Dr. Eric Hollenbeck seemed surprised. “This isn’t an unusual concert,” he said. “We do it every year.”
Nevertheless, he also said, “It’ll be fun to watch.”
“You can actually see the sounds being made,” Hollenbeck explained. “It’s not like other instruments.”
He described this as the more classical concert of the two performed throughout the year. “It’s fairly contemporary, so most students should be able to identify with it. Most of the music was written in the last 20 years, so it’s music of our time.”
The music varies greatly in age. On the press release it says, “First on the program is Ionisation, by Edgard Varese—one of the earliest pieces written for the percussion ensemble.” One of the pieces, Ku-Ka Ilimoku by Christopher Rouse, is fairly new (1978), but intended to be reminiscent of ancient Hawaii and the god of war for whom the song is named.
Having played percussion for 10 years—longer, if one counts piano in its technical classification as a percussion instrument—Hollenbeck is obviously pretty good at it. But what matters to him is what the students get from the concert.
“I pick the pieces based on difficulty,” he said. “The goal is education; I want to challenge the students… and work with the particular needs of the students. For instance, if one student needs to work on mallet-playing, I give them that. Or if they need to work on timing, I give them a piece with that.”
One of said students, music major Ben Justis said, “The most challenging part for me is the vertical alignment of notes. Playing exactly together is quite difficult, like getting a room full of people to clap their hands at the same time perfectly.”
Justis said, “My favorite piece for our upcoming concert called “Ritual Music” by David Skidmore. It’s a really fast piece that requires a lot of precision from the group playing it.”
One of the most interesting pieces, Ionisation by Edgard Varèse, comes from an era in which the definition of music was being reevaluated. Completed in 1931, the song experiments with sounds under the premise that anything is music.
“It premiered in New York City, and was supposed to be played by the Philharmonic’s percussion session,” Hollenbeck said. “They thought it was too hard though, so they had to put it on hold for a while.”
“Other percussionists would enjoy this, but so would other musicians, and, in my opinion, younger crowds,” Hollenbeck said, though he admitted that percussion music had tended to enthrall audiences in their upper 80s as well.
Justis, a veteran of seven consecutive semesters, said, “The percussion ensembles here are very rigorous. The amount of preparation that goes into our concerts is considerable. I’ve had a lot of fun learning opportunities with these groups; this concert is shaping up to be a terrific show!”
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