Rehearsal Magazine’s Madi Chwasta caught up with ensemble member and Executive Director David Skidmore to talk collaborations, commissioning, and creating iPhone apps. Read part of this insightful interview below, or click here for the full piece.
In a short period of time, Third Coast Percussion established themselves as one of the world’s leading percussion ensembles. What inspired the creation of the group and could you have predicted the ensemble’s success from the beginning?
We studied this music in school with an amazing teacher, Michael Burritt, who is now a professor of percussion at the Eastman School of Music. We loved the music so much that we decided to try to make a living doing it. I don’t think we really knew when we got started exactly what it takes to build something like this from the ground up, so I definitely don’t think we could have ever predicted where we would be today!
In terms of repertoire, your group commissions new percussion works by leading international composers while also performing percussion ensemble standards. How do you decide what to play and do you stick with a programmatic method for most projects?
We’ll often learn about a piece and keep it in the back of our minds for months or even years before we decide to play it. The same goes for composers — sometimes we’ll be following a composer for years before we ask them to write for us. All of these decisions are very democratic amongst the four of us in the ensemble. We’re all pretty eclectic, and we all like a lot of music, so sometimes one or two of us will be very passionate about a piece or a composer and that makes the others want to play that music too. It’s better for even just one of us to be over the moon about something than for all four of us to be just ok with something.
Third Coast is also deeply involved in the development of education programs. What have been the expected and unexpected outcomes of working with young musicians?
I’m not sure if this was expected or unexpected, but we have learnt a ton about how to communicate with concert audiences by learning to communicate effectively to young audiences. A lot of the beauty in the music we play is wrapped up in its complexity, and when we can invite people into the experience by giving them a glimpse inside this complexity, then we are giving them a musical experience that they could not have any other way.
Your ensemble has been involved in the creation of several educational phone apps that allow audiences to engage with and understand the repertoire you play. Where did this concept come from, and how has it helped enrich your programming and non-performative work?
Developing apps was a natural extension of our other efforts to communicate to as many people as possible about this music that we are so passionate about. We have 3 free iPhone and iPad apps, based on composers we champion – John Cage, Augusta Read Thomas, and Steve Reich. They’re meant to be fun ways for audiences to be actively involved in the types of music-making pioneered by these composers—music-making that the four of us in TCP get to be a part of every day.
2017 was a huge year for your group. What’s planned for 2018?
SO MUCH! We’re releasing a new album called Paddle to the Sea on February 9, 2018. This includes the first recording of a work that the 4 of us composed together, also called Paddle to the Sea. It’s named for an iconic Canadian film, and in fact is a new score for that film that we perform live. This is a fun and invigorating new aspect of our creative lives that we are very proud of. We also just premiered our first commissioned concerto for TCP + orchestra, by Augusta Read Thomas. It’s a beautiful piece that we’re looking forward to performing more. More commissions are on the horizon, including Philip Glass’s first piece for percussion ensemble which he is writing for us this year. We’re also continuing and expanding our educational projects, including the Emerging Composers Partnership, open to early career music creators from all over, and the launch of a new educational project in our hometown of Chicago in partnership with the amazing tuition-free music school called The People’s Music School. It’s going to be a fun year!