Category Archives for News

Meet our Emerging Composers!

For the third round of TCP’s Emerging Composers Partnership program, we received 99 applications, almost twice as many as previous years. There was so much great music in the bunch, it was really hard to pick just two composers to collaborate with! After many hours of reviewing applications (each of the 99 applicants submitted two recordings of their previous works, as well as a questionnaire, resume etc), and multiple meetings, we’re very excited to announce our two emerging composers for the 2016-17 season. They will each compose a new work for Third Coast Percussion through a series of collaborative workshops in Chicago. Their new work will be premiered on TCP’s Chicago Concert Season, and the composers each receive an honorarium and a recording of the piece.

José Martínez JoséMartinez -  3

José Martínez (b.1983, Cali, Colombia) is a composer and percussionist whose music incorporates a wide range of influences, from Colombian folk tunes to avant-garde Western art music. The sounds of Latin music, heavy metal, contemporary classical, and progressive rock all find a place to interact in his music and form his unique sound palette. His body of work includes pieces for orchestra, string quintet, saxophone quartet, pierrot ensembles, and solo with electronics.

Notable collaborations include works for the chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound at the Mizzou International Composer Festival 2014 and the Spanish ensemble Taller Sonoro. Other important performances include two European premieres, one in the International Clarinet Convention in Spain and the other in the World Saxophone Congress in France. Also notable was the premiere of his string quintet Looking for the Clave by members of the St. Louis Symphony. He is a recipient of the 2013 Sinquefield Composition Prize, given each year to one University of Missouri composition student.  José also collaborated with percussionists Keith Aleo and Mike Truesdell in a new solo piece with live electronics, which they will take on a national US tour.

José recently participated in the Next on Grand: National Composers Intensive program organized by the LA Phil and the ensemble Wild Up, where he attended master classes with Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, Sean Friar and Steve Mackey.

José graduated from the National University of Colombia as both a percussionist and a composer. He is currently pursuing a MM in composition at the University of Missouri.

Annika K. Socolofsky image1

American composer and vocalist Annika K. Socolofsky (b. 1990, Edinburgh, Scotland) finds her musical roots across many cultures. Her music stems from the timbral nuance and variation of the human voice, and is communicated through mediums ranging from orchestral works to unaccompanied folk ballads. Annika is a 2014 recipient of a Fromm Foundation Commission from Harvard University, funding a new multi-media work for the Emissary Quartet.

Her compositions have been performed by artists including the Donald Sinta Quartet, Access Contemporary Music Chicago, Alia Musica Pittsburgh, and the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, among others. Her works, projects, and related research have been presented at The Italian Society of Contemporary Music, Bang on a Can, Chamber Music America, Princeton Sound Kitchen, Midwest Composers Symposium, and Northwestern University New Music Institute & Conference. Annika is the recipient of a Fromm Foundation Commission, Rackham International Research Award, a Rackham Research Grant, first prize in the International Margaret Blackburn Biennial Composition Competition, and several awards from ASCAP.

Annika is currently a doctoral fellow in Composition at Princeton University. She holds a Master’s in Composition from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s in Composition from Carnegie Mellon University.

Support the Emerging Composers Partnership!

Third Coast Percussion’s Emerging Composers Partnership program is entirely donor funded. Click here to make a tax-deductible gift to help support the Emerging Composers Partnership, along with all of TCP’s other educational and performance programs. Thank you!
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TCP10: Questions we get asked all the time

As part of our series of #TCP10 blog posts, the members of Third Coast Percussion answer the 10 questions we’re most commonly asked by audience members after concerts and at the end of youth education programs.

1. Are you guys reading music up there? What does the sheet music look like?

One of the exciting challenges/opportunities in percussion music is that each piece needs its own notation system. Based on the instruments being used and the musical content, the composer needs to figure out the best way to communicate what they want to the performers to do. When we commission new works, working this out with the composer is always part of our collaboration.

Sometimes the notation just looks like typical sheet music, like you’d see on piano. This is often true of parts written for keyboard percussion instruments- marimba, vibraphone, etc.

(Sheet music image that looks like piano music)

Sometimes the music is notated on a normal looking staff, but the composer has to provide a key indicating what the different lines represent. So instead of the bottom line being E-natural, the bottom line is “low cowbell.”

(Sheet music that looks kinda like piano music)

Sometimes the music requires other graphic symbols to represent particular techniques. Again, the composer will have to define at the beginning of the score what these symbols mean.

(Sheet music that looks barely like piano music)

The result is usually some combination of traditional notation and newly invented symbols, but occasionally a composer will notate an entire piece using just their newly invented vocabulary, or in rare occasions, give us graphic symbols with NO explanation, and just leave it to us to decide what we’d like it to mean.

