University Percussion Ensemble keeps the beat at UCA concert

The different percussion ensembles at Colorado State University performed a two-hour show at Griffin Hall in the University Center for the Arts Monday, featuring ensembles ranging from over ten students to only two.

The first groups to perform were the Gold, Green, and Ram Pan Bands who used an assortment of steel drums to carry melodies across the concert hall. Steel drums originate from Trinidad and are beaten down into concave grooves to produce different notes, making them a very precise instrument that requires a great deal of dexterity. The three steel drum ensembles performed both lively and peaceful arrangements of popular songs, notably “Shape of My Heart” by Sting. The performers bobbed in time with the music, using head nods to stay in unison with each other. They also featured a drum set behind the steel drums to add another rhythmic line to the music and liven up the performance.


After a brief intermission to rearrange the instruments on stage, four members of the percussion ensemble took to marimbas for a performance of “Omphalo Centric Lecture” by Nigel Westlake. Then two students, Joe Jones and Chris Nadeau, played “What Universe” by Brandon Nelson on an assortment of instruments on the left corner of the stage.

After that, three students gathered in the right stage corner and played “Ohko” by Iannia Xenakis, a primal-sounding piece with heavy bass. Then a larger group of students gathered on stage for “Kyoto” by John Psathas, which involved a variety of percussion instruments and the innovative use of a strings bow on the wooden bars of a marimba. Finally, the largest group came on stage for a performance of “Bonham” by Christopher Rouse, which used a wide assortment of drums at different pitches for a loud and rapid series of rhythms to close the concert.

Eric Hollenbeck, the director of the CSU Percussion Ensemble for 14 years, expressed his excitement for the coming year.

“Every semester, I look forward to seeing how the freshmen develop,” Hollenbeck said. “The music we play is very eclectic and has some extreme variety both in instrumentation and style. Being a percussionist requires a lot of different skill sets that this ensemble and the music we play prepares the students for.”

He said that although the variety poses the biggest challenge, it is also the best part of participating in a percussion ensemble.

The students involved in the ensemble agree that the skills acquired are invaluable.

“This ensemble is the one where I feel like we grow the most musically because we play a lot of really recent pieces that push the limits, and those skills can transfer over to the rest of our lives as well,” said Tim Sanchez, percussion ensemble member.

He recalls feeling happy with the night’s performance.

“It’s always great to put out a good performance after working on it for months, and then standing on stage and realizing this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Sanchez said.

Matt Brown, a CSU fourth-year student, spent time after the performance to joke around with the rest of the ensemble on stage. He said that the interaction is his favorite part of being a part of the ensemble.


“Learning and growing together, creating music and then sharing all of that with the audience is definitely the best part,” Brown said.

Another percussion ensemble senior, Jose Campuzano, agrees that the camaraderie in the group is undeniable.

“We all learn and fix certain tendencies as a group,” Campuzano said. “And, we get to know each other really well.”

Both seniors felt nervous backstage after a rocky dress rehearsal but were pleased with the final performance.

The group all wore different brightly-colored dress shirts and played a wide variety of different instruments and styles, but after the show ended and the audience left the hall, everyone gathered on stage to exchange hugs and inside jokes, re-affirming the fact that they are a big group of like-minded musicians and friends in the end.

Although the percussion ensemble performs only once in the fall due to conflicts with marching band season for many members who also perform with the drum line, the group will perform twice in the spring, further showcasing their talents and the variety of music they play with ever-developing skill.