Guiding Principle #4: From Macro to Micro – Part II
By Thomas Burritt

Holy Macro – Part I discussed the idea that a single, large scale perspective, can direct and define a set of smaller instructions that aid in the achievement of a task. The defined task involved learning the marimba solo “Velocities” by Joseph Schwantner. The large scale perspective instructed us to begin the learning process with from the Macro (beginning with composer background and formal understanding) and work down to the Micro (learning of individual notes and phrases).

For today’s post we will begin with Macro Instruction #1: Composer Context. I can’t overestimate the importance of this step! It is clear, after hearing many performances of Velocities, (and not just by students) that performers often fail at communicating the contrast of 2 important qualities of Schwantner’s music:

1: Articulation/Timbre
2: Resonant Structures

A simple trip to the iTunes store allows the listening to a wide variety of Schwantner’s
work. It won’t take long to realize the importance of timbre and articulation. I particularly enjoy, for example, how Schwantner incorportates piano and harp with crotales, triangles, and glockenspiel. These orchestrational organizations help define his compositional qualities.

In Velocities, Schwantner is exceptionally clear in regards to articulation, using terms like: brutale, marcatissimo, legatissimo, etc. In fact, I often wish more composers would be so clear! What does this mean for us the performer? A multi-tonal mallet, with a synthetic core for example, would allow the performer to realize differing articulations. An important feature of my playing, for example, is relaxing the grip for legato articulations and squeezing the grip for marcato articulations. A rubber core mallet for example, while very articulate, basically only creates one kind of attack at all dynamic levels. A multi-tonal mallet can often provide a more legato attack at softer dynamic levels. In the very least, understanding Schwantner’s work can help us choose the right mallet.

As percusssive and articulate as Schwantner’s music can be it also features resonant and fluid qualities. The second movement, as a whole, of his Percussion Concerto is a great example of this style. I particularly like his treatment of the almglocken and the overall emotional qualities of this music. Given Velocities “moto perpetuo” qualities creating fluid and resonant sounds at appropriate times is critical in a successful interpretation. There are no rests in this piece! This is where many interpreters of this music fail, because they simply don’t know or are unable to create fluid, non percussive sounds when appropriate. 9 minutes of the same rhythm and articulation does not capture what is important in this music.

Schwantner’s general musical style, along with clear indications in the score, demand the performer come up with a plan on how to create less percussive and more resonant sounds. While this is a deep subject the performer can, as mentioned above, choose a multi-tonal mallet that can offer both “brighter” and “darker” sounds. In addition, in more lyrical sections, phrasing efforts must focus on shifting the attention away from single notes to groupings of notes. Achieving this successfully cannot be described in ANY blog post. Sorry! However, it begins with selecting a mallet that has a variety of tones to it (in this case as non articulate as possible) and concludes with a successful phrasing approach that connects larger groupings of notes together.

When considering this information it is easy to conclude that the marimba is a perfect solo instrument for Schwantner’s compositional style. The marimba, by nature, is highly articulate but also naturally resonant. In conclusion, an appropriate interpretation of Velocities should exaggerate and highlight the differences of these two spectres. Check back later for Part III which will deal with our next Macro Instruction: Formal Analysis.

Communicating and executing clear differences in articulation is actually quite difficult for percussionists. In your own playing and teaching, how do you deal with the issues brought up in this post? The development of our pedagogy may depend on your reply!

Want more information? Many of these ideas were a main focus in my DMA final document.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on January 9, 2011 by Thomas Burritt.

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The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by William Murphy on Flickr.com.

Dave Gerhart

Dave Gerhart

Dr. Dave Gerhart, Product Manager, Percussion for Yamaha Corporation of America and Lecturer of Percussion at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSU, Long Beach, is a nationally recognized performer, composer, and educator. Dr. Gerhart, originally from Fairfield, California, holds a D.M.A. from the University of Southern California, M.M. in Percussion Performance and Instrumental Conducting and a B.M. in Music Education from California State University, Long Beach.
Dave Gerhart

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