Sunday, February 4, 2018

Percussion ensemble in the 21st Century: An orchestral vision

As a family of instruments, percussion is constantly growing and evolving in the orchestra as well as with other ensembles. Having grown up as a percussionist, I’ve played in many percussion ensembles observing changes in the repertoire over the years – from the types of instruments used to the style of composition. Although there are many pieces that focus on small sections of the percussion family (groups of three or four), the available number of players in a college setting, and even professional percussion groups, ranges from 3 – 12 or more. In the university setting, pieces for large ensemble are accommodated by combining both undergraduate and graduate students (which is often done) as well as the use of outside players. This flexibility allows composers to explore the multitude of percussion instruments, thereby creating a more colorful pallet. That said, it makes sense for composers to think of the percussion ensemble as an orchestra and not just a choir within the orchestra. When one considers the variety of instruments from pitched (e.g. marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, xylophone, timpani etc.) to non-pitched (snare drums, concert toms, cymbals, triangle, gong, etc.) it is possible to group the instruments in sections much like an orchestra. Add to this the unending list of instruments adopted from other cultures (Djembe, Cajon, dumbek, congas, Bohran, dulcimer etc.) as well as the piano and diversity within each area of membranophones, idiophones and aerophones becomes limitless!