By Connor Yearsley
The third annual Baylor Percussion Symposium, with events both today and Saturday, hopes to not only offer audience members an auditory and visual experience, but a visceral one as well.
“We had our sights set on this at the beginning of the year,” said Dr. Todd Meehan, assistant professor of percussion.
The symposium will begin at 4 p.m. today in Porter Hall (Room 114) in the Glennis McCrary Music Building with a composer talk with So Percussion and percussionist Doug Perkins. So Percussion is an acclaimed percussion group that has released 13 albums, perform in Carnegie Hall on multiple occasions and tours around the world.
Meehan, along with his friend, Perkins, helped form So Percussion more than a decade ago. At 7:30 tonight in Jones Concert Hall in the Glennis McCrary Music Building, So Percussion and the Meehan/Perkins Duo will perform Greek composer Iannis Xenakis’ “Pleiades,” a 45-minute sextet.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say he was one of the most important composers of the 20th century,” Meehan said.
The piece is divided into four movements. The names of each movement correspond to the physical materials used in the movement. They are metaux (metals), claviers (keyboards), peaux (skins, or drums) and mélanges (mixture of everything), respectively.
Xenakis said he contrived his own instrument for “Pleiades,” which he called “sixxen” (“six” for the number of players and “xen” for the first syllable of his name). The sixxen are big, square metal pipes set up like a piano, with a range of about an octave and a half.
“When it’s soft, it has an otherworldly soundscape, and when it’s loud, it’s hugely intense, almost earsplitting in a way,” Meehan said. “You hate to say that because it could scare people away, but it’s true.”
Meehan said the piece is characterized by a back and forth between cloudy, unclear, polyrhythmic moments and other moments of extreme clarity and verticality, in which everything aligns and is synchronized.
“He’s taking the music back and forth between these two places,” Meehan said. “I see this tension and release in his music.”
Next, So Percussion members Josh Quillen and Jason Treuting will perform “Double Music.”
Meehan said it will exist more as a series of directions to be carried out by the performers than a typical music score, leaving spontaneity to affect the outcome.
At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, So Percussion and Doug Perkins will give a master class on the Jones Concert Hall stage in the Glennis McCrary Music Building.
Then, at 5 p.m., the Baylor Percussion Group, in its only official performance of the semester, will perform the music of composer and longtime Princeton music pedagogue Paul Lansky.
Both Meehan and Tyson Voigt, master’s candidate in performance studies and member of the Baylor Percussion Group, said Lansky’s music is accessible without sacrificing depth and substance.
“It grooves really well. It’s fun to tap your foot to as well,” Voigt said.
Lansky’s “Patterns” is a quartet and his newest percussion piece. It is scored for two marimbas and two vibraphones.
Meehan said the piece is accessible, with deep melodic lines and digestible harmonies. He said there’s a lot of rhythmic vitality, a lot of interplay between ensemble members, which includes passing around rhythmic figures, and even moments of vocalizations from the performers.
Next, Lansky’s “Travel Diary,” which was commissioned by the Meehan/Perkins Duo, will be performed. The four-movement piece chronicles a cross-country trip Lansky took.
“It’s often described as a quartet written for two people,” Voigt said.
Voigt said there’s lots of responsibility and maneuvering around in the piece.
“It all gels together and sounds amazing, but is very difficult to play right,” he said.
Then, they will perform Lansky’s “Threads,” which was commissioned by So Percussion. The quartet is 10 movements and about 30 minutes long. “I think ‘Threads’ is just amazing,” Voigt said. “It’s just gorgeous. All 30 minutes of it is really fascinating.”
“It’s a very beautiful piece. It runs the gamut of what percussion can do,” Meehan said.
He said there are beautiful, melodic moments in the vibraphone, glockenspiel and tuned metal pipes, and other moments of loud, aggressive drumming. He said other movements feature a quirky collection of what Lansky calls “toys,” including flower pots, wine bottles and an assortment of bells.
Finally, Jason Treuting’s “Machine Music,” which was composed specifically for the Baylor Percussion Group, will get its world premiere.
Meehan said the program will help the ensemble improve stamina, focus and concentration since all the pieces are fairly long. He said being able to digest music that’s that long is a learned skill for both the performers and the audience.
Meehan said he is looking forward to the opportunity to playing with So Percussion and Perkins and thinks it will be a good learning opportunity for his students. “I’m very excited. It’s going to be really awesome,” Voigt said.
Meehan said the group is going into the performance without fear or apprehension and is eagerly awaiting the chance to show its final product to an audience.
“I think the ensemble is in very good shape,” he said. “I think that’s why we’re all excited.”
Meehan said one of his goals with the symposium is to raise awareness of what’s going on in the percussion world and work against people’s lack of interest or lack of exposure. “There’s no reason why not to hear it in Waco,” he said.
Voigt said he thinks there’s something for everyone to enjoy out of all the music.
All events are free and open to the public.