The opening event was a Wednesday evening concert titled “Masterworks” The first half began with Steven Schick performing Psappha and Bone Alphabet.
Schick’s performance of Psappha was to date the best playing of that piece I’ve ever heard. His clarity balance and control was artistry at its highest level. It proved the point made to me by a composer friend of mine who said, “Contemporary music is not bad, it’s just badly played”.
I was convinced by Schick’s performance that the key to understanding Psappha was an adherence to a steady tempo. Without this, relationships between The form and structures of Psappha would be incomprehensible and rendered meaningless.
Percussion Group Cincinnati
Then came a Percussion Group Cincinnati amalgamation of three Post-Cultural Revolution Chinese composers with the tongue and memory twisting title “From some of L AM- MOT(Qu Xiao-song), through WATER MUSIC (Tan Dun), to portions of DRAMA (Guo Wen-jing)”
Since hearing Chris Lamb’s premier of Tan Dun’s Water Music, I am still convinced the work’s greatest moment is the long, slow fall of water which ends the piece. It remains an enchanting sound particularly in a concert hall and may be in danger of becoming a cliché, something like the Mark Tree.
The work put together by Percussion Group Cincinnati contained an absolutely mesmerizing chime solo. I can think of few moments in my experience to compare with the timelessness and touch displayed in those notes. (I couldn’t see who played this chime part, but a friend at the concert told me he thought it was Alan Otte.)
Between the chimes and the water came music I’m used to hearing on the table of my licensed massage therapist. The only thing missing was the massage. I don’t know if this is typical of the Post-Cultural Revolution composers or the product of the Percussion Group Cincinnati’s pastiche. Worth noting however is the fact that at no time was I aware of this being “Percussion” music.
Susan Powell has created important percussion programs at Ohio State University. Though I had visited Ohio State on 2 occasions as a clinician, I had never heard Susan play. Therefore I was interested in hearing her presentation Xylophone +. Susan and her husband Joseph Krygier are exploring atypical xylophone repertoire.
The opening works were by William Cahn and Christopher Deane. The next work was Pattern Migration for tape and xylophone by Krygier and, for me the most successful work on the concert. Then followed a collaborative composition by Powell and Krygier. The programme ended with three virtuoso rag tunes by various past masters arranged as a medley and brilliantly played by Susan.
Based on what I heard I believe Susan’s idea about building a concert repertoire for xylophone not based on early 20th century dance music is worthy of expansion and I applaud her and Joseph for their efforts to date.
I could not miss the opportunity of hearing Turning Point, Prisoners of the Image Factory, Unseen Child, Cryin’ Time, Never in Word and Mudra. With the exception of Never in Word, I had played these works as a member of Nexus. Now I was to hear them again from the audience played by a hand picked group of virtuosi.
What I heard was a surprise. Becker’s music had always been interesting, exciting and challenging. All of those were present from out front, but the expression and mood was a new experience for me.
Bob’s music has a dark quality, something faintly disturbing. His music is modal and almost always in an odd meter, 5/4, but there is more.
And now, remembering feelings from my performances of these works, the word incomplete comes to mind. Somehow, his works never resolve in a traditional way- for example, as a five-seven chord announces the end of an eight bar phrase. This leaves a listener with a feeling not of what might have been, but what is to come. An intriguing and elusive quality.
Bob’s virtuosi made the same mistakes we always made in Nexus.
James Campbell, University of Kentucky Percussion Ensemble.
Jim’s ensembles are always prepared. This year he had chosen an early work by my teacher Warren Benson and had asked me to write a biography of Warren and a programme note for Warren’s Streams.
Streams is so quiet, Jim had phoned to asked my opinion about beginning his programme with the piece. I was doubtful the work would be heard in the hotel conference rooms reserved for these types of concerts unless some sensitive miking was used.
Ultimately, Jim decided to open with Blue Burn a rhythmically interesting work by Joseph Tompkins who wrote the work for the University of Kentucky Percussion Ensemble.
The performance of Streams was remarkable. Streams is a difficult work because it requires extensive use of techniques not usually required of percussionists. The ensemble gave a beautiful performance. I wished Warren could have heard them.
Streams is a piece for teaching. There are important lessons for students. It is a work in contradiction to most percussion ensemble compositions of the last 50 years. It’s difficult. It’s also very good.
There are two issues with Streams which I’ve never heard satisfactorily resolved. The percussionists are required to hum pitches and college percussionists cannot do this. Perhaps a small choir of voice majors would take care of the problem. The other concerns a slide whistle glissando that always sounds out of place. Maybe a synthesizer is the answer here.
Jim followed Streams with a work that opened with tape sounds that perfectly dovetailed with the mood of Streams. Thank you Jim and the ensemble.
N.B. During the last few years, the PASIC has been shortened by a day. This schedule is less tedious, more doable, compact, easy to absorb.
A Ruff Death, (1634-2008, Requiescat in pace)
During the winter of 1778, as George Washington’s infantry rehearsed the manoeuvers of Baron von Steuben,[1.] it was the sound of an English drumming tradition that filled the parade ground of Valley Forge.
Over time the hand to hand beats played by English drummers had been grouped into short rhythmic patterns, given names, codified and passed on to colonial drummers. Some of the patterns signaled soldiers to perform camp duties such as getting fire wood or water, whilst other patterns directed their movements in battle.
In the hands of creative drummers, these patterns could be combined to enliven popular melodies which eased a soldier’s weariness or emboldened fighting men in the face of an enemy. Drummers were required to practice these patterns assiduously.
