By Adam Groh

If there is one percussion-related thing that I could rid the world of it would definitely be the confused individuals who think holding crash cymbals up like Mickey Mouse ears actually does anything. Honestly, who is out there passing off this lunacy as a real technique? Look, I’m all for holding the small instruments up so that they can be seen by the audience. I will even agree that when you show someone a triangle or finger cymbal they are more likely to hear it (not because it’s louder, just because they see it). However, I have yet to encounter a reputable percussionist advocating any crash cymbal technique that even vaguely resembles a Disney cartoon character.

To me, this whole this is equivalent to saying “Hey, after you play that bass drum note, can you pick the drum up and wave it over your head so the sound gets out?” Look… I may not be the world’s best at any percussion instrument, but I know that I can make a great cymbal crash. When I’m using the loudest cymbals in the county, on a two-foot riser, 3 feet in front of a sound shell, and putting all my energy into making as big sound as I can, it’s just not going to get any louder. Holding the stupid things above my ears isn’t going to do anything but make me look stupid and possibly reflect some stage lights into the conductor’s eyes, temporarily blinding him. The horn section is ducking their heads and plugging their ears… I promise it’s loud. Maybe we should consider the 17 square miles of heavy curtains we have hanging around us or the “interesting” acoustics of the hall we’re in? I’d rather not get a lesson on crash cymbal technique in rehearsal, especially from someone who must be a grandson of Walt Disney. What other explanation could their be for such a goofy technique?

Is there some way that we, as knowledgeable percussionists, can revolt against this? How can we spread the gospel of making good, logical decisions about percussion performance? How can we stop the madness? Is anyone else tired of being experimented on by conductors who don’t know what they’re talking about? Second only to the Mickey Mouse crash, is my disdain for conductors who ask for harder mallets when they want something louder. Hardness gets you attack, not volume. You’re asking for a different timbre when all you wanted me to do is play louder. Aside from percussion methods and techniques classes at universities across the country, where else can we get this information out? Maybe I can organize a tour to every single state’s music educator convention? Perhaps that would make it better… Sometimes I feel like Frankenstein… a mish-mash of all of these bad ideas, awkwardly making my way through a piece, following all the instructions of the mad scientist…

I just wish I could look up and see Gene Wilder. That would make it all better.

(Oh, and sorry Mickey, you’re not such a bad guy…just getting a bum rap.)

Have you ever been told to hold up your cymbals like Mickey Mouse? What other poor techniques have conductors requested of you? How do you handle it, and how do we educate future conductors to stop this madness? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by Frank Hebbert 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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