Here’s a bunch of pictures from our recent tour in Poland and the Netherlands.
Here’s a bunch of pictures from our recent tour in Poland and the Netherlands.
Third Coast Percussion’s growth over the last 10 years has been pretty organic, but there have been a few landmark moments along the way when things really jumped up a notch. This month, we’re taking a look back at those big moments in TCP history.
Fall 2005: TCP has its first meeting with Augusta Read Thomas, to talk about how to go about commissioning composers. The group was just getting started, and we knew we wanted to get composers to write new works for us, but had no idea how to go about making that happen. We knew Augusta from Northwestern– she was on the composition faculty while we were all students there– and she was kind enough to meet with us to talk about the commissioning process. She asked us “are you guys a 501(c)3?” and we said “what’s that?”. We learned a whole lot that day, including how we would need to fundraise to support major commissioning projects. She also gave us some ideas of how to commission some younger composers in the mean time, which helped us launch our first commissioning project. The conversation went well beyond just commissioning, and helped us begin to understand what it would take to be a successful chamber ensemble. We had no idea at that time what an important collaborator, advocate, and friend Augusta would be for years to come!
February 2006: TCP plays a show at the Neo-futurarium Theater in Chicago. This was the first show where we really thought about the total concert experience, beyond the repertoire and performance. We thought about the stage set-up, lighting, and how to go seamlessly from piece to piece without moving instruments. It was a really positive performance experience for us, and we also learned some important lessons, like: you need liability insurance to self-present in a rented theater, and percussion quartets should try to avoid performing in second floor venues with no elevator.
Summer/Fall 2006: TCP gets its first professional recording, press kit, website and logo. A fellow NU alum named Ethelbert Williams saw some of our early shows, and was excited about what we were doing artistically, but thought we could use some help on the marketing and PR side of things. He graciously offered to help out, connecting us with a graphic designer and photographer, and helping us organize everything we needed to present a professional face to presenters, venues, and the press. Ethelbert is still on Third Coast Percussion’s board of directors today, and has continued to be a great advocate and supporter of our organization. These couple of months yielded our first EP recording, Ritual Music, professional press photos and press kit, an awesome website, and of course, our first logo:
July 2007: TCP’s first performance at Rush Hour Concerts. This was the first concert we were actually hired to play, rather than self-presenting or performing pro bono. It was also the beginning of another very important long-term working relationship. TCP has performed on Rush Hour Concerts every summer since– we premiered a new work by our own David Skidmore on the season finale of Rush Hour’s 10th Anniversary Season (commissioned for the occasion)– and the two organizations have collaborated on a number of important community engagement and youth education programs in Chicago over the years.
Winter 2009: TCP’s first real tour. After a few quick run-outs here and there, this was our first substantial time on the road. We toured around the Midwest for about 10 days, performing at University of Illinois, Southeast Missouri State, University of Kentucky, and Tennessee Tech, then headed down to Texas for about 2 weeks, performing at a number of Universities and the Round Top Percussion Festival. We were all paying our bills with other teaching and performance work at this point, so it was a big deal to 1. figure out how to leave town for most of a month; and 2. actually generate some income from TCP (along with some expenses). It’s worth noting that this tour depended heavily on family and friends who put us up, and the enthusiasm of percussion professors who were willing to take a chance on a little-known quartet from Chicago.
August 2009: TCP gets its first grant! We had finally become a 501(c)3 earlier that year, and we had begun renting a studio space in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood in 2008, both of which were game-changers in their own right. This first grant we received, from the MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at the Richard H Driehaus Foundation, changed things in a very tangible way. For the previous year, the members of TCP had paid the rent on the studio space out of our own pockets. The Driehaus grant provided enough funding to pay the rent on the space, marking the moment when the four of us got to stop paying to be in Third Coast Percussion. The MacArthur and Driehaus foundations are still very important pillars of support for TCP to this day, along with a number of other generous foundations and individuals you can read about here.
Summer 2011: Samir Mayekar returns to Chicago and becomes the chair of TCP’s board of directors. Like all non-profit organizations, Third Coast Percussion has a board of directors. Samir was one of our first board members when we incorporated, and when he returned to Chicago, to pursue an MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, it transformed the role that TCP’s board played. The board became much more independent, providing greater accountability for the four of us performers who were running the organization, and pressing us to make plans for where we wanted to be 5 years down the road. The board also began growing, as Samir and other board members actively recruited and networked to find other individuals who would be excited to join the team. Samir’s energy and dedication have set the tone for our amazing board of directors, which is now comprised of 13 people, including one ensemble representative. The enthusiasm of these individuals, who volunteer their time and support TCP financially, has been crucial to getting our organization to where it is today.
Fall 2012: Third Coast Percussion premieres Augusta Read Thomas’s Resounding Earth at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Augusta had been a great friend and advocate of our ensemble since the beginning, and she approached us with an idea for a large scale work scored entirely for different kinds of bells, a sound that has been central to her work for many years. This piece marked a number of firsts for TCP: it was our first commissioned work by a world-renowned composer, our first performance at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, where we later established a residency position, the first work that required us to build an entirely new instrument inventory, our first fully-collaborative commissioning process, and our first major individual giving campaign, “Adopt a Bell,” in which many generous individuals made donations to support this project. Since the premiere, we’ve performed the full work about 2 dozen times across America and in Germany, performed extracted movements of the work over 100 times, recorded a CD/DVD of the work, and created a free iPhone app that allows the user to play the many different bells used in this piece and learn more about their origins.
Summer 2013: TCP begins its Notre Dame residency and goes full-time! We had been pushing for many years to get to the point where Third Coast Percussion could become a full-time job for all four of us. Increased support from foundations and individuals, and a more rigorous touring schedule helped to make it possible, but beginning our position as Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center put it over the top, and convinced us that it was possible to resign from our other professional obligations as teachers and performers- which we also loved- in order to make TCP our full-time pursuit. Being able to dedicate all of our time to TCP helped things to take off from there! We’re now in the third season of our position at Notre Dame, and it’s been incredibly rewarding on many levels.
Winter 2015: TCP hires its first non-performing administrator, Liz Pesnel. After achieving the dream of working full-time for TCP, our next dream was to have extra help with the administrative work, so we would all have more time to dedicate to the artistic side of things. We were incredibly fortunate that our first administrative hire was someone so capable and hard working. Liz came on board in February 2015 as a part-time Office Manager, and jumped up to being our full-time Managing Director in summer 2015. Many of TCP’s big projects in the past year- including In C Chicago, Inuksuit at Notre Dame, and our upcoming European tour– would not have been possible without having Liz on our team!
More game changing moments to come! There are many more exciting things in TCP’s future; the organization will continue to grow and we will continue to push the bounds artistically. Many of the major landmarks above were empowered by generous individuals and foundations; this kind of support made the difference between the four of us paying to be in TCP or starting get paid to do the work that we do, the difference between TCP being a part-time project or a full-time career, and the difference between the four of us being the only employees of TCP or adding a staff position. Each of these steps has, in turn, allowed TCP to pursue a more rigorous performance schedule, and more ambitious artistic and educational projects. Click here to support TCP’s continued growth by making a tax-deductible gift this holiday season.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
Sean: I like it when you guys play trios.
(Rob: So you like playing TACET.)
Sean: Yeah… Ok, fine: vibraphone.
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.
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!
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 Sound, the major multimedia work we commissioned from composer Glenn Kotche, at a number of venues across the continent.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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)
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.