(Sheet music that looks like abstract art)


2. Where did you meet? How long have you been together?

We all met while studying music at Northwestern University. We each did at least one degree there, between 1999 and 2007. Chamber music for percussion was an important part of the curriculum there, and we had a phenomenal teacher, Michael Burritt, who really got us all excited about this repertoire.

Third Coast Percussion has been around since 2005. It grew out of a quartet we formed as part of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s Musicorps program to do community engagement work. We’re celebrating 10 years this season, with these blog posts and more!


3. How did you get all these instruments here?

In a big box truck. Or maybe a 15-passenger van with all the seats removed. Depending on the specifics of the gig, we rent the appropriately sized vehicle. We’ve considered buying a vehicle, but it’s not cost effective for us, especially because we sometimes need different sizes.

(picture of a fully loaded truck)

All in a day’s work

On tour, we work together with presenters to figure out what instruments can be provided locally (particularly at Universities) and what we need to bring ourselves. If a gig is far enough away that we need to fly, then we may need to find friends or colleagues in the area (or make new friends!) who can help us out with larger instruments. We’ve also gotten very good at distributing instruments throughout our luggage so that every checked bag is exactly 49.5 pounds.


4. Are you guys related?

We’ve gotten this one a few times at elementary school shows. It usually elicits a hardy laugh, followed by a moment of, “wait a minute, do we look that much alike?”

The answer is definitely no, but it’s probably like people who end up looking like their pets. You spend enough time together in a 15-passenger van crammed full of drums, and next thing you know, you start to establish a striking resemblance….


5. What’s your favorite percussion instrument to play?

This is a good one. I polled the group at the end of a long month of performances and recordings.

Rob: If I had to pick one, I’d have to say the marimba. It’s got a warm sound and a broad pitch range, and can sound very different depending on the mallets used on it. It’s become a great vehicle for solo and chamber music.

Peter: The great thing about being a percussionist is that we’re not defined by one instrument. I love the variety and the experience of finding the perfect context for a unique sound.

David: I love drums! I just have a soft spot for the drum set, and love the opportunity to rock out.

Sean: Ugh- I dunno. Is this for the blog?

(Rob: yeah)

Sean: I like it when you guys play trios.

(Rob: So you like playing TACET.)

Sean: Yeah… Ok, fine: vibraphone.

(Rob: Yeah?)

Sean: I guess.

(Rob: Do you want me to ask you again in an hour?)

Sean: Why don’t you just put this whole conversation on the blog? I think this is all good stuff.


6. How do you decide who plays which part? Do you ever switch parts?

In a string quartet, it’s obvious who’s going to play the cello part. But for our ensemble, anyone could play any part. If someone has a particular part they want to play, they usually speak up at the beginning, and there’s rarely a case where two people are really determined to play the same part. If we’re working on duos, trios, or pieces where some parts are way harder than others, we try to balance it out so we’re all equally overwhelmed. There are rare instances where there’s a particular skill set required for one part that’s not shared by all of us- we’re not all equally good at playing piano, or whistling, for instance. A lot of times, we just assign the parts alphabetically by last name.


7. What’s that drum with the stick in it?

This thing is called a Lion’s Roar. Long time TCP fans will recognize this from John Cage’s Third Construction, among other pieces. It’s just a drum with a stick or rope secured through the drum head. The player draws a wet rag along the length of the stick or rope, and the drum head amplifies the friction, making a sound reminiscent of a lion’s roar or growl. It was used as a Foley effect in radio plays back in the day. Once TCP played a gig in the LA area, and the presenter secured a lion’s roar for us to use in the concert. We were informed that this was actually an “Ape’s Roar,” and that was used in the original Planet of the Apes films in the 1960s and 70s.

Peter demonstrates proper Lion’s Roar technique


8. Don’t you wish you played the flute?


I mean, the flute’s cool and all. But look at all the cool stuff we get to play! Plus we get the regular exercise of lifting heavy objects!


9. Where and how much do you rehearse?

We’ve got a rehearsal space in an old factory building in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. We moved in there in 2008, and in recent years, the building has also become the home to other awesome new music groups: Ensemble Dal Niente and Eighth Blackbird. There are also a number of print makers, some of whom have made posters for us, as well as CHIRP radio, Po Campo bags, and a number of other cool start-ups and artists.

There’s no “normal week” in Third Coast Percussion land, but if there was, we’d be in Chicago, at our studio, from 10am to 6pm, Monday through Friday. We’d spend about half that time rehearsing and half the time doing the administrative work that goes into running our organization. Personal practice- and inevitably more administrative work- usually happens outside the 10-6 time frame.

But there’s no normal week. Some times we’re rehearsing non-stop all day, other times we’re spending most of the day at our laptops.


