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:
Concerts in Toronto – No. 3, October 28, 2015.
On October 28, a cabbie with too few miles in the driver’s seat and too little command of the English language, dropped me off in the dark of night on a street unfamiliar to me, somewhere in Toronto. With directions from individuals I met in an alley, I found my destination, the Australian New Zealand Club on Brunswick Avenue. Commonly referred to as The Tranzac, the club is a bleak concrete rectangle that looks as if it could house illegal activities.
The corridor from the entrance to the main performance space is narrow. Jerry rigged curtains are only partially successful as sound barriers or as masks to hide staff and cases of beer. A few right angle turns add to the illusion that I’m in a carnival fun house or a Murray Schafer opera.
I like this place. Though the room is a bit seedy, it has a friendly feel and a rather large crowd has turned out to hear TorQ. TorQ audiences are made up of music professionals, students, friends, sponsors and the curious. They are always an important part of a TorQ concert, providing a refreshing blend of good humour and a bit of frisson.
TorQ member Dan Morphy greets and directs me to a chair along side his father Frank and Michelle Hwu, a former percussion student. Directly in front of us is Ray Dillard, percussionist, composer, recording engineer and producer and President of the local Musician’s Union. Further on is solo percussionist Beverley Johnston and her husband, composer Christos Hatzis. Rick Sacks, Artistic Director of Array Music is also in the house.
Tranzac’s bar is in almost every respect, in need of a serious upgrade; imagine no Campari on the rocks with a slice of orange, but then, Aussies reputed drink of choice is beer. I settle for a diet Coke and accept Ray Dillard’s offer to pay. Tranzac is a good place for small ensembles to proffer their wares and expect some return on their investment.
Judging from the number of guest artists and the amount of equipment on stage, I doubt TorQ made anything much beyond a couple of beers each. The programme was titled OCTET, their guests being ARCHITEK a quartet of percussionist friends whose base of operations is Montreal. As usual, TorQ provided no printed programmes, preferring to announce everything from the stage. I must remember to bring a pad of paper and pen to their next concert. TorQ’s announcements have devolved upon Adam Campbell who is informative if at times loquacious.
The program consisted of a couple of very good works and a few not so good. The two bookend works were octets by Tim Brady and Michael Oesterle, both winners. Brady’s Spin (2012) was arranged from a large ensemble comprised of electric guitar, harpsichord, percussion, harp, electric piano, viola and bass clarinet. Rhytmically exuberant, it provided an exciting start to the concert. The Oesterle work took the grand prize. Titled California (2015) it was a mesmerizing stream of long tones and subtle harmonic progressions that never flagged. My question was whether or not this work could be played as a quartet? Funds for California were donated by Daniel Cooper who was in the audience and acknowledged.
Oesterie’s other work, Cepheid Variables for Quartet with Quarter Tone Glock soloist (2008), was not as successful. According to my source, a Cepheid Variable is a star that pulsates radially, varying in both temperature and diameter to produce brightness changes with a well-defined stable period and amplitude. It seemed to me that those brightness changes were the glockenspiel and its notes in quarter tones created startling moments when played with traditionally tuned notes.
Time Travels Light (2015) by Andrew Stanilan and Drum Dances (1993) for Piano and Drumset by John Psathas and arranged in 2015 by ARCHITEK member Ben Duinker, filled out the programme.
TorQ Percussion Quartet continues to thrive. Their collective imaginings create programmes and performances which communicate directly with audiences.
Posted by robinengelman on December 1, 2015 in Commentaries & Critiques, Composers, Contemporary Music
Tags: Andrew Stanilan, ARCHITEK, Christos Hatzis, John Psathas, Michael Oesterle, Ray Dillard, the Australian New Zealand Club, Tim Brady, TorQ Percussion Quartet