Drum circles in the broadest sense have been around since the first caveman started beating on a log. There is something about drumming that is both primal and cathartic. Unlike most other instruments, it is possible for anyone – including non-musicians – to play rhythms on a drum (or any percussion instrument) immediately and join others in a music-making experience. Of course, there’s also no limit to the level of musical expertise one can achieve as a percussionist.
About ten years ago, I had a friend come to our company to facilitate a drum circle for our employees. The friend is Arthur Hull, who many consider the “father of the modern drum circle”. Arthur has a wonderful way of getting the shyest people to come out of their shell and join the fun. I saw the results of his event immediately which included lots of smiles. The lasting effect is a renewed spirit of community and teamwork among participants.
From time to time, I have the opportunity to conduct drum circles myself, primarily for non-musicians who are connected with my company. The most recent was at our company headquarters here in the Hudson Valley.
While the temperature outside was in single digits, indoors things began to heat up as the drumming commenced. There were forty of us with hundreds of instruments available in my percussion studio. The drum circle included a short review of “rules” such as “no wearing rings” if you are playing drums and to remember to listen to each other. Then we did a few exercises to get comfortable with playing such as how to get a good sound out of the bells, shakers, blocks, xylophone and drums. We tried different rhythmic patterns at different volumes from soft to loud and practiced “call and response”. We ended by “performing” an improvisation with many of these elements. The result was fun, interactive and a nice break from our daily routine. Here are a few video excerpts of that session.
WPI Drum Circle Clip
WPI Drum Circle – Group Amadinda
Last year, I was challenged to facilitate a very large drum circle in Atlanta. The group consisted of people who sell Woodstock Chimes throughout the US and other manufacturers within the gift industry. I say challenging because “conducting” a group of that magnitude (150 participants) who are playing drums is like herding cats. Imagine that many people playing instruments which are capable of producing serious levels of sound in a somewhat small indoor conference room. The results were incredible though. Everyone participated and left the event fully charged to conquer the world and put Woodstock Chimes in every home!
When I was growing up everything was pretty black and white. You drove a Ford or a Chevy. You drank a Coke or a Pepsi. You had a choice of NBC, CBS, ABC and (eventually) PBS on TV. We now live in an interesting time where you have a zillion choices. We are offered dozens of types of latte coffees (different sizes, types of milk-like products, wet or dry…), hundreds of different Woodstock Chimes (all of which are awesome, of course), thousands of channels on cable (only a few of which are of interest to anyone) and millions of websites. It can create all sorts of confusion and frustration. Thanksgiving dinner used to consist of Turkey, Stuffing with Gravy, Cranberry Sauce and some kind of Potato. That’s ancient history.
Here is an excerpt from a NY Times Article: “…seeking the perfect choice, even in big decisions like colleges, is a recipe for misery…when looking [on-line]…for a new camera or a hotel…limit yourself to three Web sites…It is not clear that more choice gives you more freedom. It could decrease our freedom if we spend so much time trying to make choices.”
The first three Woodstock Chime products, the Chimes of Olympos, Chimes of Lun and Chimes of Partch were offered in the early days of Woodstock Chimes because someone told us three is a magical number in retail. Just one choice is boring, two creates an either / or situation, but with three, people always chose a favorite (three points create a plane). It seemed to work. I still personally love the Chimes of Olympos, our first baby! Long live freedom of choice.
I have an affinity with Philadelphia. It’s not because I make bells and they have a cracked bell. It’s not because I am a historian, which I am not. Nor am I a Philadelphia sports fan. I like cream cheese, but it’s not that either. I was reminded that my connection to Philadelphia is through music when I recently participated in a wonderful week honoring the legendary percussionist Alan Abel. Mr. Abel played with the Philadelphia Orchestra for nearly 40 years (‘59-’97) and taught at Temple University for almost the same amount of time. I knew about his musical achievements and advancements in the area of percussion instruments when I was in boarding school (thanks to classmate Michael Udow who was from Philadelphia). For those of you who don’t know, he showed the musical world how a bass drum should sound by suspending it in a hoop attached with thick rubber bands. By doing so, the bass drum is free to vibrate and sustain its beautiful low tones.
If this wasn’t enough, he came up with the ultimate triangle that could be heard over the loudest passages of a large orchestra. My high school orchestra had a bass drum with an Abel stand and we used his triangle back then (at the Interlochen Arts Academy in the late 60’s).
Another connection is through my conservatory timpani teacher, Cloyd Duff of the Cleveland Orchestra, who studied at the Curtis Institute of Music. His teacher, Oscar Schwar who played 43 seasons with the Philadelphia Orchestra, helped to define the sound that we all strive for. That sort of makes me his grand-student.
Abel has over 65 former students in major orchestras throughout the world. The concert that paid tribute to him drove home the fact that the percussionists in the Philadelphia Orchestra and those teaching and playing in Philadelphia are carrying on the tradition of incredible musicianship. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znRCbA8aAfQ
The third connection is through NEXUS (which actually means “connection”). Bill grew up in Philadelphia, Bob grew up not far from Philadelphia and Russell attended Curtis (former Nexus member John Wyre was also from Philadelphia). Wonderful works by Bob and Russell were on the Abel concert. Besides the concert honoring Mr. Abel, NEXUS joined with students from Curtis in a performance of two of Steve Reich’s classics, Music For Pieces of Wood and Drumming (complete). Again, that concert proved that the next generation is carrying on the tradition of excellence while updating the repertoire.
The Abel event was in celebration of his 85th birthday (11 months late) and was in collaboration with the Curtis Institute of Music and Temple University. Performers included NEXUS (Bob Becker, Bill Cahn, Russell Hartenberger and me), Philadelphia Orchestra members (Percussionists / Timpanists Don Liuzzi, Christopher Deviney, Angie Zator Nelson and Tony Orlando, violinists Hirono Oka and Lisa-Beth Lambert, violist Che-Hung Chen and cellist Yumi Kendall), Alan Abel (percussion / conductor), Pablo Batista (percussion), Rolando Morales-Matos (percussion), Phillip O’Banion (percussion /conductor) and Natalie Zhu (piano).
I am not from Philadelphia, nor did I study there, so, my Philadelphia affinity is with its music and musicians. It was a true honor to perform with these amazing musicians in this amazing musical city.
The Catskill Mountains of the Hudson Valley are part of the Appalachian Mountain Range and is considered a dissected plateau created by erosion. It is known around the world for its natural beauty, its arts colonies such as Byrdcliffe, the comedy resorts of what was known as the “Borsch Belt”, the 1969 Woodstock Festival and, if I may add, Woodstock Chimes. It has been inhabited by the Algonkian peoples and later discovered by the Dutch, the French and many other cultures.
In the past, interpreters were necessary to bring this diverse group of people together and now the interpretation of the region will be in the form of an interpretive center. The effort to create such a center began in the 1980s and has been postponed for many years for many reasons. I recently attended the groundbreaking ceremony for this center which will be in Mount Tremper, located in the heart of the Catskills some 30 miles west of the Hudson River. The center is named after our former congressional representative, Maurice Hinchey, due to his dedication to environmental issues during his many years of service to our community.
Several organizations have come together to finally make the center a reality including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, The New York City Department of Environmental Protection, The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and The Friends of The Catskill Interpretive Center. The Adirondack Park has two such centers so it’s only fair that the Catskill Park is now given such a resource. Many speeches were given during the groundbreaking and representatives from each of the supporting organizations were in attendance. A musical tribute was presented by our local friends Jay Ungar & Molly Mason. Jay & Molly’s unique sound can be heard on many of Ken Burns’ documentary film soundtracks such as the beautiful Ashokan Farewell heard throughout the Civil War series. Who knows when this building will be completed but it’s the beginning of an effort to attract visitors and educate the public. I for one am delighted to live in this amazing area.
As a member of the Steve Reich and Musicians ensemble since 1979, I’ve participated in several premiere performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) through the years. Last week I had the honor of being part of a three-day series of concerts showcasing both Steve Reich’s and Philip Glass’s music at this prestigious concert hall. Each night’s concert was split between their two groups and the concerts were sold out almost immediately, which gave 6,000 people three spectacular performances of major contemporary works. This series was in part a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Nonesuch Records which has featured these two composers in many of its productions. Bob Hurwitz, President of Nonesuch Records just joined Nonesuch Records in the early 80’s, as we were premiering Steve’s Desert Music at BAM with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. We recorded this work the day after the performance.
In the mid-1960s a few composers were experimenting with new forms of composition. Among them were Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Their influences were quite varied and included African and Indian music, jazz, classical music and the gamelan music of Bali as well as the music of Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Moondog. At the time this music was considered experimental and the venues often were lofts in Manhattan or private gatherings.
In the mid-1970s, Harvey Lichtenstein, executive director of BAM, programmed many of these artists, giving them a large-scale venue to present their works. This led to the Next Wave Festivals which began in the early 1980s.
While Philip Glass and Steve Reich are often lumped together under the category of “minimalism”, this series of three concerts clearly illustrated the huge differences of their output. I performed in compositions of Steve’s in each of the three concerts. The first night included Music for 18 Musicians which won the group a Grammy for its 1998 recording. The second night we played Steve’s 1971 composition, Drumming. The last night, I played in his 1985 work, Sextet for two piano players and four percussionists.
Other Reich works performed included Four Organs, Clapping Music, Video Phase and WTC 911. The Philip Glass Ensemble played many of Glass’ compositions, including several excerpts from his famous Einstein on the Beach opera. Between the two groups there were over 30 performers and everyone came out at the very end for a full company bow to a standing ovation.
