Confession of a Percussionist

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NEXUS Playing Cage’s Dance Music for Elfrid
Credit: Donald Dietz, courtesy of The John Cage Trust

Long ago I knew that music would be my future. I knew then that percussion specifically would be my passion. This all started in the fourth grade when I joined the school band.

Through the years I’ve come to realize that percussion is underappreciated and often misunderstood. On my drive home from work recently, I listened to a recording on the radio of Eric Ewazen’s Grand Canyon Octet for brass instruments. It made me remember the wonderful piece that Eric wrote for the group I play with, NEXUS. His piece for NEXUS with wind ensemble is called The Eternal Dance of Life. The version for NEXUS solo is called Soliloquy and Rondo (from The Eternal Dance of Life). The chances of hearing that piece on the radio are 0%. That’s because it was never commercially recorded. There is little commercial value for so much great music, which is quite unfortunate.

My confession is that I have always been frustrated that string and brass music has held a higher level of acceptance in the West. One reason is that in Western music, there is a tremendously large and rich repertoire for string and brass music, whereas percussion is a fairly recent addition to that genre. The irony here is that percussion music throughout the world is quite dominant and ancient.

My frustration is being quelled through the emergence of amazing percussionists, percussion groups and a developing repertoire of beautiful music of many styles. In Western music, composers like Milhaud, Varèse, Strang, Cowell, Cage, Harrison, Partch, Colgrass and Reich added to the repertoire beginning in the 1920s.

One way I try to raise the profile of percussion as an art form is by producing a major, daylong festival called the Drum Boogie Festival, now in its tenth year. The next one takes place Saturday, September 7, in Woodstock, New York, and is free to the public. This year’s festival will feature Paul WinterJack DeJohnette, NEXUS, So Percussion, and many more world-class percussionists and other performers. Check it out at www.drumboogiefestval.com.

Appreciation for percussion has grown since my early days in school, and I hope that in my small way, through my work as a professional musician and Executive Producer of the Drum Boogie Festival, I have contributed to the rise in stature and popularity that it so richly deserves.

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