10. Do you play any other instruments?

There’s a little bit of guitar and a good bit of piano background, but really, percussion takes up all of our time. There’s an infinite variety of instruments to learn, from musical traditions across the globe. Members of the group have been expanding our skill set lately, learning some non-western music. We’ve had the opportunity to study with some master musicians from Africa- Nani Agbeli from Ghana and Musekiwa Chingodza from Zimbabwe over the last few seasons, learning about Ewe drumming and Shona Mbira music.


Bonus question: “Is this your job?”

We get asked this a lot- or some variation of it. We’re really excited to be able to say, “Yes! As of 2013, this is what we all do full-time.” Third Coast Percussion is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation. We have a fantastic board of directors who help steer our organization’s growth, and there are a number of wonderful foundations and individuals who support our work through tax deductible donations. You can too!

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TCP10: Season Highlights

As part of our series of #TCP10 blog posts, the members of TCP talk about 10 things they’re most excited about during the 10th Anniversary Season.

David: TCP is going on our first major European tour this season, which is pretty exciting. We’ll be playing Wild Soundthe major multimedia work we commissioned from composer Glenn Kotche, at a number of venues across the continent.

Wild Sound

Rob: I’m looking forward to our 6th full-length album coming out in February, which is an album of Steve Reich’s music on Cedille Records. Reich’s music has always been an important part of our repertoire, and it’s great to put our own stamp on these important works. We’re also working on a new mobile app that goes with the album, so stay tuned for more details on that! I feel like our mobile apps are a really great way for people everywhere to have interactive experiences with the music we play.

Sean: I’m excited to be performing in Alaska for the first time as part of our residency with Juneau Jazz and Classics.  We’ll be taking part in a performance of John Luther Adams’ massive outdoor work Inuksuit, and I’m eager to experience that work in the landscape from which it draws inspiration. Plus, it would be amazing if we get to see a polar bear or a whale…

How Sean pictures our Alaska residency…

Peter: I’m excited for the opportunity to do some professional development with master Ewe musician and dancer Nani Agbeli again this season. This guy is just a ridiculous artist and it’s so nice to step out of our comfort zone and into a new culture and musical tradition.

Nani Agbeli

Sean: I’m very excited to find out who the next round of collaborators will be in our Emerging Composers Partnership.  We’ve already had two fantastic workshopping sessions with the two composers for this year, Danny Clay and Katherine Young, and we’ll know who the next round will be by the end of the calendar year.

David: Donnacha Dennehy is writing us a new piece for a panoply of drums scattered throughout the performance space. He’s dreaming up some really amazing new sounds for these instruments that are at the core of what we do as an ensemble. We’ll be performing the piece at Notre Dame, University of Chicago, and the Met Museum this winter!

Donnacha Dennehy

Peter: I’m really thrilled that TCP is going through its first financial audit.  While this may sound like “I’m thrilled to listen to Dave practice Bach on the Digeridoo”, I’m actually genuinely excited about it. I’ve been managing our finances for a very long time, and going through this process is just another milestone that showcases how far our organization has come.

Dave practicing Bach on his Didgeridoo

Liz, TCP Managing Director: I suppose to start I am so happy to be here!  Being the ensembles first administrative hire feels pretty special to me. I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow over the next year (and beyond!) since I’ll be taking some administrative work off their plates. It might sound lame but thinking about ways I can give them more time to just keep being musicians is really exciting to me.

Rob: We’ve got a bit of a homecoming at Northwestern University this season. All four of us are NU alums, but we haven’t played a concert there since the first concert we ever played! It’s particularly exciting because we’ll be performing in their beautiful new concert hall, with views of the lake and skyline. The concert is part of Northwestern’s New Music Conference, and we’ll be working with NU composition students throughout the year.

Northwestern’s new Music and Communications Building

David: I’m really excited to be playing Steve Reich’s Sextet a few times this season. It’s one of my absolute favorite pieces to play, and we’ll be performing it with two killer pianists – Oliver Hagen and David Friend.

Click here to support TCP as we celebrate 10 years!

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Third Coast Percussion Celebrates 10 Years!



This season, we’re celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Third Coast Percussion! Throughout the season, we’ll be posting a series of #TCP10 blog entries, looking back on the first ten years, reflecting on where the organization is today, and discussing our plans for the future.

We’d also like to invite all of you to share your own favorite Third Coast Percussion memories or photos from the past 10 years on social media, with the hashtag #TCP10.

Our 10-year celebration began earlier this summer; our mammoth In C performance in Millennium Park happened to fall exactly 10 years to the day after the first concert TCP ever played. Right after the concert, we hosted a reception to celebrate 10 years with our fans, families, supporters, and colleagues.

