I often get asked about which movements from a piece by J.S. Bach would be appropriate for a college audition. While most any of the Violin Sonatas and Partitas and the Cello Suites transcribe beautifully to marimba, here is a list of movements that I think work particularly well played with 2-mallets (as opposed to 4-mallet transcriptions). Some of these movements could indeed also be performed with 4-mallets, too. When you dive deeper into the world of Bach on marimba, there are certainly more movements that you may discover would work well as 2-mallet pieces, as this is not an exhaustive list.
From the Cello Suites:
From the Violin Sonatas and Partitas:
First of all, thanks for attending the Resonance on the Walls II concert in the CUBE at the Moss Arts Center. (Or, thanks for stumbling across this page for some notes on my program!)
I really think of myself more as a curator in this unique space, and so it has been fun to dream up a program centering around works that feature accompanying electronic media components, both audio and visual, and ensemble works that we are comfortable adding a bit of amplification to. The CUBE is such an amazing space and I want to particularly thank the wonderful staff that helped make this concert come together, especially Tanner, Rob, and all of today's staff.
Kin By Daniel Wohl
The first piece, Kin by Daniel Wohl, was composed in 2015. I was a member of the consortium for this work, along with many great percussion colleagues. An interesting note about this piece is that the accompanying electronic part is comprised of recordings provided by many of the consortium members. Of the process, Wohl writes:
"...I thought that the project could be very interesting if each
of these fantastic players contributed something unique to the music. I wanted this piece to be written with each one of them in mind, taking into account their own idiosyncratic approach to their instruments. Each performer in this consortium is asked to contribute an element to be
included in the new work, perhaps a special technique or a recording of themselves playing, something that can then be used as an element in the electronic component or written into the score. This percussion piece will bring together the voices of many into one personal object." - Wohl
I encourage everyone to check out Daniel's other works, particularly his most recent album, Holographic. The Parisian-born composer now lives in L.A., and recent performances of his music have been held by the San Francisco Symphony (Soundbox series), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (MusicNOW series), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Hollywood Bowl), New York Youth Symphony (Carnegie Hall), and the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
One Study by John Psathas
John Psathas is one of New Zealand's most frequently performed composers, having had musicians champion his works for the past few decades including percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker, and jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, among others. Coming from Greek heritage, Psathas was asked to compose the ceremonial music for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
One Study One Summary was composed in 2005 and commissioned by percussionist, Pedro Carneiro. This virtuosic piece features solo marimba along withjunk percussion and accompanying electronics. The first movement, One Summary, utilizes a style that Psathas is particularly well-known for, that of driving motoric textures.
The non-percussionists in the audience may be wondering why I am using a different color mallet in the left hand. Well, Psathas takes advantage of composing for the entire length of the marimba, and that particular mallet carries important bass notes throughout. To enhance this bottom bass voice, separating it from the intricate moving lines above, I decided to place a softer mallet in my left hand. This also ensures that the bass voice won't sound overly abrasive. This is a fairly common practice amongst percussionists when performing repertoire that spans the entire keyboard.
I encourage everyone to check out John Psathas' most recent project that he is leading, No Man's Land, a large-scale musical and cinematic project that commemorates the First World War and involves professional musicians from across the globe.
An Index of Possibility by Robert Honstein
Celebrated for his “roiling, insistent orchestral figuration” (New York Times) and “glittery, percussive pieces” (Toronto Globe and Mail), composer Robert Honstein (b. 1980) is a composer of orchestral, chamber, and vocal music.
Commissioned by TIGUE, Smoke and Mirrors, and Sonore Percussion, An Index of Possibility explores the secret world of sound in everyday objects. Using found sounds, homemade constructions, and cheap toys, Index unlocks a sonic palette exploding with color and variety. Cast in six movements, the music traverses a symphonic expanse, fluidly moving between ambient textures, visceral unisons and muscular virtuosity.
A wistful lullaby tune, Repose, begins the piece. A kind of idée fixe, Repose will return two times, framing the three larger movements – Flicker, Flow and Burst. In Flicker piercing hits punctuate a tremulous layer of pulsating metal and wood. Flow begins with a mesmerizing rhythmic ostinato, gradually moving towards a strange and unexpected place as a new melody emerges on the tuned pipes. Long bell-tones signal a change of direction and then a second Repose appears only to be violently interrupted by the clangorous opening hits of Burst. Erupting into a wild torrent of rhythms traversing the full range of the setup, Burst is the work’s focal point. After barreling through Burst the final Repose brings the music to a hushed conclusion. While virtually the same as the opening, this last Repose feels somehow transformed, touched by the long journey of An Index of Possibility.