Eventually they were known as the Rudiments of drumming and the drumming style, Rudimental.
The word rudiments first appeard in a drum book in 1812. On page 3 of A New Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating, Charles Stewart Ashworth wrote, Rudiments for Drum Beating in General. Under this heading he inscribed and named 26 patterns required of drummers by contemporary British and American armies and militias. The word Rudiment was not used again in US drum manuals until 1862. George B. Bruce began page 4 of Bruce and Emmett’s Drummers and Fifers Guide with the words Rudimental Principles.
Beginning with the long roll, Bruce listed 35 patterns concluding with a paragraph titled Recapitulation of the Preceeding Rolls and Beats. On page 7 of his 1869 Drum and Fife Instructor, Gardiner A. Strube wrote, The Rudimental Principles of Drum – Beating, and followed with 25 examples, each named Lesson.
The National Association of Rudimental Drummers (“N.A.R.D.”) was organized in 1933-34. The men of the N.A.R.D. were well known teachers, performers and composers. Some of them had studied drumming with Civil War veterans, whom they referred to as The Ancients. The N.A.R.D. was formed to enhance, preserve and disseminate what in their minds was an endangered style of drumming.
They combined Gardiner Strube’s 25 lessons, added the long roll and perhaps for the first time in history, unambiguously declared each heretofore lesson, pattern, beat, or principle, a Rudiment. They called the first 13 rudiments “Essential”. These were used to test applicants seeking membership in the Thirteen Club.
Another list of snare drum rudiments was compiled in 2008 by a group of drummers from the Percussive Arts Society (P.A.S.) Marching Percussion Committee. Their compilation contained 38 rudiments of unspecified origin including 24 of the “Hybrid” variety, and the 26 N.A.R.D. rudiments, making a grand total of 64 rudiments.
Drummers can become attached to a rudiment. Its appeal can be historic, or the feeling in the hands when its played. Even the onomatopoetic nature of its name may endear it. The Paradiddle and Ratamacue are examples of the latter. If one repeats these names, one can imagine how they’d sound played on a drum. [2.]
Along side the Flam, my favourites have always been the Ruff and its relative, the four stroke Ruff. These rudiments are to my mind, the most elegant and useful beats in a drummer’s repertoire.
The Ruff’s soft R suggests a variety of nuances. The four stroke Ruff, played as a roll can substitute for the five stroke roll. However, the Drag’s consonant D, limits expressions. Even so, the P.A.S. committee changed the name of the Ruff to Drag.
Had the N.A.R.D. made their list to read Ruff, Ruff tap and double Ruff Tap, the P.A.S. committee may have followed suit, allowing a continuance to the life of Ruffs.
In May of 2011, a group of very good drummers began a contentious and sometimes humorous exchange of e-mails after one of them was criticized for using the word Drag rather than Ruff. If the statute of limitations runs out before I die, I may publish their correspondence.
Perhaps all this Tea pot tempest could be ameliorated by shifting the conversation to Strokes. As the inimitable John S. (Jack) Pratt said,
“Drum rudiments are exercises. The rudiments of drumming are strokes”. [3,]
Without preamble I asked a group of friends, all prominent teachers and performers, how many strokes were used in snare drumming. Their answers ranged in number from 1 to 11, and one person replied, “Is this a trick question?”
If no agreement exists among some of the best drummers in North America about the number of strokes needed to play a snare drum, might not arguments about Ruffs and Drags be considered akin to bickering?
Today, within the ranks of Fife and Drum corps drummers, the Ruff’s proud name, it’s romantic evocation of history and onomatopoetic pedigree survive, but outside that cozy womb of nostalgia, in the brittle, frenetic world of Kevlar heads and carpal tunnel syndromes, the Ruff is only a memory, if that.
Now, after its first appearance in print 370 years ago, the Ruff is no longer a part of an academic drummer’s lexicon.
The Ruff is dead, Viva la Ruff!!
N.A.R.D. rudiments 8, 9, and 10.
PAS Rudiments 31, 32 and 33
[1.] Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben was of Prussian birth and a soldier, though he seems to have awarded himself the title. He knew19th century infantry tactics, taught them to the Colonial Army and authored an illustrated compendium of his military learning, popularly known as the Blue Book because of its cover’s colour, but officialy entitled Baron von Steuben and His Regulations.
[2.] In fact, the verbal repetition of onomatopoeia was sometimes used to teach musically illiterate young drummer boys. Today it is still used as a kind of verbal short hand.
[3,] Jack Pratt used the English language carefully. He took a Master’s degree in English with a thesis about poet John Keats. He was a published member of the New Jersey Society of Poets and taught English in a local New Jersey high school until his retirement. Jack is also a virtuoso performer and prolific composer of drum solos in the so called Rudimental or military style. His carefully drawn manuscripts bear witness to his meticulous nature. Jack’s lengthy and detailed Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame acceptance speech is the stuff of legends.
Posted by robinengelman on June 26, 2014 in Articles, Commentaries & Critiques, Fifes & Drums, History
Tags: Baron von Steuben, Bruce and Emmett's Drummers and Fifers Guide, Charles Stewart Ashworth, Drag, Gardiner A. Strube, George Washington, John S. (Jack) Pratt, National Association of Rudimental Drummers (“N.A.R.D.”), onomatopoetic, Percussive Arts Society (P.A.S.), Rudiments, Ruff, the Thirteen Club, Valley Forge