(All photos by Peter Tsai)

We had an instrument petting zoo for people to try out some of our instruments.

Including the Arduino keyboards from Glenn Kotche’s “Wild Sound.”


We were honored by some incredibly kind words from composer and long-time collaborator Augusta Read Thomas.

Our board chair Samir Mayekar toasted TCP.

We had a gallery of press photos throughout the years… we were apparently all very moody in our 20s. (Keep an eye out for more of that on the blog.)

TCP has fans of all ages!


The exciting growth that Third Coast Percussion has experienced over the past decade has only been possible because of the generosity of many individuals and foundations who value our artistic and educational work. Visit our Support Us page to make a gift in support of TCP’s 10th Anniversary Season and see our complete list of supporters.

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In C Performance

What an experience! Our plan was to gather 80 performers in honor of Terry Riley’s 80th birthday, and we ended up with over 100 of Chicago’s finest musicians to join us in concert at Chicago’s Pritzker Pavilion.

The Group

The performers came from all over Chicago’s diverse musical community. Our musicians included members from the Chicago Harp Quartet, Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra, Ensemble Dal Niente, Fifth House Ensemble, Grant Wallace Band, In Tall Buildings, Lowdown Brass Band, Matt Ulery’s Loom, MOCREP, Mucca Pazza, North Shore Concert Band, Parlour Tapes+, Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Rock River Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Snarky Puppy, Spare Parts, Spektral Quartet, Templom, Ursa Ensemble, and Wild Belle.  We also had students from the Chicago High School for the Arts, DePaul University, Merit School of Music, Milliken University, Northern Illinois University, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. Our hats off to the crew at Pritzker Pavilion, there were a lot of lines to sound check.


Some Closeups

We had a section of 7 harpists!  Such incredible musicians and what an amazing sound!

Yes, in addition to just about every orchestral instrument you could think of, we also had 2 melodicas, 3 toy pianos…

…whatever Jenna Lyle from Parlour Tapes+ was playing…

…and this amazing instrument.  An Array Mbira performed by Matt Shelton.

Dave held it all down with his glockenspiel.  Seriously, he played 8th-note C’s for 45 minutes straight!  Our concert that night opened for Snarky Puppy, and a few of their members joined us including guitarist Bob Lanzetti.

I have to give a shout out to Jacob Nissly. Jake was an original member of Third Coast Percussion from back in 2005.  Our In C performance also happened to be 10 years to the exact date of our first concert ever.  Jake is now the principle percussionist of the San Fransisco Symphony and flew out to play again with the group and celebrate our 10th anniversary with us.

The Venue

Summer in Chicago at the best outdoor venue in the city.  You can’t control the weather, and there were a few showers that day all the way up through our sound check.  Luckily it cleared up and an estimated 6,000 audience members came to the show.


Wrapping Up

I got to cue the final swell of the piece.  Directing over 100 players in this massive sound was one of the most unique musical experiences I’ve ever had.  I had an audience member tell me that it was the loudest thing they’d ever heard at a classical music performance.  When we reached our loudest point, I screamed “Louder!”  I realized I couldn’t hear myself screaming and figured it was probably good:).

I’ve had the opportunity now to perform in C a handful of times across the country.  One of my favorite memories as a teacher was organizing a flash-mob performance of “In C” while a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. When I think about playing “In C”, I always think of Joy.

To me, performances of In C are really a celebration between musicians.  The music becomes a joyful dialogue amongst performers who are celebrating the fact that they have the opportunity to create music together. I think many would agree that this type of experience also gets to the heart of much of Terry Riley’s music. What an experience to be able to perform alongside so many amazing musicians! I even had the honor of sharing a piano with Mabel Kwan (…also an incredibly intimidating and humbling experience because she’s a monster pianist…).

We celebrated Terry Riley’s 80th Birthday with thousands of audience members, celebrated being a musician with over 100 of our friends and colleagues on stage, celebrated our ensembles 10-year anniversary, and celebrated the close to another awesome concert season.



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Terry Riley’s In C

In C Performers:

Thank you so much for joining us on this performance! We are so excited for this opportunity to make music with all of you at one of the most spectacular venues in Chicago. Our goal is to create an amazing performance experience for both our musicians and our audience. Many thanks for bringing your time and talents to this unique event.

On this blog post, you will find:

  • Printed music for In C. There are performance scores in concert pitch, as well as scores transposed for Eb, F, and Bb instruments. Each copy of the score also has detailed performance directions from Terry Riley.
  • A list of events for the performance project, with times and locations.
  • A general discussion on performance practice of In C and a few specific directions for our performance together.
  • Some instructional videos for In C.
  • Video and Audio of a few performances of In C.

