Today’s blog post is an homage to my favorite orchestral section: percussion.
I love that the percussion section is a free for all, with everyone looking for the best way to make some noise. You never know what you will find back there. It’s really a mystery to me how anyone knows what is happening. Have you ever tried to make sense of percussive notation? It reads like the top 10 list of “1,000 Ways to Die”: “shaker”, “crash”,”choke crash”, “ghosted snare”, “hi hat” , “jam block” “kick 1”, “kick 2”, “foot splash”, “rim shot”. This further proves my point that percussionists are the explosive impact scientists of the orchestra.
Notorious for searching for and appreciating the strangest of sounds, it is not at all unusual to find a percussionist friend hunched over a container, be it metal, plastic, or glass, tapping delicately (or not so delicately), looking for a sweet spot that will alleviate that fever for “more cowbell”.
This one’s for you, percussionists of the world! You Sound Seekers and Rhythm Rockers: keep dropping those mad beats!
“I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.” ~Christopher Walken, Saturday Night Live
This week we have compiled a great list for you of important pieces featuring percussion.
A few years ago, my sisters and I went to the Nashville Symphony. We had the great fortune of sitting behind the percussion section, directly above the snare drum. Man, and I thought Beyoncé had rhythm! That little snare drum man could give Jay-Z’s lady a run for her money. If you are not familiar with Ravel’s Bolero, do yourself a favor and go see it performed live. It’s a thrilling piece of music and it will give you great respect for musical counting.
Leonard Bernstein really knew how to make a song interesting. Check out the percussive pulse of his
“West Side Story Suite”
Shostakovich had some fun with the percussion section. Notice his sampling and shout out to the William Tell Overture in his
Symphony no. 15
Verdi’s Anvil Chorus
as Siegfried forges his sword.
Ligeti’s “Poeme Symphonique”
This isn’t a piece of music, but it’s still really cool.
Glenn Kotche of the rock band Wilco and wonderful composer in his own right does something similarly mesmerizing with cricket boxes. You can check him out and a slew of other modern composers like Steve Reich and Jonny Greenwood at Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival in March.
One final thing: If you ever have the opportunity to check out the Caixa Trio, you absolutely must! These ladies rock and they teach others how to rock too!
I hope you have enjoyed this percussion concussion. Keep dancin, and shaking, and groovin to these beats. Check back every Friday for more “A Thing or Two About a Tune or Two”, and while you’re at it, follow Refinersfire on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter. Let’s spread the word about great music!
As always, more cowbell!