Percussion Axiom TV Episode #100 Bach – Articulation and Stickings (I GoPro)


Episode #100 is here and what better way to to commemorate than adopting a new technology. Using a handy GoPro wearable camera I give you a birds eye view of my sticking and articulation choices in Bach’s prelude to his fifth cello suite. Stay tuned to the end of the video for a larger chunk of music to see the concepts in context. For the first installment watch Episode #97, and read my review of LHS’s imporant book.

What are your reactions to the topics discussed? What ideas do you have about Bach stickings and articulation control? Any thoughts about the GoPro? Leave them below the post!

Pius Cheung plays Oblivion

It has been a while since we last featured Pius Cheung. Since then, he has become the Director of Percussion at the University of Oregon and continued producing high quality videos of amazing works for marimba. Today’s video is no exception. Enjoy!

Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla


Recorded by Aaron Jester at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall.
Mallets: Innovative Percussion Pius Cheung Series #1, 3, 3, 4

The Evolution of the Marimba Roll


What connects Mist from Alred Fissinger’s “Suite for Marimba”, Gordon Stout’s Mexican Dance #1, and Michael Burritt’s Preludes? The roll, or in one case the lack thereof. Today, we look at the marimba roll and trace it’s evolution since the early days of solo marimba. I’m curious about your thoughts to these ideas so please read on and leave your thoughts below the post.

“Mist”, the first movement from Alfred Fissinger’s (1950) important marimba suite is a good example of an early use of the marimba roll. “Mist” depicts a specific incident the composer experienced while serving in WWII and utilizes rolls in a pure chorale format.

Another even earlier use appears in Paul Creston’s well known Concertino for Marimba where, the second movement is mostly written in chorale style. These two examples are similar in their basic and traditional use of 4 part chorale writing.

Fast forward a bit to the 1970’s. Gordon’s ultra famous Mexican Dance #1 represented a new way to sustain on the marimba mainly by placing the right hand 16ths in between the eighth notes in the left hand ostinato. This is also something we see often in the works of Keiko Abe in the late 70’s and into the 80’s.

Also around this time we see Leigh Howard Stevens specifically notating which type of rolls (ripple, traditional, one-handed) to use in his transcriptions of Bach, Debussy, and others. This was a new development and one tied very specifically to his technique and methodology. With Andrew Thomas’s great “Merlin” (1985) with a first movement chorale, and other works from that time, could it have been that in the late 80’s to the mid 90’s we had a sort of rise and peak of the use of rolls in the marimba repertoire?

I can remember the Leigh Howard Steven’s International Marimba Competition in 1995. In the Bach round (third round) Kuniko Kato’s performance of Bach’s “Adagio” from the g minor violin sonata was an amazing example of using no rolls. Where Stevens used almost continuous rolls Kato used none to spectacular results.

Since then, if we look at the works from many marimba players who compose we see many trying to create sustain in a similar but different way that Stout did with the Mexican Dance #1. Eric Sammut used arpeggiations to create sustain. Michael Burritt is probably still in a pattern of writing almost no rolls in his works (the book of 5 preludes has only one insignificant roll). Countless other marimba player/composers currently write utilizing patterns and sticking permutations that create the illusion of sustain without actually using a roll. I have even seen a movement over the past decade that suggests it’s become passe to put rolls in slow Bach movements. Even Leigh Howard Stevens, in his new Bach volume, seems to have changed his tune utilizing what he calls “touch rolls” in slower movements but only sparingly when needed.

I’ve been thinking about this idea for a long time. And, while this post is not meant to be anything more that idle theories and self noticed trends, I’m curious about the communities thoughts. What do you guys think? What are your reactions to these ideas?

Woodbridge HS

The Indoor season is back in full swing. It’s a great time of year for percussion ensembles as groups get ready for WGI and regional circuit shows.

One of the great things about the indoor scene is the passion and dedication that the community has for their activity. This dedication is on full display in the video below. It take s a lot of people working together to create a world  class ensemble, and the students, instructors and parents at Woodbridge High School do it extremely well.

There is the obvious display of excellent musicianship from this ensemble. But, what I’ve always loved about this program is the class in which the group carries themselves. The students are humble, respectful and really enjoy what they do. I feel very strongly that teaching the concepts of an intense work ethic, cooperation and leadership skills are at least as important as teaching the musical skills. This is especially true at the high school level. The Woodbridge students definitely absorbed all of these ideas and many more, and I’m sure they walked away from the experience with a plethora of ideas and skills that they will continue to use no matter what path they take in life.

Keep a couple of things in mind as you start your 2014 Indoor season. Work really hard. Make the most of whatever opportunity you may have. And, of course, enjoy your experience.

You Have What You Need

Being a percussionist can be expensive. It’s really just the nature of the beast. Instruments, mallets and computer programs aren’t cheap. They can seem even more expensive when you’re a broke college student or a young professional.

Fortunately, you don’t need to own a $3,000 drum set to be really good at playing drums.

The dude with the most mallets in their stick bag isn’t necessarily the best keyboard player. As a young professional, you are serving yourself in a much better manner by learning to use what you have in the best way possible as opposed to gathering every percussion related piece of equipment under the sun.

There are certain items that every percussionist (whether in college or the work force) does absolutely need. For example, an orchestral percussionist should at least have a solid snare drum, crash cymbals, triangle, tambourine and some other auxiliary instruments. But, you don’t need twelve sets of timpani mallets to play your University Symphony spring concert. Four or five sets will get you through that with no problem. Things like recitals and solo performances probably warrant special care and purchases regarding sticks and instruments. But, I can say that the percentage of my marimba mallet collection that I’ve used since leaving the college world for the professional one is not out of the single digits.

Basically, buying the full line of Tom Burritt marimba mallets won’t make you sound like Tom Burritt. Only putting in the hours of practice that he has can accomplish getting to that level.

Don’t be distracted by the shiny new software program update, new instrument line or just released sticks. You most likely have everything you need to be successful. Putting in the hours with what you have will get you to where you want to be.


On an unrelated note, I recently made some updates to my personal website. Please take a moment to check them out, especially if you are looking for steel band repertoire for an upcoming performance.

Stefon Harris Says Something

Stefon Harris has been featured regularly on DC. His blend of a beautiful sound, grasp of the jazz language and willingness to push boundaries make him a leader in the jazz community. I vividly remember a couple of his clinics at PASIC, so I figured this would be an appropriate time to share this wonderful clip of his.

I love the short video below because Harris gets to the heart of what we should all be striving to do as musicians…say something with our music. No matter if you are playing in a percussion ensemble, performing as a jazz soloist or teaching an introductory music class, the goal should be to communicate with someone in as clear of a way as possible.

He makes it seem like such an easy thing to accomplish, right?

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