Every so often I have the pleasure of playing timpani with a full orchestra. This was the case recently when I played with the Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra led by Kathleen Beckmann. This concert featured the Broadway star Craig Schulman. The program included big hits from many different Broadway shows, including Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera, both of which Craig starred in, and a chorus of singers from two local high schools. The orchestra sounded great, including the soloist who is a legend. The performance took place in the Marriott Pavillion cobcert hall at the famed Culinary Institute of America (CIA), on their beautiful campus overlooking the Hudson River. Concertgoers who opted for the concert and dinner were treated to a pre-concert dinner at the Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici. Fine music and fine food is a combination that can’t be beat, even by a percussionist!]]>
April will find NEXUS in residence at SUNY-POTSDAM, performing in their Community Performance Series in striking Hosmer Concert Hall, and working with students at the Crane. Programming is still being tweaked, but I hear there is a bit o’ Reich and a bit o’ Moondog, in celebration of both of their birthdays: 80th and 100th respectively. If you are near either venue, south or north, join us! It will be great to see you!
On October 3, 2016, Steve Reich celebrated his 80th birthday. This festive occasion was the catalyst for a year-long tribute to the man who has been acclaimed as “our greatest living composer” (New York Times) and “the most original musical thinker of our times” (The New Yorker). A quick glance at the concert section of the Steve Reich website shows that his compositions are being performed almost every day of the year somewhere in the world. Many of these concerts this year, especially the ones with Reich in attendance, have turned into rousing birthday parties with premieres of brand new compositions from the composer who is now officially an octogenarian.
Reich’s actual birthday was on Rosh Hashanah, and he spent the day in observance of the holiday. As my way of honoring him on that day, I announced the publication by Cambridge University Press of my book Performance Practice in the Music of Steve Reich for which Reich wrote the foreward.
In the book, I describe my experiences as a member of the Steve Reich and Musicians ensemble beginning with the early rehearsals of Drumming at Reich’s loft at 423 Broadway in the Soho section of New York City beginning in the spring of 1971. I traced my steps to his former loft this past September and found the building in a state of disrepair – obviously not yet designated as a national historic site.
The beginning of the year-long Steve Reich birthday celebration began for me on February 3, 2016, exactly eight months before Reich’s actual birthday when I coached a performance of Music for 18 Musicians at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland as part of Sibafest.
On April 5, I coached Reich’s masterpiece again, this time at Temple University with percussion professor Phillip O’Banion, musicians from the school of music, Mobius Percussion, and musicians from the Philadelphia area. The performance can be viewed on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMsYuFrKUQ8
Steve Reich came to my home town of Toronto later in April for performances of Drumming, Part I at Integral House and Clapping Music, Tehillim, and Music for 18 Musicians at the venerable Massey Hall as part of a Soundstreams Canada birthday celebration in Toronto.
In May, members of Nexus, Sō Percussion, and Palladium Percussion performed Mallet Quartet, Mallet Phase, and Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ at the BRIC House Ballroom in Brooklyn at a concert organized by Sō to honor Steve Reich in his 80th birthday year. Mallet Phase is Garry Kvistad’s new arrangement of Piano Phase played on instruments he created and tuned in just intonation.
During the festivities, Jason Treuting presented Steve with the ‘piece of wood’ that Sō used for many years to play the pulse part in Music for Pieces of Wood.
In June, Nexus played a concert at the Rockport Chamber Festival in Rockport, Massachusetts in June featuring Music for Pieces of Wood (where we were joined by newlywed Maria Finkelmeier), Drumming, Part I, and Mallet Phase.
In July, I traveled to chilly St. John’s, Newfoundland for a performance of Sextet at the biennial Sound Symposium in yet another Reich 80th birthday concert. One of the musicians in Sextet was the fabulous pianist Andrea Lodge. Her mother, Violet Lodge, gave me a photo of a cow and an iceberg that she took off the coast of Newfoundland. In my book I describe my yoga sessions with Steve Reich in the early days of rehearsals for Drumming. The photo reminds me of advice I was given by a yoga teacher: “Do yoga with the speed of an iceberg and the patience of a monk.” In the case of this photo it would be with the speed of an iceberg and the patience of a peaceful cow.
Reich preferred not to have any big parties until after his actual birthday, so the first official celebration of his 80th milestone was at Carnegie Hall after a concert that featured his Quartet for two vibraphones and two pianos, a premiere of his new work, Pulse performed by ICE and conducted by David Robertson, and the Reich/Korot video work Three Tales performed by ICE, Sō Percussion, and Synergy Vocals with Robertson again conducting. Following the performance there was a birthday party in the Rohatyn Room in Carnegie Hall with cake and an enthusiastic singing of Happy Birthday to Steve by musicians and friends.
Just a few days after the festivities at Carnegie Hall, Reich was honored in London’s Barbican Centre with a weekend full of concerts. Alex Ross, music reviewer for The New Yorker was on hand to speak about “The West Coast Roots of Minimalism.” His lecture was followed by performances of City Life and Drumming by students from the Guildhall. The Saturday evening marathon concert included Pendulum Music, Nagoya Guitars, Electric Counterpoint (played by Mark Stewart and twelve other guitarists including the New York quartet Dither), Different Trains, Pulse, and concluding with Three Tales performed by the Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Clark Rundell.
On Sunday afternoon at St. Luke’s Church near the Barbican, Steve Reich was the guest on an LSO Discovery day event that was moderated by Sarah Mohr-Pietsch, a presenter from BBC Three. The afternoon began with a performance of New York Counterpoint by Chi-Yu Mo and ended with Piano Counterpoint, an arrangement by Vincent Corver of Six Pianos for soloist and pre-recorded CD. In between was a wide-ranging discussion with the performers and Reich, and I was delighted to join them in the conversation. The evening concert featured the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kristjan Järvi, and Synergy Vocals in Daniel Variations, You Are (Variations), and The Desert Music.
The Percussive Arts Society International Convention is a four-day event featuring concerts, workshops, master classes, and lectures. This year it was held in Indianapolis, Indiana from November 9-12. As a tribute to Steve Reich’s 80th birthday year I gave a talk titled Performance Practice in the Music of Steve Reich in which I presented highlights from my book.
On December 1st and 2nd, I organized a symposium at the University of Toronto titled “Reich, Rhythm, and Repetition: Patterns in Music, Speech, and Science.” As part of the symposium, Nexus premiered my composition Birth of Time in which I used words and phrases from Performance Practice in the Music of Steve Reich to create melodic and rhythmic patterns. These patterns were played on marimbas and vibraphone and also sung by three female vocalists. The title of the piece was taken from a quote by Olivier Messiaen:
“Let us not forget that the first, essential element in music is Rhythm, and that Rhythm is first and foremost the change of number and duration. Suppose that there were a single beat in all the universe. One beat; with eternity before it and eternity after it. A before and an after. That is the birth of time. Imagine then, almost immediately, a second beat. Since any beat is prolonged by the silence which follows it, the second beat will be longer than the first. Another number, another duration. That is the birth of Rhythm.”
Nexus gave the premiere of the sixteen drum version of Drumming, Part I by Steve Reich at the symposium. The idea to use twice the number of bongos that is normally used for the piece occurred to Bob Becker and me when we conducted an experiment at the LiveLab at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario to determine what actually happens in a phase as opposed to what I think happens in a phase. Details of this recording session are in my chapter, “Anatomy of a Phase,” in Performance Practice in the Music of Steve Reich. Further results from the experiment and the latest research on the project can be found at www.maplelab.net/reich.
On the final concert of the symposium we gave the Canadian premiere of Steve Reich’s Quartet for two pianos and two vibraphones performed by Midori Koga and Gregory Oh on pianos and Bob Becker and me on vibraphones.
The year-long celebration concluded for me with a return trip to the Paul Sacher Stiftung (PSS) in Basel, Switzerland where, since 2008, Steve Reich has been depositing his sketchbooks, manuscripts, agendas, photographs, recordings, instruments, and correspondence. The Sacher archive is an international research center for the music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with over a hundred collections from leading composers and performers from Bartók and Stravinsky to Feldman and Reich. The director of PSS is Felix Meyer and the curator of the Steve Reich Collection is Matthias Kassel. Tina Kilvio Tüscher is archivist for Reich’s materials. All the folks at PSS have been extremely accommodating in providing me with access to Reich materials that were essential in writing Performance Practice in the Music of Steve Reich.
Diane and I attended a day of jazz at the Mohonk Mountain House yesterday with friends. We saw two absolutely amazing concerts and had a wonderful dinner at this historic resort right here in the Catskill Mountains. One concert was a trio led by the fabulous Janice Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer with pianist John DiMartino and bassist Martin Wind. The solos and ensemble playing were exceptional. Janice demonstrated her amazing vocalese style, the influence of which she credits to Jon Hendricks. Check them out if they are ever in your area.
The other concert was The Brubeck Songbook which featured the Brubeck Brothers (Chris and Danny) with Hilary Kole and Michael Bourne. Hilary’s classic jazz voice can be heard on her recording with Dave Brubeck of his ballad Strange Meadowlark, which she performed at this concert, skillfully accompanying
herself on piano. Michael Bourne, who narrated the show, is the voice of WBGO radio in Newark, NJ, where he has brought great music to the public for decades. I went to the Interlochen Arts Academy during my high school years with Chris Brubeck, so the reunion was a special event for me. Chris is an accomplished composer
and master on the bass as well as the trombone. Danny took an extended drum solo in Take Five, which blew everyone away. World-class guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Chuck Lamb completed this incredible quartet. The Brubeck Brothers travel extensively, keeping the seminal music of their father Dave alive and extremely resonant! Check them out at Yoshi’s Jazz Club if you are in San Francisco this Wednesday (1/18/17).]]>
The Blackearth Percussion Group was conceived in 1971, formed in 1972 and disbanded in 1979. It was inspired in part by Jan Williams’ New Percussion Quartet of Buffalo and named after a small farm town in central Wisconsin. I was one of the original group members at age 22, along with my brother Rick Kvistad (28), Allen Otte (21), Michael Udow (23) and Chris Braun (18).
Members joining in later years were James Baird, David Johnson and Stacey Bowers. In the last two years the group was a trio consisting of Allen Otte, Stacey Bowers and me (left to right in photo from 1977).
Five of the eight total members of the Blackearth Percussion Group, including Rick, Al, Stacey, David and me (Mike, Chris and Jim were not able to attend), met in Indianapolis, Indiana for the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in November, 2016. Tom Siwe, former head of the percussion department at the University of Illinois introduced us.
We told stories of the seven years we were together and performed two works we had done back then. There was a tremendous turnout despite it being the last event in the afternoon of the last of four days.
The Blackearth Percussion Group was together for seven years in the 1970s when we were all in our 20s. We are now in our 60s (one in his 70s). There is still much interest in the group today, even amongst young players who weren’t born during the group’s tenure.
Blackearth residencies included the University of Illinois in Urbana (one semester), Northern Illinois University in DeKalb (four and a half years) and the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati (two years). Blackearth performed 38 world premieres, gave 157 concerts in the US, Canada and Europe, made three recordings, and commissioned many compositions. After Blackearth disbanded, the members went on to hold prominent orchestral positions, teach at leading universities, perform with various chamber music ensembles, author papers, compose, create/run businesses and promote percussion music around the world. The group is credited for “rediscovering” John Cage’s Third Construction shortly after the manuscript was made public. Blackearth performed it throughout the US and Europe beginning in January of 1977. We worked with many composers and performed works composed by members of the group as well. Several pieces, including complex works, were performed by memory, which was fairly novel at the time.
While the group mainly played written works, improvisation was also part of many concerts. The use of film, electronics, theatrical intermedia and homemade instruments were an important part of programming. One of the works we did at PASIC was an improvisation performed while a film of electronically generated Lissajous figures by composer Ronald Pellegrino called Paths (1972) was shown.
The other work we played at PASIC was one entitled Apple Blossoms by Peter Garland (1972). This beautiful, quiet composition is played solely on marimba(s). The title and some of the impetus of the piece came from the André Breton poem “On me dit que la-bas.” Musically, the piece derives from the four-note scale F, A-flat, B-flat, and C, which is found in some Chippewa music.
The Blackearth Percussion Group was innovative and influential for the seven years of its existence and beyond. Blackearth performed several concertos with orchestras, experimented with micro-tonal tuning systems, incorporated a vintage 5-octave marimba to add bass notes not common for that time period, commissioned/premiered many works, was one of the first percussion groups to write and perform music of the minimalists, played arrangements of the ragtime music of George Hamilton Green and developed several multi-media productions. We are gratified that our work lives on and were honored to be asked to perform at PASIC 2016.
Blackearth Retrospective Video of Selected Excerpts
Blackearth Percussion Group PowerPoint Presentation compiled by Garry Kvistad, shown at PASIC 2016
All of Ken’s interviews with Canadian Percussionists can be viewed here:]]>
The University of Toronto produces gatherings on a regular basis called ArtSci Salons (reminiscent of salons held in Italy and France in the 18th and 19th centuries), where artists and scientists meet to discuss topics related to the intersection of art, science and technology. The ArtSci Salon group hooked up with the music faculty for a three-day symposium titled “Reich, Rhythm and Repetition: Patterns in Music, Speech and Science,” sponsored by the Jackman Humanities Institute’s 2016-17 Program for the Arts and hosted by the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences. This included many talks and a few performances by the group I play with, NEXUS.
I was one of the presenters for several events, sharing the stage with physicist Dr. Stephen Morris. The audience was primarily made up of students and faculty but the general public was also invited. We did two afternoon sessions together in which we demonstrated principles of both sight and sound. I presented an instrument I invented called the Vistaphone, which is made up of 32 tubes and rods tuned to the natural overtone series. While this “scale” is something that you’ll find in both music theory and physics books, it is surprisingly uncommon to be able to hear it. The scale is made up of one frequency called the fundamental and overtones in the relationship of whole numbers above the fundamental frequency. No one attending this event had ever heard an acoustic realization of the natural harmonic overtone series in this manner.[See post to listen to audio]
These relationships of musical frequencies were known to the ancient philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, who demonstrated them on a single-stringed instrument called the monochord.
Through the use of a custom software program, I also demonstrated how slow rhythmic pulses when sped up become audible pitches. When two pulses related by whole number ratios are sped up, the associated interval is heard. Here is an audio example of me playing 3 pulses against 2 pulses, and then speeding that polyrhythm up until you hear the musical interval we call a perfect fifth in Western music.[See post to listen to audio]
Stephen Morris illustrated some fantastic acoustic and physical principles in his session entitled “Making Sound Visible.” Nineteenth century physicist Ernst Chladni invented a method of visualizing the vibration of plates by sprinkling powder on them, which led to several advances in both mathematics and acoustics. To illustrate this phenomenon, Stephen made a flat metal plate vibrate at various speeds, causing salt sprinkled on the plate to form amazing patterns. The salt moved to the places where the least amount of vibration occurred (the nodes). When the vibrational frequency was changed, the patterns changed, which seemed like magic.
Another fascinating demonstration of Stephen’s had to do with pendulum motion. The device he used consisted of a number of balls of different weights suspended by strings of various lengths, swinging at certain frequencies. The proportions of the weights he chose resulted in a series of changing motions, and the pattern was repeated every two minutes.
He cited a piece that Steve Reich wrote called Pendulum Music (1968, 1973) that makes sound visual, so to speak.
The next day, my workshop focused on instruments I built and a performance of my arrangement of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase, which I play on another of my inventions, the Reichphone, and call Mallet Phase. Dr. Morris explained icicle formation and demonstrated how patterns are created by dripping syrup on a belt moving at various speeds.
Dr. Morris is perhaps best known for his YouTube video of the Domino Chain Reaction, which will blow your mind!
Russell Hartenberger of NEXUS, along with Kathy Armstrong and other members of NEXUS, presented a workshop entitled “The Use of Rhythmic Patterns in West African Drumming and the Music of Steve Reich,” which included performances of the music of Moondog, Hartenberger and Reich.
Remember the three types of people I mentioned at the beginning? Perhaps the third type is one who is fascinated by music and science and will bring back the excitement of interdisciplinary discovery. I hope this inspires you to be one of those!]]>