Printed Scores

Terry Riley – In C (concert)

Terry Riley – In C for Eb instruments

Terry Riley – In C for F instruments

Terry Rliey – In C for Bb instruments

Calendar of Events

  •  June 24, Third Coast Percussion studio
    • 6:00-9:00pm
    • 4045 N Rockwell St.  Chicago, IL 60618
      • free street parking
      • food provided
  • June 25,  Pritzker Pavillion
    • 3:00pm load-in, call for all performers
      • Enter stage from Randolph St., east side of the pavillion
    • 4:15-5:00pm soundcheck
    • 5:00-6:00pm Stage dark
    • 6:30-7:15 Performance
    • 7:15-7:30 Change over stage

Performance Specifics

Performing directions for In C are included in each copy of the score. Please familiarize yourself with all of the directions from the composer in the score. Additionally, below you’ll find a few specifics and some general ideas to help prepare you for our performance at Pritzker Pavillion:

For this performance, we are shooting for a total duration of 45 min. As you move through the musical material, you should spend around 45-50 seconds on each pattern. The performance tempo will be ca. quarter note = 96 bpm, and pulsing eighth notes will be played by a member of TCP on glockenspiel throughout.

The performance will begin with the glockenspiel playing eighth notes on a concert C pitch. After 5-10 seconds, the entire ensemble will begin entering with the first melodic pattern. Each performer should enter when they feel appropriate and every performer should have entered after 20 seconds.

Listen first, then play 😉 Each individual performer must play strictly within the grid provided by the glockenspiel. However, each performer is free to choose where the “downbeat” of each measure is. Players should feel free to take breaks from playing periodically, but remember that the chronological map of 45-50 seconds per pattern should keep on going whether you are playing or not. If you need to stop to breath, stop. If you don’t need to stop to breath, you should probably still stop from time to time which will add the changes in texture that can create such fantastic performances of the piece.

You should never be more than 2-3 melodic patterns ahead or behind the rest of the ensemble. If you listen around and realize that you are still playing pattern 3 while the rest of the ensemble is somewhere around 19, jump forward to join them. Similarly, if you realize that you are really far ahead of the rest of the ensemble, fade out, wait for the group to catch up to your location, and come back in.

Performers should feel free to add dynamics and articulation to the melodic patterns as they feel appropriate. Listen across the ensemble. If you hear another performer phrasing a pattern in a particular way, try to imitate it. The uniformity of interpretation will highlight the canonic effect of the music. If you hear other performers moving in a particular direction dynamically, try following them. This will bring a unified sound and direction to the ensemble.

Perform each musical pattern in a register you feel appropriate on your instrument. If you like, you can switch registers throughout the piece. Use your instruments’ unique advantages to serve the performance as a whole. For instance, if you play an instrument with a great low register and the ability to sustain, bring out those long tones and help fill out the sound of the ensemble!

If there is a pattern that doesn’t work well on your voice or instrument at the given tempo, you can augment the rhythmic values of the musical pattern (16th notes become eighth notes, eighth notes become quarter notes, etc.). You can also choose to sit out for a pattern if it’s not idiomatic to your voice/instrument. Always make sure that you are keeping track of where you are and the timing of each pattern, even if you aren’t playing it.

The piece will end after all players arrive at no. 53. Once everyone has arrived at this last motive, the entire ensemble with play a long and gradual crescendo and diminuendo, lasting 20-30 seconds total. A member from Third Coast Percussion will cue the beginning of this event. Everyone will then fade out, leaving only pulsing eighth notes in the glockenspiel. The last instrument to be playing, the glockenspiel will fade out and the performance ends.

Instructional Videos

Video / Audio of In C Performances

There are so many recordings of this work, and the diversity of the performances and ensembles is one of the things that makes the music so fantastic and timeless. I like the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ version. There are a few links to performances online below. Dig around yourself and share! If there is a performance that you really love, send us a link and we’ll post it.

Terry Riley (audio)

Terry Riley & Friends – Amsterdam

Baylor Percussion Group

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Detailed Program Notes for “Currents”: Jonathan was killed in a battle against the Philistines

Sunday we will premiering not one but TWO commissions.  Jonathan Pfeffer was one of the composers selected in our Emerging Composers Partnership Program and we’re looking forward to sharing his composition with you.

Jonathan was killed in battle against the Philistines is a one-act metatheatrical savage noise comedy for four percussionist-actors. Its form is appropriated from American psychiatrist Dr. George Vaillant’s four general classes of ego defense mechanisms: unconscious responses that regulate the perceived impact of sudden conflicts with conscience and culture. Jonathan employs Vaillant’s model, as well as references to Sufi poetry, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the first Book of Samuel, post-Cagean composition, and verbatim slices of pop egomania to examine the futility and necessity of modern cultural production.

