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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: Democracy Looks Like

One of the new works we’ll be premiering this Sunday at Constellation is democracy looks like by Adam Cuthbert.  This is a TCP commission and we’re really excited about it!

Here are some more detailed program notes on the piece:


 photo by matt finch

democracy looks like is thematically built on some of the memorable call-and-response chants spoken within the protest marches which erupted all over America last year.

The structure is meant to mimic the organic development of chants within a march. Voices rise up as protesters join the call and the response. With a manner of immediacy, the energy gains momentum as voices join, and recedes as voices fatigue. During an efficiently functioning protest chant, the momentum is paced so new voices step in to support fatigued voices, creating a consistent cycle, and static rhythm plays host to a constantly shifting ensemble timbre. These chants are all a communal effort a beautifully synchronized human spirit.

I wanted to facilitate this same kind of communal effort in the performance, so the ensemble shares a DJ controller to manipulate each others’ timbres with live effects processes in real time via special just-for-kalimbas software fx racks. The backbeats are framed from some of my favorite rhythms found in dance music, including the Chicago-born 160bpm footwork style.

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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”: Trio for Harold Budd

We’re fortunate that flutist Rachel Beetz is able to join us this Sunday to perform Tyshawn Sorey’s Trio for Harold Budd.  

Here are some more details about the piece from the composer:

In the Fall of 2011, I began to study composition in Columbia University’s DMA program, and I found myself with a kind of identity crisis. I had recently completed a composition entitled Ode to Gust Burns, and I felt that it … lacked … sincerity. Although I thought at the time that it was a somewhat decent composition, it didn’t sound like myself, but it sounded like the music of someone who thinks they have something to prove. I was writing music that I felt would be more appealing to my colleagues (at Columbia) who wrote beautiful, challenging, complex, and theoretically dense music (but of course, the latter adjective is in no way a value judgment of their works, because I love the thought, daring, and care that goes into their music as much as I do Harold Budd’s process of his music making).

I began working on the Trio in 2012, in Woodside, California, during a residency at the Other Minds Festival. Among the attendees were Harold Budd, Gloria Coates and other composer-performers. I felt that Budd’s outlook resonated the most for me. We had shared influences – from improvisation, La Monte Young, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders, to name a few. I remember him mentioning how beautiful some of that music is. Unlike the perpetuated stereotype that posits “free jazz” as a turbulent, fiery, furious energy music, the music that Harold Budd mentioned by some of these artists was that which is melodic, and exhibits love and a sort of patience. And he remarked that he wanted his own music to have that quality. That is what I had been going for – a music that is about people…a music that is melodious, and resonates emotionally and spiritually with listeners while retaining the idea of beauty, and of patience.

But where I found in Budd not only a fascinating mentor but a kindred spirit, was that I had a very strong sense of “dis-belonging” to “new music” and its social categorizations. I began the Trio in response to those feelings. I decided to limit myself to a small pitch collection, and to find as many as possible things that I could do within that. At the same time I was listening to lots of traditional and vernacular musics from Ethiopia, and Bansuri flute music, as well as revisiting some of the “free jazz” recordings that Budd mentioned in his talk. So some of what is happening in the Trio derives from all of this. When I first interacted with Harold, I was preoccupied with how the music is made versus how it sounds. Harold’s methodology was quite the opposite. He was only interested in how music sounds. When I played him the Ode, he told me that there was no need to prove anything. However, when I began to play earlier music from 2007 – it had a spatial quality to it, while it also maintained the same sense of musical boundary erosion as the Trio – he jumped out of his chair and said immediately, “Now THAT music sounds like you.”

It was probably during the last three days that I was at the Other Minds Festival that I began to create a musical commentary on that feeling that culminated in this work. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for making me realize and confront one of biggest mistakes I have ever made as a composer. It was written during a time when I had considered discontinuing my pursuit of composition indefinitely. The Trio for Harold Budd is essentially a celebration of the conquering of those thoughts. I have since never thought once of giving up the pursuit of my artistic ideal as a composer – to remain committed to cultivating an aesthetic that demonstrates an expression of life experience and a grounded relationship and understanding to various historical musical lineages. It was essentially a composition of perseverance – Harold Budd IS perseverance, and much more.

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