Third Coast Percussion following beat of own drumming at Baylor

January 23, 2019
by Carl Hoover

Percussionist Robert Dillon admits he and his colleagues have to think carefully about the relationship between programming and packing for a concert tour. The former involves what pieces bring the effect they want, the latter about the instruments needed to achieve that. Marimba? Snare drums? Wooden blocks? Tuned bells?

“The question is how can we make a program artistically cohesive, but logistically possible?” said Dillon, a member of the quartet Third Coast Percussion, which plays at Baylor University’s Jones Concert Hall Thursday as part of the Distinguished Artists Series.

Performing at a university with a well-resourced music school such as Baylor, he added, makes a lot of the packing easier as the four percussionists can draw on available instruments and bring only the ones needed to supplement them.

Instruments are crucial for any musicians, but particularly so for a percussionist. When it comes to percussion, possibilities can seem endless with scores of drums, blocks, triangles, instruments played with mallets such as marimbas and xylophones, bells, cymbals and more, before branching into found objects such as flower pots, steel pipes, tin cans, ceramic tiles — the list can go on and on.

For the Grammy Award-winning Third Coast, Thursday’s “Lyrical Geometry” concert offers what the ensemble loves to do: Impress listeners with percussion’s great range.

“We’ll play about eight or nine pieces that showcase a wide range of possibilities,” he said.

The quartet, presently ensemble-in-residence at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, consists of Dillon, David Skidmore, Peter Martin and Sean Connors. They met while studying percussion at Northwestern University and see part of their mission as broadening the audience for contemporary percussion as well as commissioning and debuting new work.

As such, they’re accustomed to performing for listeners who aren’t quite sure what to expect or what to listen for.

“The first one or two pieces (in a concert) are your chance to win over an audience and then we graduate to newer or different work,” Dillon said. “We also speak from the stage . . . and talk about music we’re super-excited about.”

Something in percussion’s favor is that there’s always something to watch.

“It’s a very visual medium. Every sound you make comes with a physical gesture,” he said.

Among the works TCP will be performing Thursday are works from three of the quartet’s members, Dillon, Skidmore and Martin. The program also includes pieces by Philip Glass, Augusta Read Thomas, Mark Applebaum, Devonte Hynes and “Niagara,” from the quartet’s soundtrack “Paddle To The Sea.”

“It will be fun, full of surprises and show the beauty of what percussion can do,” Dillon said.

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