The percussionists embody caricatures that loosely represent each of the four levels of defense:

• Sean Connors as the pathological archetype, whose megalomania and delusional projections reshape external reality in order to maintain an inflated self-image at any cost. Not unlike an extreme case of bipolar disorder, he vacillates quickly between feelings of narcissism and persecution. This archetype freely exchanges characteristics with the immature archetype during the play.

• David Skidmore as the immature archetype, prone to paranoid and jealous outbursts in which he blames others for his own deficiencies. This archetype couches a self-serving agenda in half-informed pseudo-Marxist rhetoric. His scathing cultural analysis, while highly astute, more often than not comes across as self-righteous indignation. It could be argued that this attribute impedes his ability to negotiate a place in the modern world. Both immature and pathological archetypes tend to retreat into fantasy, engaging in delusions of grandeur of often Biblical proportions.

• Robert Dillon as the neurotic archetype, who also provides running commentary as the narrator/voice of “reason”. Suspicious of pleasure, he mistakenly equates satisfaction with suffering. As a result, he disassociates from intense sequences by concentrating on their purely intellectual components. While this archetype is associated with rationalization, this quality more frequently arises in the immature and pathological archetypes. At various points, this archetype appropriates the immature archetype’s incessant hypochondria.

• Peter Martin as the mature archetype, whose patience, gentle wit, and references to Eastern philosophy temper the heated exchanges between hot-headed pathological and immature archetypes. He is an exemplary model for how to cope with stress in a socially acceptable manner.

These thinly veiled, cartoonish exaggerations of the composer engage with one another in a series of intersecting monologues. The characters dissect the contemporary roles of both composer and percussionist within a culture increasingly detached from context. In a narrative device reminiscent of Joe Matt’s self-flagellating comics, the composer openly acknowledges and even incorporates his internal struggles into the libretto with a confrontational degree of intimacy.

Composed in a series of think-tank-style workshops with the ensemble, the music bears the mark of a true collaboration. The percussionists conjure a broken glass sound tapestry—gongs, cymbals, bowed brake drums, prepared crotales, amplified objects, and processed microphone feedback—which they execute concurrently with the dialogue. Alternately industrial and sensual, the division between acoustic and amplified timbres becomes illusory as pure sustained tones unravel into aleatoric melodies that re-emerge as pointillistic clusters. The soundscape ebbs and flows as a dynamic organism that directly responds to the descriptions of debilitating and often comical anxiety, like an abstract expressionist Peking Opera.

The result is an immersive and often disorienting sonic experience that owes as much to Richard Foreman as it does to Richard Pryor.

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Detailed Program Notes for “Currents”: Straitjacket

We’re coming up on a really exciting show this Sunday at Constellation, where we launch our new concert initiative Currents. We’ll be premiering new works, and performing some other works that are new to us. The composers have some really deep and interesting stuff to say about their music, so we’re posting more detailed program notes on our blog this week than will be included in the program book at the show. Enjoy!

Mark Applebaum


Mark Applebaum- Straitjacket

(notes by the composer)

When Steve Schick asked me for a new work to be commissioned by the Banff Centre for the Roots and Rhizomes Percussion Residency I worried “What kind of percussion piece do you write for a percussionist who has done everything?” I’m still not sure what the proper answer is to this question. But along the way I thought about putting ontological pressure on the boundary conditions of the medium itself; I considered the idea of paradoxically expanding Steve’s seemingly comprehensive domain of musical experience through focused constraints; and I gravitated, perhaps habitually, toward a kind of super-disciplined absurdity—as if invoking a parallel world whose eccentric culture is governed by elaborate rules perceived but not understood. In short, I managed to compose Straitjacket, a provisional answer of sorts.

Straitjacket, privately subtitled “four restraint systems for solo percussion and percussion quartet,” intersects conceptually with formal techniques employed by the French literary group Oulipo: the palindrome, the isopangram, the lipogram, and the taquinoid.

Movement I- Palindrome

The palindrome reads the same forward and backward, as in “A man, a plan, a canal—Panama.” The first movement is scored for six drum sets played in unison and with excruciating fastidiousness (despite a profusion of metric modulations and abundant coordination challenges for the limbs), the quartet playing matched kits consisting of kick drum, snare, and hi-hat, the soloist playing two analogous kits with substitute timbres of the player’s choice. At the epicenter of the piece—its palindromic mirror— the soloist switches kits.

