Friday, February 16, 2007

Beating Paths

Steven Schick's The Percussionist's Art: Same Bed, Different Dreams (University of Rochester Press 2006) will be useful and provocative to any composer considering writing for percussion, and perhaps even persuasive to composers who have never considered the possibility. The book is less a how-to-do-it-handbook with data on instruments, ranges, set-ups, mallets, and notations, than a meditation on how a score translates into rehearsal and performance, and how a musician assembles his repertoire. And in both of these aspects, the information is relevant to musicians in general, and not only the sub-tribe of percussionists.

Schick is one of the leading percussionists in an especially rich generation (William Winant, Robyn Schulkowsky, Tobias Liebezeit, Matthias Würsch... I could go on and on), and his chosen repertoire of solo and ensemble works is both broad and set at a consistantly high level of quality, from Ferneyhough's Bone Alphabet to Lucier's solo triangle piece Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra, and from Varese's Ionisation to Reich's Drumming. Even his tours into some repertoire outside of my taste spectrum (i.e. Wuorinen) was worthwhile; at least now I know a bit better why it doesn't work for me.

The author's meditation goes well beyond the narrow boundaries of the musical disciplines, and the connections he makes to culture in general and to his own life are never superficial nor are they colored by new-agey sentiment. The relatively new tradition of serious music for percussion in the west is both a music of the frontier ("drums along the pacific" is the term of art, I believe) and one that necessarily connects to traditions of percussion music external to the west. The risks in making these connections are obvious: superficiality, if not flakiness, and imperial appropriation rather than respectful exchange, and the author treads well here.

One last thing: Mr. Schick must be a fine teacher.

1 comment:

Robert Gable said...

Not to jump on your Wuorinen comment but some if not all of the Percussion Symphony is quite good.