DH: I was hoping you could help me with Takemitsu’s Rain Tree. I’m getting ready for a performance of the piece, but am having trouble figuring out how to create the lighting effect. I was thinking of hooking up music stand lights to a foot trigger. However, I’m having trouble finding a button that I can control with my foot, any suggestions?
NEXUS performed Rain Tree with the lighting effect in Japan, under Takemitsu’s supervision. The idea was to have a separate performer with score, offstage, controlling three separate, tightly-focused, overhead spots. We did not use music stand lights, as that would destroy the on-off effect of the spots. In a way, the piece becomes a quartet, with the fourth performer “playing” the light switches. As you know, the lights need to be independently switchable and fadeable – and precisely timed to the music. It’s complicated to do, and Takemitsu’s last remark about it was that the lights going on and off all the time was “distracting”. He didn’t like the effects, at least in our production, and so we discontinued using the lights from then on.
In September, 2003, percussionist Ed Choi sent me a number of detailed questions about Rain Tree. This was my response.
OK – I’ll try to answer your questions. I’ve recorded the work twice – once with Russ Hartenberger and Robin Engelman on the CD, and also a couple of years ago for NAXOS (8.555859) with Russ Hartenberger and Ryan Scott. Of course the piece was standard repertoire on NEXUS concert tours for several years in the 1980s. With NEXUS, I have always played the vibraphone/crotale part.
When we first began playing the piece, I used to play that solo part at the beginning in fairly strict tempo, exactly because of what you mention – I felt that the cross-rhythmic effect was really great and I wanted to make it clear. I applied the “freely” marking more to dynamic phrasing. The premiere recording of the piece in Japan, which Takemitsu supervised, is played rather strictly in terms of rhythms and tempos too. Takemitsu heard NEXUS play the work a number of times, and he never said anything either way about how I played that particular section. Later, I began to take more liberties with every aspect of that part of the piece – mostly from a desire to explore further something I’ve played so often. I think once you learn to play the rhythms accurately in tempo, it’s fairly easy to be expressive with the phrasing, just as you would with any other music.
I have two sets of the low A and B crotales that are required for Rain Tree. The older set I ordered from Kolberg in Germany – at great expense – when NEXUS started touring with the piece. They sucked when I got them and they still sound like crap. Robin refused to play the low A. I ordered a second set from Sabian a few years ago. They are much better, but still not perfect. Nick Petrella has been trying to convince Sabian to market these pitches specifically because of Rain Tree, but so far they would still be a special order. Once you work up a part like the vibraphone in Rain Tree, it’s a good investment to purchase those two crotales so that you can continue to play the piece anywhere in the future. I’ve never heard the piece played using glock bars as substitutes for the low crotales. I can’t imagine that sounding any good.
Mallets are a pretty big issue in the piece, as you know. I’ve seen and heard some people use customized mallets that have a short metal glock beater extending out from the head of the vibe or marimba mallet. I’ve also seen people try to play with mallets that have a metal collar on the shaft. I really disliked the crotale sound of those methods, and there is a continual danger of missing the crotales entirely or hitting the vibes keyboard with the metal head. My compromise has been to use a custom set of vibes mallets for most of the piece – basically the old Malletech Friedman mallets before they changed to the softer design – with extra long shafts. These mallets are rather hard and bright, and I use them on both the vibes and the crotales in the first two sections. At the top of page 8, I hold a much harder mallet in my outer right hand and play all of the crotale notes with that. Then I switch back to four vibes mallets at the poco piu mosso. For that outrageous explosion passage in the fourth staff on page 9, I hold only two very hard vibes mallets. I always want to get an especially clear articulation for that one. Then I go back to regular vibes mallets until the crotale improvisation. There I usually use just one mallet that matches the marimba players. In NEXUS, the marimba players always played the crotales with my blue xylo mallets (BB34s), and the crotale sound matched up pretty well between the vibes part and the marimba parts, even when I was using a wrapped mallet. I also always added extra damping to the crotale stand – extra thick foam under each foot of the stand – to get rid of the clunk in the attack. For the very end of the piece I use a rather soft mallet on the vibes and a very hard vibes mallet on the crotales.
So – a long answer. If you get to Toronto anytime this year, let me know. The easiest way to answer your questions is to show you the mallets that I use, and where and how I change from one kind to another. But I’m sure you’ll find your own way around the piece. Have a great time with it – it’s a wonderful experience.
This answer was to a follow-up question about the low crotales used on the NAXOS recording.
No, I used the low B crotale. We recorded the NAXOS version in that fantastic hall at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (now the George Weston Recital Hall). I think that particular acoustic, and probably the way the instruments were miked, brought out the overtone much more than the fundamental on the low crotale notes. Ryan Scott used my low A crotale on his part too. I haven’t yet heard that recording, so I’ll have to check it out. We used my Sabian crotales on the NAXOS recording. For the NEXUS NOW recording, I used the Kolberg low B crotale, and the low A crotale notes were played 8va.