This palindrome, however, is a bit irregular. The first side is built up using a technique accurately, if pretentiously, dubbed sequential metamorphosis censorship. The scheme is mind-numbingly elaborate, but the gist is that the musical narrative gradually increases and decreases the degree to which adjacent musical materials are transformed. For example, the second measure is a clear modification of the first measure; however, the third measure is a bit more distant from the second, as if an intermediary transformative step were missing; and so on. The conceptual gap widens and narrows, producing moments of logical consequence as well as profoundly incongruous ones.

But when this sequence folds back on itself, only some of the prior measures are sounded. New measures appear instead (algorithmically selected among those unsounded, intermediary bits that conceptually bridged the earlier gaps). At the same time there exist other composed intermediary bits that are never sounded on either side of the mirror. Perhaps it is clearer to imagine that my tasks is to first compose a number series and its retrograde: 12345 – 54321. But then the palindrome is distilled: 125-541. As such, certain bits (1, 5) are heard in both directions; certain bits (2) are heard only forward; certain bits (4) are heard only in reverse; and certain bits (3) exist conceptually, but are never sounded. Consequently, discursive gaps of varying size abound, from the most gently evolving discourse to the most fractured and surreal.

Movement II- Isopangram

A pangram uses every letter in the alphabet at least once, as in “A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy brown dog.” Whereas this 38-character phrase repeats some letters, an isopangram uses each letter in the alphabet once and only once.

The second movement of Straitjacket replaces the notional alphabet with a lexicon of 118 hand gestures, a kind of index in which each gesture is performed by the soloist once and only once. (That is, material is invented and then explicated only one time, without the tedium of development.)  These silent actions are precisely described in the score (each with a corresponding paragraph of detailed instructions in an eleven-page appendix) and arrayed in a carefully specified rhythm. Although silent, they are accompanied by a quartet of “foley artists” who give voice to the gestures through a battery of instrumental timbres, each heard exactly twice.

Movement III- Lipogram

In opposition to univocalism—in which a text is written with just one vowel, such as Georges Perec’s What a Man!, a short story using only the vowel “A”—the lipogram avoids a particular letter. The most arresting example is Perec’s astonishing novel La Disparition that manages to avoid the letter “E” throughout its several hundred pages (and whose translation into English by Gilbert Adair—A Void—is perhaps an even more remarkable feat). More concisely, Harry Matthews explains that the phrase “To be or not to be, that is the question” becomes, by way of lipogram in A, “To be or not to be, this is the question;” by way of lipogram in E it becomes “Survival or oblivion: that is our quandary;” and by way of lipogram in T it becomes “Being or non-being, such is my dilemma.”

To me the idea of avoidance conjured a corresponding musical act of removal. Hence, in the third movement the ensemble plays a single vibraphone, the quartet articulating unison chords and the soloist muting particular bars in an act of sonic elimination.

Movement IV- Taquinoid

A representational painting in the shape of a square, if cut into a matrix of smaller squares and reassembled in random order, would likely result in a jumbled meaning. But a taquinoid works in any ordering because each piece has a visual narrative that makes sense when extended to any adjacent neighbor.

In movement IV five pictures are drawn by the ensemble, their scrawling amplified by contact microphones attached to the easels. A visual continuity appears horizontally across the pictures (and if they were placed in a vertical column). Admittedly, the pictures are not optimized for just any order. However, a new accord emerges across all five pictures: the players have arrived at their unique pictures through a unison rhythm, a harmonized quantity (but not comportment) of visual strokes and dots.


Why must these program notes be so verbose, loquacious, effusive, and prolix? And why even tease the audience with program notes when they can’t hear any of this blather in the music? Paper or plastic?

These are good questions, an occasion to shift toward a more essential if prosaic matter: the composer wishes to express his deepest gratitude to Steven Schick for requesting, with characteristic verve and nerve, yet another new piece—the latest project over a multi-decade span of wonderfully collaborative and endlessly revitalizing musical high jinx; to Barry Shiffman for the invitation to Banff and the unwavering courage and intelligence to indulge such a fine summit of talented, forward-thinking, and passionate percussion wackos; to the Banff Centre for their interminable support, uncommon competence, and unquestioning empathy; and to the intrepid players of Straitjacket who have lent their enthusiastic moxie and assiduous attention to the enterprise of realizing idiosyncratic art.

PS—can a program note have a post-script?: If you should demand a metric by which to evaluate my music, the works always aspire to engender two questions—“What the hell was that?” and “Can I hear more?”

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TCP welcomes Liz Pesnel

Third Coast Percussion is excited to announce our first staff hire! Liz Pesnel is joining TCP part-time starting this month. She will be acting as an office manager and additional support for TCP’s production and marketing efforts. Since TCP’s inception, the artists have comprised the entire administrative staff, and we’re thrilled to be adding a new member to our crew!

photo credit: Booth Photographics

Here’s a little more about Liz:

Liz Pesnel was raised in a musical family in Albany, NY.  She grew up playing upright bass, and at a young age, had the opportunity to study with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and perform at Carnegie Hall.  She went on to receive a Bachelor of Music from Syracuse University, majoring in Music Business and Music History, with a focus on Upright Bass and Harp Performance.

