NEXUS at Fifty: PART 28: 2009

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MORE ABOUT TALKING DRUMS   First a quick flashback to 2008 – some more details about Russell Hartenbergers’s Talking Drum Symposim. He says, “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 (pictured above), Master Drummer from Ghana, who was director of 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.”     It was an amazing event.   

John Cage’s “Chess Pieces”

And now, on to 2009:   NEW PIECES TO LEARN!   Bob Becker tells the tale: “Fortunately for me, I had most of the month of Feb’09 free, and so I was able to prepare my parts to several new pieces slated to be premiered on two NEXUS concerts at the beginning of April. Both Eric Ewazen’s Soliloquy and Rondo, and Gordon Stout’s Prelude – Winter Song, needed serious work to learn. Since Ewazen’s two movements require non-stop playing in my marimba part, I wanted to memorize the piece in order to avoid having to make page-turns. In addition, Russ Hartenberger made a beautiful arrangement of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, and Brian Nozny arranged John Cage’s Chess Pieces (score pictured) for NEXUS to premiere on the same shows. I had my hands full to learn the new pieces and also brush up on Bill Cahn’s Kebjar-Bali and Russ Hartenberger’s The Invisible Proverb, which completed the programs.” Ruth Komanoff Underwood (of Zappa/Mothers of Invention fame) had commissioned Stout’s short work for NEXUS, designed to be a concert opener or encore. He finished the work on Dec 26’08 and said it “kind of just popped out quite quickly.” Written for 2 marimbas, vibes, 4 drums and 3 cymbals/metal instruments, Robin Engelman at the time said it is “quirky and fun to play.” It’s full of interesting juxtapositions and has a curious sense of anticipation to it. You can read details of John Cage’s Chess Pieces HERE.   

Watch Ruth demo’ing the Rollo Interior interlude from St Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast HERE,   and performing with Zappa on “Inca Roads (A Token Of His Extreme)” HERE. 

Read more about Bob’s very busy 2009 springtime schedule (with photos) HERE. 

IN THE STATE OF FLOW   Two remarkable events: Garry Kvistad’s 1st annual Drum Boogie Festival where we performed with Liam Teague, Tasa Kvistad, Dominick Cuccia, Therese Cuccia and Nick Attanasio. Garry first dreamed up the Drum Boogie the year prior while brainstorming with New York State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill about how to have some serious fun while raising the profile of local good causes of all kinds. That 1st year, thousands showed up. It’s still happening, every second year. The 2nd event – Bill Cahn wrote about it immediately after:“What do NEXUS, Phil Nimmons (clarinet), David Braid (piano), Suba Sankaran (voice), Parmela Attariwala (strings) and Mark Laver (saxophone) have in common?  Maybe it’s their eagerness to go to that place no one knows – the place where music is born – and to do so accompanied for the 1st time by unknown fellow travelers – and to do so in front of a large audience in Toronto’s Walter Hall.  Maybe it’s their willingness to bare their souls to others – fellow musicians and listeners alike – for there is no other way to make music. Maybe it’s their shared confidence that they can and will find the road to that place – without the aid of defining maps or markers. For me, having made such journeys many times with NEXUS, this was an especially memorable performance. It was as though – for the entire concert, from the very 1st sound through the entire magical duet played by Nimmons and Braid, to the concluding tamtam/piano consonance –  the music was in-the-zone, intensely focused within an effortless state of flow…Nimmons, at 85-years young, is a Canadian national treasure. NEXUS has performed with him many times; he is always inspiring and supportive. Braid displays ears of immense capabilities – able to sense and reinforce every unfolding musical scenario.  The vocalizations of Suba Sankaran added a humanizing sense of mystery to the music, as did the linear and rhythmic phrasings of Parmela Attariwala and Mark Laver. And I have no adequate words to describe the musical sensibilities of Bob, Robin, Russell and Garry.  In other words, I just can not tell you how much I enjoyed their music making.”

THE FASTEST STRIKE    In Sept’09 we headed “back to school”, performing and giving workshops at the University of Windsor, Ontario,  including one tailored especially for High School students. We kicked off the Windsor Symphony’s Masterworks Series under maestro John Morris Russell. Bills’ “The Birds” was on the program and during rehearsal, a little bird flew in from the loading dock and settled on a gong to have a listen! From there we headed to Bowling Green State University, Ohio, to present a master class and clinics, finishing with a performance at Kobacker Hall. In Windsor we performed at the “Assumption University Chapel” (pictured above) with a history that dates to 1855. The handsome chapel wing was completed in 1908 and the chapel is considered an “acoustical gem”. 

In Bowling Green, Kobacker Hall is in BGSU’s striking Moore Musical Arts Centre. Our equipment manager Craig Snowden remembers this one. Asked if he does the load-in and load-out/strike at each venue, he said, “Yes, but every hall is different. Union halls will have a staff there that will help unload and assist with the setup of the percussion instruments. Some have little experience with percussion gear so sometimes it is faster for me to just set things up myself. In non-union halls such as universities or churches the presenters will provide help as well. Most of the university shows will have percussionists assisting which is most helpful. One show in Ohio we had about a dozen percussionists helping and from the final note of the show I was completely packed and closing the door of the truck in about 45 minutes which was the fastest one ever!”

