Students ‘Reclaim’ the sound in percussion performance

This past Sunday, a semester’s worth of practice and dedication from
the students of the University of Rhode Island Percussion Ensemble and their coordinator, Dr. Kyle Forsthoff, culminated into “Reclaim: An Afternoon of Percussion Music,” held in the concert hall of the Fine Arts Center. Doors were open to all to watch the ensemble perform a number of percussion pieces, all from various composers throughout the 20th century, which they have spent the fall learning and mastering.

As explained by Forsthoff, who took the stage briefly between sets to introduce the musicians and pieces, the convocation was conceived under the title of “Reclaim.” This title was significant in that it referred to both the fact that the musical pieces were all composed in the mid-to-late 20th century, a time when composers had begun to turn away from the sounds of conventional orchestral arrangements in favor of strange sounds meant to evoke emotion and moods. This was also a time when some of the strange “junk instruments” were wielded by the musicians, which included drums fashioned out of old car brakes.

The first piece of the afternoon was a lesser-known and scarcely played piece composed by Christopher Rouse in the early 1970’s entitled Falcones Luminis. To achieve the pieces unique and unsettling sound, the convocation put to use a number of strange instruments, including ratchets, which achieved a sound similar to noisemakers you might find at a New Year’s Eve party, strange looking wooden contraptions called wind wands, which elicit a steady droning sound when spun, and a few “Happy Apples” which were effectively used as maracas, but were actually just children’s toys from the 1970’s in the shape of apples adorned with smiley faces.

The following two pieces, Fratres composed by Arvo Part in 1977 and Nagoya Marimbas, a duet composed by Steve Reich in 1994, captured similar sounds and moods, but were played mostly on xylophones. Composed by Lou Harrison in 1941, making it the oldest piece of music featured, Song of Queztecoatl, the fourth piece in the set, was introduced by Forsthoff as the thematic and sonic centerpiece of the afternoon. Featuring such instrumentation as glasses and car brakes, this piece, and, more broadly, the work of Lou Harrison exemplified the theme of reclamation which underscored the entire event. For the final performance of the day, Forsthoff handed off conducting duties to join the entire ensemble in Peaches en Regalia, a song recorded by avant-garde rock and roll icon Frank Zappa in 1969 which was later arranged for percussion instruments by Forsthoff himself.
This convocation marked the final performance by the percussion ensemble for the 2017 fall semester, but there are still many events by the URI Department of Music coming up in December as well as the rest of the academic year. For dates and more information on future events, visit www.web.uri.edu/music/music-department-events/.