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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?

Nah.

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!

 

TCP_10-Anniv_logo_10-hashtag

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.”

DSC04433

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.

Winning.

-PJM

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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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