Monday, December 28, 2009

In today's New York Times there is a long article about the rise to prominence of percussionists. In it Allan Kozinn gives a summary overview of the orchestral scene over the past 200 years or so, describing how it has been dominated first by violinists and then by pianists. Now it seems percussionists have come forth from their position behind the pitched instruments to occupy the conductor's podium in symphony concerts and a great deal of the stage in chamber music concerts, hardly one of which takes place without a work that calls for vibraphone, marimba, tuned gongs and/or all manner of struck instruments.

I have long been a great fan of percussion instruments and use them routinely in my teaching. They arouse awareness of pitch as most broadly defined -- or rather undefined. Nothing stimulates awareness of overtones as does a bell, gong or chime. Out of that broad awareness comes consciousness of the minutest aspects of discrete pitch.

That the two are closely related is evident in the extraordinarily focused listening characteristic of good percussionists, resulting in exquisite ensemble musicianship--some of the most moving I have heard in recent months.