A JOHN CAGE TRIBUTE   We had the pleasure of performing in the John Cage Symposium at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, joined by special guest Jason Treuting of So Percussion in a program of Cage’s music for percussion instruments, including the piano, played masterfully by Frank Corliss. The concert was in the beautiful Frank Geary-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Arts.  We wore blue jeans, blue work shirts and blue denim jackets as a tribute to John. Our concert at Bard included “Amores” (1943),”Credo in US” (1942), “Chess Pieces” (1944), “Dance Music for Elfrid Ide” (1940), and “Third Construction” (1941).  For an encore we came out wearing John Cage masks and played an excerpt from 4 minutes 33 seconds. “Amores” featured Frank Corliss on prepared piano, as did “Credo in Us” which was conducted by Bob Becker. 

NEXUS plays Third Construction by John Cage

Cage’s “Third Construction” is one of the great masterpieces of Twentieth Century art music.  NEXUS has performed it dozens of times, including at least a half-dozen performances with Cage himself in the audience.  It is always totally engaging to perform this work, and it continues to reveal new surprises; such is the signature of a masterpiece. 




About a week after the Bard concert NEXUS received the following email from Frank Corliss, whose prepared piano performance was wonderful:  “I just wanted to say how amazing you guys were on that concert last Saturday. It was so musical and expressive; and your rhythm is way beyond just “correct”. Russell’s piece was beautifully sung and your ensemble was incredible; Joan Tower said you guys are like an amazing string quartet in that respect – I agree. And the Third Construction was unforgettably thrilling. I was so excited listening backstage that I practically jumped out of my skin! I learned a LOT and was honored to be on the same stage with you guys. Thanks for asking me to be part of the concert. All the best,  Frank.”

Thank YOU, Frank!     (Photos thanks to the John Cage Trust )

Robin – November 2009

ROBIN ENGELMAN STEPS DOWN   Robin had been one of the founding members of NEXUS. Active for over 38 years with NEXUS as performer, composer, arranger and conductor, he made the decision to step down due to on-going vision difficulties. Robin had also held principal percussion positions in the Milwaukee Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, and Toronto Symphony, as well as pioneering work with Toronto’s New Music Concerts contemporary music ensemble. His inimitable performance style, musical conception, and sharpness of thought and expression had helped define the character of NEXUS since our first concerts in 1971.


Rather than try to replace a lifelong friend and unique colleague, we decided to carry on playing a mix of quartet and quintet repertoire, working with a variety of guest artists and soloists. In the upcoming season, we had a number of performances of Toru Takemitsu’s “From me flows what you call Time…” and Ryan Scott would join us for those performances.  

At our Toronto Walter Hall performance on Nov 23rd, 2009, we performed Music for Pieces of Wood, and Drumming Part 1. Also on the program was Russell Hartenberger’s delicate arrangement of Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Part, Brian Nozny’s challenging arrangement of John Cage’s Chess Pieces, and Gordon Stout’s beautiful Prelude: Winter Song. Bill Cahn warmed things up with The Birds and his exciting Kebjar-Bali. We knew this was Robin’s final performance, and it was fitting that his was the final note of the final piece, a firm precise double-stop that was perfection. Robin continued to have a presence in the world of percussion, posting interesting articles and updates on his blog. You can still enjoy them, thanks to Eleanor Engelman, at Both Robin and Eleanor were crucial in the creation, development, and successful longevity of NEXUS.

“DRUMS ARE THE NEW VIOLINS”  We thought you would enjoy reading this 2009 New York Times article by Allan Kozinn, called “Percussionists Go From Background to Podium”. In it he talks of the major percussionists and percussion ensembles: NEXUS, So, Kroumata, Steve Reich, and more.

QUESTIONS AND QUERIES AND THOUGHTS   In 2009 Bill Cahn answered a number of questions about his Raga No.1 for Solo Timpani, marimbaphones and vibraphones, grace note questions, and researching the work of George Hamilton Green.  Bob Becker answered some “professional development” queries and answered questions about two mallet performance. Russell Hartenberger wrote about Raghaven. International Musician in 2009 ran a great article about Garry Kvistad, and Garry also talked about the importance of Dr. Thomas Rossing and the Acoustical Society of America. Garry is a member of the Society and had written the introduction to Dr Rossing’s seminal book, Science of Percussion Instruments that was about to be published in 2000. Dr Rossing had been Garry’s college physics teacher. A busy year! Here’s our selection of 2009 links for your interest:

Raga No 1:

Marimba/Vibraphone Questions:

George Hamilton Green:

Grace Note Questions:

Professional Development:

Two mallet performance:


International Musician: See article above.

Dr Thomas Rossing and acoustics:  

Below, Bill teaching his Creative Music Making workshop at the University of Windsor:


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