- Robert Honstein
Each set-up for Index requires various found instruments that are unique to each ensemble that performs the piece. Honstein writes for sawblades with specific pitches, but he is not looking for the ensemble to go and spend a lot of dough on brand new saw blades just to get those desired pitches. He is more interested in the blending of pitches from all of the instruments together, these include school bells (we have subsituted metal bars), and various glass and metal objects. The theatre department at Virginia Tech has been very kind to us, and we have to give them a shout out in thanks! They've helped to cut the wood and metal pieces all used for Index and Volume of a Cube.
If you enjoy tonight's performance of An Index of Possiblity, listen to it again here by one of the groups that commissioned it!! Tigue is an excellent percussion trio based in New York, and while the video is incredibly intriguing, the playing is superb!
Temazcal by Javier Alvarez
Temazcal by Javier Alvarez was composed in 1984, and remains a very relevant solo + electronics piece, even with 30+ old media. A temazcal itself is a kind of sweat lodge used by pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. This place was commonly used for spiritual and health reasons, especially to purify the body and soul after battle.
Temazcal is an electrifying work that requires the soloist to be well-versed in traditional maraca technique. From a very young age, I have been fascinated by rhythms and percussion instruments representative of other cultures, and I am always looking for a new instrument to learn and add to my collection. I first heard this piece performed live during my undergraduate years in about 2002 by the percussionist from Eighth Blackbird, and actually that wast he last time I heard it, but I had always wanted to perform it from seeing it this very first and only time (of course now there are several great recordings on the web).
Since this multimedia space affords the ability to place the amplified sounds amongst the over 140 speakers around the 5-story space, I immediately knew I had to perform Temazcal when I arrived at Virginia Tech 4 years ago. The maracas I am using are called Jaropo maracas made from natural gourds found in either Venezuela or Columbia, and inside are capacho seeds. The piece is notated with graphic notation, an excerpt is pictured below. The top two lines represent the direction of pitch and the type of rhythm to expect in the electonic part, the bottom line is the suggested rhythm to be played on maracas. It is up to the performer to determine how to balance the rhythms with the accompanying sound track in an improvisatory manner.
Volume of a Cube by Drew Worden
We are excited to present the world premiere of Volume of a Cube by Drew Worden, composed specifically for the Virginia Tech Percussion Ensemble for this wonderful space, the CUBE. I approached Drew late in 2016 and asked if he would consider composing something for VTP, indicating to him that I needed a piece for the Cube that would utilize all 18 members of the ensemble.
I believe Drew had a fun time realizing this work, and we're thrilled with the way it has turned out. Actually, as I'm writing this, I still have yet to hear it in the CUBE, we don't have dress rehearsal until the day of the performance!
Drew Worden is a fantastic percussionist himself, currently based in Boston where he is Program Manager of Entrepreneurial Musicianship at the New England Conservatory. Learn more about Drew here and listen to his other compositions, he has some fantastic chamber and solo percussion works!
Comments or questions about the program? Please leave a comment below, or contact me. I would love to hear your reactions to the program.
I've come up with a list of traditional and new works for marimba, many of which I suggested my students learn this summer. This list includes several intermediate level marimba pieces that will fit on a 4.0 octave or 4.3 octave marimba, since many students don't have access to a 5.0 marimba at home. It's so nice to have access to a 5.0 octave marimba while in college, but if you only have access to the smaller options for the summer months, you can still work on some significant repertoire. And if you've always had access to a 5.0 marimba, then you should still check out this repertoire! This rep will certainly keep you motivated and busy during the summer months. I have not listed any Mitchell Peters or Gomez/Rife tunes, as they are so numerous, but they will fit on a 4.0 and 4.3 marimba, too. This is by no means a complete list, just something to help narrow down the options available. Some of this repertoire is found on current competition lists like the Great Plains Marimba Competition and the 2016 International Percussion Competition at Northwestern University (go 'Cats!). Here goes:
4.3 Octave (all of the above plus):
2 Mallet Suggestions: