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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Percussion’ full of wonders in Sheboygan

Critic At Large

Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra

Percussionists of Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra in performance. (Warren Gerds screenshot)

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (WFRV) – To Self: Describe a percussion concert.

Self: What are you crazy?

To Self: Just do it.

And so a saga begins for “Percussion,” an online presentation by the Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra that is the finale of the organization’s answer to the dissonance of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recorded music from the stage of the Weill Center for the Performing Arts premiered Saturday night and continues to be available at Viewing is free, with donations welcome.

No. 1, in normal times, an orchestra in this region would not present a concert like this. As with the other concerts in the Sheboygan Symphony series, section musicians get to do their thing in a featured situation. It’s music listeners/viewers otherwise would not get to hear/see.

Good going, people who didn’t let COVID-19 stand in the way of good things.

No. 2, my vocabulary fails me. Music is music, a language unto itself. Add in a music store of percussive instruments – “standard” not applicable – and the result is a healthy crop of bungling. The musicians apply all kinds of techniques known to people with drum sticks or marimba mallets and whatchamacallits and not so much the “regular” world.

But there is a certain understanding: “Percussion” is an invigorating journey and exposure to aural wonderlands.

Six musicians perform. They’re whizzes. Most noticeable is Colin O’Day, who appears in all eight selections. He’s a wizard, especially in his finessing of his hands over a marimba in “2+1.”

Only one number has anything approaching a melody: “Girlfriend’s Medley.” The rest are wide open windows on (some of) what percussion composers and performers can do when let loose.

On my computer, the sound is solid. One can only imagine – in the Weill Center hall – the drums in some selections RESONATING in terrific bursts.

It’s a nifty concert for which I wrote my impressions as I listened, not knowing precise names of instruments or even not at all.


Program: “Percussion”

Musicians: Colin O’Day, Alex Wier, Andy Miller, Terry Smirl, Carl Storniolo, Michael Janke

Part 1

+ “Fanfare for Tambourines” – John Alfieri

      Six players. Opens with tambourines like waves of hail. Shifts to drums and then tambourine-drum variants and finally to all tambourines. Catchy.

+ “Omphalo Centric Lecture” – Nigel Westlake

     Four players. All marimba. Opens with three, perky, in gently pulsing and rising intensity. Fourth starts, two stop, with a duet as if in happy conversation. A third joins, and then a fourth and the voices “chatter” away like friends having a good time. Variations continue. Pace is quick. Sequence moves to softness among one/two, three, then one then four players… continual shifting. A kind of box drum added. Can imagine Latin dancers at a festival. More shifting and flowing. Closes with one instrument softly fading.

+ “Away Without Leave” – Bob Becker

     Five players. All drums, snare and variants. Increasing intensity. Can image the acoustics in the hall resounding. A march sequence. A duet to a snare drum trio with big drum added. Want to get up and strut.

+ “Girlfriend’s Medley” – Bob Becker

     Five musicians. One conducts. Two on marimba, two on vibraphone (I think). Starts in a gentle, romantic flow. Conductor turns and plays vibraphone of different, higher range. Solo, like toying around. Playful virtuosity. All swing into melody to “Sewanee.” Lead zips along. Fun! Lead is not using sheet music.

Intermission piece

+ “Karakurenai” – Andy Akiho

     Three players. One vibraphone or xylophone. One with four chime-like pipes. One with seven small bells of varied colors. Each plays a repetition, as if a clock ticking, only notes on each instrument. Time passing is aura.

Configuration for intermission piece. (Screenshot)

Part 2

+ “Chik” – Molly Joyce

     Three players. One vibraphone, with steel keys. One drum and some kind of board-like thing to strike. One shusher (cabasa?). Crystalline sound above a repeat beat and a shush shush. Dreamy in a way.

‘Toccata’ configuration. (Screenshot)

+ “Toccata” Carlos Chavez

     Six players. Variant drums. Tympani momentousness amid field of drum “improvisation.” Builds power/tension sequence, then releases. Clock sequence, with aura of bells tolling. Haunting feeling of time passing while walking in a dark alleyway. Tympani drama leading into rhythm fire.

+ “2+1” – Ivan Trevino

     Two players. Face one another at one marimba. Leisurely start by one. Relaxed aura. Second joins, sharing mood. No sheet music. Varied hand/mallet configurations over the keys by each. Totally skilled/cool.   

+ “Kuka Ilimoku” – Christopher Rouse     

Four players. Varied drums. Opens quietly with two on snare, then complex crazy-quilt bursts all over. Multiple sounds in aura of excitement. Quick and playful with whisps of the Orient.

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