Minimalism has achieved very high acceptance and groups throughout the world now play this style of music. There is even a joke about minimalism which proves its acceptance in society: Knock knock, who’s there? Knock knock, who’s there? Knock knock, who’s there? Knock knock, who’s there? Philip Glass.
Woodstock Chimes’ headquarters is located in the heart of the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York State. Our facility is in the watershed of New York City’s pure reservoir system and we are surrounded by the beautiful Catskill Mountains. The Hudson River. which inspired many artists and musicians throughout the years, is also nearby. The area is rich in the arts, offering many galleries and concert venues. Our region also offers a wonderful variety of locally produced foods and spirits. If you find yourself in the area, I would like to recommend a few of my culinary favorites.
– Bread Alone Bakery / Café (breadalone.com)
Located in Boiceville, Woodstock, Rhinebeck and soon in Kingston offers a huge variety of organic breads,
pastries and more. They also have cafés which offer great meals and espresso drinks. The Bread Alone Logo was designed by our famous local friend Milton Glaser (he also created the “I Love NY” graphic and campaign). Say hi to Dan or Sharon for me.
“Bread Alone Bakery began with a simple loaf; handcrafted organic with the finest grains. We have grown to include three cafés and have spread the simple goodness of bread from NYC to the Berkshires. Stop by our cafés, market booths or shop online for fresh gift baskets and more!” Dan Leader, Baker / Founder.
– Taco Juan’s Restaurant, Woodstock
If you like great burritos and cheese nachos, you must check out Taco Juan’s. Located in the heart of Woodstock, this small location offers many things to eat including super delicious locally produced Jane’s Ice Cream. Simple ambience but the rest of the village makes up for that. A few doors down, you’ll find one of the largest selections of Woodstock Chimes in the country at Topka. Say hi to Bob for me.
– Armadillo Restaurant, Kingston (armadillos.net)
This quaint hang has the best Margaritas in town. The cuisine is a nice blend of Southwest and Mexican and the fish is excellent. My favorite is the tuna. They have a lot of vegetarian choices too. The owner is a social activist working with the community to help others. They are dog friendly, so bring Fido and let him enjoy the outdoor patio with you. Say hi to Meryl for me.
– LaFlorentina Restaurant, Kingston (laflorentina.net).
They have been making spectacular northern Italian style gourmet pizzas in their wood-fired stone oven long before the craze and continue to be consistent in quality. They also make their own pastas and offer a selection of wine and beers. We love their lentil soup! I always order the Mauceri stuffed pizza (filled with spinach and ricotta, its center topped with red cabbage; served with porcini mushroom or sesame sauce.) Say hi to Ammar for me.
New American Cuisine
– Bear CaféRestaurant, Bearsville / Woodstock (bearcafe.com)
This is a world class restaurant located on the grounds of the former Bearsville Recording Studio. The studios were founded by Albert Grossman who managed the many local groups in the 1960’s such as Bob Dylan; Janis Joplin; Jimmie Hendrix; Peter, Paul and Mary, to name a few. They all recorded at the Bearsville Studios along with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. The performers needed a place to eat, so the Bear Café was created. A great people watching spot. Say hi to Peter for me.
American Eclectic Cuisine
- Depuy Canal House, High Falls (depuycanalhouse.com) The New York Times gave Chef John Novi a four star rating in 1970 and the Canal House has been receiving high praise ever since. Housed in the historic 1797 Stone House Tavern, you can dine among John’s wealth of antiques and even sit at a long table in the kitchen to observe this artistic chef do his thing. The Sunday Brunch is so good, you might consider it a religious experience. Say hi to John for me.
There are so many great Asian restaurants, I’ll just name a few here:
– Yum-Yum Noodle Bar in Woodstock and Kingston (yumyumnoodlebar.com)
– Wok and Roll Japanese Sushi in Woodstock (live music six nights a week)
– Kyoto Sushi in Kingston (kyotokingston.com)
– Kodomo Sushi and Hibachi Grill with two locations Kingston (kodomony.com)
Tell them the windchime guy sent you.
Out the Way, Incredible in Many Ways (with music at nights often)
- Yoma Café in West Shokan on Rt 28A serves home-cooked meals to order. Breakfast through dinner. Say hi to Mary for me. BYOB
– The Country Inn in Krumville / Olivebridge (krumville.com). The food is excellent but you might want to go there for the hundreds of beers from around the world, including dozens on tap such as Chimay from Belgium. Say hi to Peter for me.
- The Rosendale Café in Rosendale, of course (rosendalecafe.com). If you are a vegetarian, you won’t have to ask if it has meat in anything because it won’t. Everything is quite delicious and they serve beer and wine. Say hi to Susan and Mark for me.
