lecture/workshop

After 1943, Cage wrote few works for percussion alone, but in 1986 he said, “I remain a percussion composer whether I write for percusion or not. That is, my work is never based, structurally on frequency, but rather on duration considerations.”

Perhaps more than any other composer, John Cage can be considered the father of the western percussion ensemble. His early percussion works form an essential core repertoire for percussionists and remain fresh and compelling today. The events and ideas that inspired his involvement in percussion in 1935 became central to Cage’s entire philosophy of life and music.

The instruments he chose, the forms and structures he devised, the people he wrote for and the concepts he arrived at, continue to influence composers and performers.

This lecture/workshop is based on personal conversations with the composer and thirty years experience performing and conducting his works, occasionally under his supervision.

If teachers and students wish to perform, they may prepare works from the following: Quartet for Percussion – instruments unspecified – any movement, Trio for Percussion, First Construction in Metal, Second Construction in Metal, Double Music, Credo in US for percussion Quartet, Forever and Sunsmell for Voice and Percussion Duo, Imaginary Landscape Nos. 2 and 3, and Amores.

1:1/2 hrs. Robin Engelman

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Posted by on November 3, 2008 in Clinics, General Music, Lectures