I recently spent several days working with high school and university students during the “High School Percussion Ensemble Festival” at Ohio State University in Columbus. Ohio State has always had a dynamic and impressive percussion department but professors Susan Powell and Joe Krygier have grown this department to an amazing level in the 14 years they have been there. They are both supremely gifted performers and inspirational teachers as well. I had the pleasure to work with them along with my fellow guest performer Fernando Meza, percussionist with the Minneapolis Symphony and professor at the University of Minnesota.
While touring with NEXUS we often have the opportunity to listen to young performers and I am always impressed with the level of performance which has become fairly universal. At this Festival, Fernando and I held a master class and heard eight high school student ensembles play some very difficult works. There were many outstanding performances including a quintet of five young performers interpreting George Hamilton Green’s An Indian Story arranged by Bob Becker. The soloist, a sophomore in high school, astounded the audience not only with her technical wizardry but her relaxed and authentic interpretation. What really thrilled me was the enthusiasm of all of these young performers. They need to show their joy of performing a little more J but I would attribute their deadpan stares to a slight nervousness and inexperience.
Fernando Meza inspired us all with his workshop dealing with snare drum and tambourine. His adaptation of ethnic hand drumming techniques to the tambourine showed us all that there’s always something new to learn. He can do things on the tambourine with one hand that the rest of us struggle using two. This allows him to hold a tambourine up high for all to see while playing fast and intricate rhythms.
I enjoyed sharing my knowledge of musical acoustics with this group of 200+ students. I brought a rack of tubes tuned to the first 32 partials of the harmonic overtones serious. This all sounds very academic but the sounds are ethereal. Hopefully it opened up some young ears to timbers they weren’t normally accustomed to hear. My aim in these workshops is to help bridge the gap between music and science while using scientific data to explain how we can play our instruments it in a way to produce the sounds we like.
I also brought a set of instruments that I built to perform Steve Reich’s piano phase. I called this adaptation of Steve’s piece, Mallet Phase. Joe Krygier was gracious enough to perform this challenging but fun duet on my new instruments. He made this performance work extremely well to my delight.
Fernando and I both led honor students in performances of works we selected. Fernando played the drum solo in Bob Becker’s Mudra with student accompaniment. Fernando’s musicianship is enviable. I chose to have my student group
perform a piece written by my brother Rick called Kotrab. While we only had a few rehearsals, the young students pulled it off quite well.
One hour before the evening concert, Professor Powell decided to include Charleston Capers, another ragtime xylophone piece of George Hamilton Green’s, arranged by Bob Becker. She is a supreme virtuoso which was proven again with this performance. I had never played this piece with NEXUS and only had one hour to learn my part in the marimba accompaniment. Fortunately, I remembered the solace my fellow members of NEXUS had once given me when I felt I could have done a better job accompanying Bob’s ragtime solos. They remind me that nobody’s watching us. Everyone’s attention is solely on Bob. Fortunately this held true in this performance with Susan Powell as soloist!
This is the amazing OSU percussion department with Susan and Joe (middle row on the right). I suspect they are smiling because I left a small Woodstock Chime for each of them.