Since 2006, Liz has held a number of key positions at The Windish Agency. Alongside radio promotions expert Robbie Lloyed (Interscope Records), she launched the agency’s Tour Marketing Department. As the Tour Marketing Manager, she oversaw marketing strategies for tours of various artists like The xx, Pink Martini, Lorde, and First Aid Kit.  Prior to the launch of the Tour Marketing Department, Liz worked as an agent alongside founder, Tom Windish, booking acts such as Foster The People, Lykke Li, and M83.  Previously, she has held positions at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, The Lincoln Center Festival and Blue Note Records.­

In addition to her new position with Third Coast Percussion, Liz teaches at Columbia College Chicago and performs in Gussied, a bluegrass wedding band.

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Happy 2015!

We had an incredible 2014!  The members of TCP share some personal thoughts about the past year and what they are excited for in 2015 by each answering the following three questions:

1) What is your favorite funny TCP moment from the past year?

2) What is one musical moment that was a highlight for you of 2014?

3) What are you looking forward to doing with TCP in 2015?

Enjoy and we hope to see you in 2015!


1) What is your favorite funny TCP moment from the past year?

Definitely when we played Credo in US at U Chicago and the State Farm commercial came on. It’s sort of an inside joke, but TCP bears a special enmity towards State Farm  thanks to a nefarious incident involving Sean, a Honda CRV, State Farm, and the South Bend Police Department.


2) What is one musical moment that was a highlight for you of 2014?

Premiering Glenn Kotche’s Wild Sound felt like a big artistic achievement for us. This was by far the biggest project we’ve tackled – TCP collaborated with stage director Leslie Danzig, professor Jay Brockman and a team of engineers at the University of Notre Dame who designed instruments for us, lighting designer Sarah Prince, video artist Xuan, and audio and video engineers Dan Nichols and Pat Burns to create a multimedia performance project that we’re incredibly proud of. My wife also thought it was cool that I did a drumset duo with a rock drummer 🙂 



3) What are you looking forward to doing with TCP in 2015?

Two new pieces by Augusta Read Thomas, one of our favorite composers and a truly inspirational artist and collaborative partner. The first piece, Selene, is for TCP and string quartet, and we’re premiering the piece with the JACK Quartet at Miller Theatre in NYC in March. The second new piece hasn’t been announced yet, but will be a part of a REALLY AWESOME performance in Chicago, this summer!


1) What is your favorite funny TCP moment from the past year?

Accidentally walking off with another percussionists gear from the same show at Le Poisson Rouge, dealing with that, then realizing that someone else walked off with our audio interface adapter, then dealing with that a couple of hours before a concert.   It becomes more humorous now that we are further away from it.  I’m not sure how funny it was at the time, but it was definitely memorable.

2) What is one musical moment that was a highlight for you of 2014?

seeing the WAVES project realized, first at Notre Dame but then being able to take it on the road to Colorado.



3) What are you looking forward to doing with TCP in 2015?

I’m really excited to be performing in Seattle with Third Coast for the first time.  It’s a great City with an amazing arts scene, and I’m really thrilled to bring our program to Town Hall there.


1) What is your favorite funny TCP moment from the past year?

The Naperville High School Percussion Ensemble parodying our press photo as part of a promotion for their Drumshow 2014.



2) What is one musical moment that was a highlight for you of 2014?

Playing at PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Convention).  It was a long time since we played there and it was a great opportunity to catch up our percussion community on what we’ve been doing.  Just felt great!

3) What are you looking forward to doing with TCP in 2015?

I’m immensely looking forward to our “In C” Project to celebrate Terry Riley’s 80th birthday.  It’ll be a great to bring together musicians of different ages and backgrounds to perform together in our hometown.


1) What is your favorite funny TCP moment from the past year?

Spending the night at Heathrow Airport with Dave…not so funny then, but definitely a great story.  Except now I seem to permanently be on their spam e-mail list… 

2) What is one musical moment that was a highlight for you of 2014?

Performing with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago was a real artistic highlight for me. TCP performed Reich’s Drumming, part 1 with the modern dance company, and Hubbard Street’s extraordinary level of performance quality and dedication to their art form was a huge inspiration.



3) What are you looking forward to doing with TCP in 2015?

I can’t wait to see what new works grow out of our collaboration with composers involved in our Emerging Composers Partnership.  Can’t wait to see what Jonathan, Danny, and Katie come up with in our studio!

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