Percussion ensemble plays memorable piece of percussion literature

Music flowed out of the doors, windows, nooks and crannies of Pease Auditorium once again on Tuesday night as the Eastern Michigan University’s percussion ensemble played “one of the most performed pieces of percussion literature in the world,” as Director John Dorsey put it.

The first piece performed was “Three Episodes for Percussion Ensemble,” a three-part composition by John O’Reilly. The music felt like a chase scene from an old film noir movie.

The second piece, “…and bells remembered…,” is a 2005 work by John Luther Adams, an “environmental composer” who the director described as “a composer who used space and time I think rather effectively” and, “one of the most original music thinkers.”

The song was certainly arresting, and certainly minimalistic. The opening was just a chime repeated over and over and over like a church bell. It was one of those pieces that took its time and sucked you in. The kind of composition that made you keep thinking that something was just about to happen. It would be easy to imagine it be used as b-camera footage for a nature show that wanted to show you something unexpected and wonderful, which is what it was.

“Spring Wind” was another story. Composed in 1985 by Steve Riley, the third song of the concert was described as a “pallet cleanser.” It is amazing what variety of sounds you can get just out of percussion instruments. There are chimes, drums, triangles and wood blocks, but combined they made something so much more than that.

Which of course is the point of classical music. There was something reminiscent of the Caribbean in the upbeat and enchanting sound of “Spring Wind.” Even though there wasn’t a single word, it was something you could really get up and dance to.

The next piece was called “Imagine There Was Nothing” by Frederick Anderson. This was actually the second part of a piece, the other part being “The Loneliness of Santa Claus.” Dorsey took a moment to describe Anderson.

“Anderson has proven himself to be as mysterious as his music. He maintains no independent website.”

He is on Myspace though. What’s Myspace?

The Swedish composer brought us a very interesting piece of work, though. The music had a good deal of depth to it. The way that the percussion proceeded was to repeat and stress. But they added a note every time that they repeated. They added new details every time. But it was less like watching music being performed and more like watching a delicate surgery. The chime boards and wood blocks were grouped together and the three performers moved carefully, methodically, gently. As gentle as the music.

The fifth and final piece was “The Canyon,” written in 2000 by Daniel Monotaya Jr. While Anderson’s work required only three people, the entire band came back out for the last piece. Monotaya, an Austin, Texas native, was as wild and crazy as Dorsey described him being. And, as promised, the song was too.

This song was much more interesting. Again, it was chase scene music. There is no other way to describe it. It was easy to imagine yourself being chased, or chasing someone else, through a canyon maybe somewhere by the Rio Grande. It was suspenseful, dramatic, and full of short bursts of energy. Even the lull in the middle had lots of things happening. Perhaps more than any other piece in the performance, this one got your attention.

It was one of those songs like “Hey Jude,” that you expect to just go on and on and on until it ended with a surprise.

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