Percussion at the University of Toronto

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It has been a busy year so far at the University of Toronto percussion department.  In December the students competed in “Snare Drum Olympics X,” the tenth anniversary of the Snare Drum Olympics.

The three day event began with the  Technical Competition in which each player is required to play: double-stroke roll, slow-fast-slow; long roll, soft to loud; paradiddles, slow to fast; the player’s choice of a flam rudiment, ruff rudiment, and roll rudiment, all slow to fast; orchestral excerpt chosen from “Lt. Kije,” “Scheherezade,” “Capriccio Espagnol,” or “Bolero;” and a rudimental snare drum solo of the player’s choice.

The second day is the Snare Drum Roll Marathon.  Players roll continuously for one-hour during which they are guided through a series of dynamic changes.

The third day of the SD Olympics is the Solo Competition.  Player’s participate in two events: Pairs Competition, in which one player plays the right hand and another player plays the left hand of a rudiment or snare drum solo; and the Original Solo Compeition, in which the player composes a snare drum piece based on a designated theme for the year.  This year the theme was “Snare Drum Opera: soap or grand.”

The Solo Competition is followed by a party at my house during which the Award Ceremony is held.  Prizes are given for the best performance in each category, and an All-Around Performance Award is given to the player who performs best over-all.  This year, the All-Around Award went to Dorian Cox, an undergraduate performance major from Calgary. There was a tie for the Solo Competition winner. 2nd year Master’s student from PEI, Adam Campbell, composed and performed an operatic work with snare drum and sang all the various voice parts, male and female. Our two Michelles, Michelle Hwu, third-year performance student from Toronto and Michelle Colton, second-year Master’s student from Iowa, performed a snare drum version of Bizet’s “Carmen” with original libretto.

In October I organized a “Talking Drum Symposium” which was sponsored by the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto. The featured guests were John Miller Chernoff, author of “African Rhythm and African Sensibility,” “Hustling is Not Stealing: Stories of an African Bar Girl,” and “Exchange is Not Robbery: More Stories of an African Bar Girl”; Storyteller Dan Yashinsky, Director of the Tellery and author of “Suddenly They Heard Footsteps”; and Kwasi Dunyo, Master Drummer from Ghana, who directs the program in West African Drumming & Dancing at the faculty at the University of Toronto. The Symposium consisted of a concert by Nexus and Dan Yashinsky at the Mississauga campus of the University of Toronto, a day of lectures and workshops, and a concert by Nexus which featured Dan Yashinsky, John Chernoff, and a performance of Steve Reich’s masterpiece, “Drumming.” The participants in “Drumming” were Nexus, graduate percussion students from the University of Toronto, vocalists, Suba Sankaran and Vicki St. Pierre, and piccolo player Laura Chambers.

Percussionists giving master classes at the University of Toronto this year include Steven Schick, Evelyn Glennie, Paul Ormandy on cajon, and Dan Moore from the University of Iowa.

U of T percussion students have been very successful at winning competitions to perform concerti with the Faculty of Music major ensembles. We have had at least one winner the past four years, and this year we have two winners.  Jamie Drake, a DMA student from Toronto, will perform “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” by James MacMillan with the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Alain Trudel, and Michelle Colton will perform the Ney Rosauro “Concerto for Marimba and Wind Ensemble” with the U of T Wind Ensemble under the direction of Prof. Gillian MacKay.

As noted elsewhere in the Nexus website, Nexus will present a concerto in the U of T New Music Festival in January entitled “Back to the Future.”  It is a concert of improvisations with guests, clarinetists Phil Nimmons, pianists David Braid, vocalists Suba Sankaran, violinist Parmela Attariwala, and saxophone player Mark Laver.

We were fortunate this year at the University of Toronto to have as our Visiting Artist the great Balinese Gamelan master I Pak Sinti and his wife Nilawati work with our Gamelan for the fall term. The director of our Gamelan, Prof. Annette Sanger, was a student of Sinti and arranged for his visit. Last year our Visiting Artist was Tabla virtuoso, Ilmas Hussein from Lucknow, India.

These Visiting Artists help support a rich percussion program at the University of Toronto which is led by Beverley Johnston and John Rudolph. Other percussion faculty members include: John Brownell, who teaches the percussion methods class and is very involved in the DMA program; Kiyoshi Gary Nagata, Director of the Japanese Taiko Ensemble; Kwasi Dunyo, Director of the West African Drumming & Dancing Ensemble; Prof. Annette Sanger, Director of the Balinese Gamelan; Prof. James Kippen, Director of the Tabla program; Joe Cullen, Director of the Steel Pan Ensemble; Charles Hong, Director of the Korean Music Ensemble; and Mark Duggan, Director of the Latin Ensemble.

There are several academic courses which are rotated in the curriculum at the Faculty of Music.  This year, Prof. Christos Hatzis is teaching his popular “Writing for Percussion” course.  The percussion quartet, TorQ, four current or former percussion students at the U of Toronto, is the resident ensemble in the course. TorQ works with the students and performs their works for percussion as part of the class, and presented a concert featuring outstanding student compositions from the course in a January concert.

There is a strong emphasis on courses on rhythm at the Faculty of Music.  Prof. James Kippen and I have each taught a course entitled, “Rhythm and Metre in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” From the Theory Division, Prof. Ryan McClelland has taught a course called “Rhythm and Metre.”  I also teach a graduate course on “Minimalism,” and Prof. Kippen also teaches a graduate course on “North Indian Music.”

Nexus has been an Ensemble in Residence at the University of Toronto since the 1970s. Our original rehearsal space and instrument storage space was in the percussion studio at the Faculty of Music. Eventually the percussion department grew, and the Nexus inventory of instruments expanded to the extent that it was not practical to continue with this arrangement. We now store our instruments and rehearse at Woodshed Percussion, which is owned by a former University of Toronto percussion student, Andy Morris. Andy has a multi-function percussion company which has been invaluable to Nexus over the years. Andy keeps our instruments in repair, transports our gear, provides storage and rehearsal space, and generally tends to the many requirements of Nexus.


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