Local Produce and Gourmet Foods
– Sunflower Natural Foods, Woodstock and Rhinebeck (sunflowernatural.com)
All of their food additions since 2013 are certified organic and Non-GMO. Their new location across the river in Rhinebeck has a fantastic café. The owners are very community-minded and support local growers and artists. You’ll find a huge selection of Herbal Remedies and Vitamins there with a knowledgeable staff to assist you. Say hi to Bob for me.
– Adams Fairacre Farms has four locations in Kingston, Wappinger’s Falls, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh (adamsfarms.com)
Adams carries produce from many of the local farms as well as cheeses from around the world. They also feature Bread Alone Breads and Woodstock Chimes.
Blue Mountain Bistro To Go (bluemountainbistro.com)
– An amazing deli with a pastry and espresso counter. Say hi to Richard and Maryanne for me. Here’s what they have to say about their offerings:
• Local, artisanal, and hand-crafted foods such as homemade cheeses, soups, desserts, dressings, marinades, vinegars, spreads, preserves, honeys, syrups and other goods from our gourmet food store
• Fresh available organic produce from local Hudson Valley area farms
• Grass-fed beef and locally-raised chicken in prepared meals
• Healthy foods that are prepared on premise and free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats
• The Mediterranean way of eating with an emphasis on flavor derived from fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil
• Food that is prepared with love and care in the “slow food” tradition with the ease of a “to go” option!
• An ever-changing seasonal take-away menu as well as favorite gourmet menu staples at affordable prices
• Being a resource for good living and entertaining for our vibrant Hudson Valley and Catskills Mountain community
If you find yourself in Woodstock or Rhinebeck, have dinner at one of these places (there are many other great restaurants in both towns) and then check out Upstate Films. They show great films you won’t find at the Mall and their popcorn is actually good! Rosendale still has one of the few single screen theaters in the country as well. Enjoy and let me know what you think about these places!
Opera is considered one of the most refined musical art forms. It combines instrumental music, theater and singing to a very high level. Some of the most profound music is from the opera repertory. Many of the major composers throughout history have written operas beginning with early works of composers such as Monteverdi and continuing to the present day including Phillip Glass, John Adams and Steve Reich. My NEXUS colleague, Russell Hartenberger, was the Timpanist in the Toronto Opera Company for many years and my brother Rick Kvistad has been principal percussionist with the San Francisco Opera for over 40 years. Rick explains the experience of the percussionist in the opera as “stressful boredom”.
Having just finished my third season as timpanist with the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice orchestra, I understand what Rick is saying. The percussion section and to a certain degree the timpanist mostly wait for their parts to come up. For orchestral literature, percussionists count measures rest, sometimes in the hundreds. For the opera, however, percussionists often mark the time between entrances in hours and minutes. Some percussionists have even been known to leave the pit between entrances and run errands (no names mentioned).
The Phoenicia International Festival the Voice just concluded its fifth season. This amazing five day summer festival was the brainchild of Metropolitan Opera superstars and a world-class pianist (www.phoeniciavoicefest.org). Louie Otey, Maria Todaro and Justin Kolb have created something incredibly special right here in the heart of the Catskills. The orchestra, led by Maestro David Wroe, included fantastic musicians from the New York metropolitan area, including members of the New Jersey Festival Orchestra, which Wroe conducts. Rick, Russell, Chris Earley and I have played percussion and timpani for the last several years. This year, the festival presented the Barber of Seville. In the past, the festival has presented Madame Butterfly and Rigoletto. Puccini wrote for a chromatic octave of tuned gongs in Madame Butterfly. Luckily I had a set which is a rare situation even in many of the established opera companies.
In addition to the opera production, a tremendous number of performances and workshops are given during the five day festival. This summer included a high energy flamenco concert based on Manual De Falla’s El amor Brujo.
The Friday night concert featured the orchestra in popular Spanish and Italian songs starring Maria Todaro’s father Jose Todaro. Jose is a superstar in France and he won over the audience immediately as he continued to enthrall everyone for two hours.
One of the more difficult challenges for a percussionist is to know when to play. Often, the indication in the music is to tacit (not play) until a later time without showing the measures or any music notation. That interval could be minutes or hours. Also, long segments of recitative, spoken parts go by quickly while the conductor marks this time occasionally. Knowing when these segments are over can be a challenge. In other words, stressful boredom!
It’s nice to know that summer opera is alive and well, at least in the Catskills. While funding is being cut in school music programs, arts council funding is diminishing and ticket prices are often astronomical, there are boutique style venues popping up all over the country. Just across the river, Bard College offers a summer program entitled Summerscape which often includes large scale opera productions. Right down the road from Phoenicia, the Belleayre Ski Center has a summer music festival which also offers an operatic production each summer. There’s plenty of stressful boredom to go around.