Alexander Z.: How did your drumming in dance classes come to be? How does drumming in this environment differ from a good ole percussion performance?
When I was an undergrad at Rutgers in 1999, my friend Michelle, one of the Master's students there, invited me to an open musician/dance improv session. Through that, I met Tigger Benford (more at: TiggerBenfordPercussion.com) who then offered me a job playing one modern dance class a week. Since then I've worked a lot in the discipline scoring for dance and playing up to 8 classes per week.
Playing for dance differs from more traditional performance because your music has function. You don't have an audience in the traditional sense of a passive listener, but instead you are trying to create a composite audio/visual texture. You are not just a musical artist, but a time keeper, conductor, commentator, motivator, traffic cop, and distraction from the exhaustion that can accompany long and trying choreography.
From your site (PeterSaleh.com): "...the complex, mixed-meter count structure in this combination (given to the dancers as 6+6+7+9+8+5+3 and played as 4mm of 3/4, 1mm 7/4, 3mm 3/4, 2mm 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 3/4) is quite common in the choreography of this particular instructor. When playing the class, she'll typically demonstrate the given sequence, sometimes having even more segments, a few times and then hand it to me to keep the form constant. This video captures the first time this particular sequence had been done and proceeds through a tempo change, covering at least 10 minutes of total repetition (condensed here to about 5)."
Do situations similar to this occur frequently? Are you more or less learning on the fly mixed with improvisation?
First, I don't want to give the impression that every choreographer uses such rhythmically hip and mathematically aware count structures. Many current modern dancers don't use counts at all in their choreography and instead use breath timing independant of the music, something that would be much more innate for a wind player in a sense.
These complex count structures do happen frequently in that instructor's class, though. I generally fall back on my drum set experience having to keep track of the form of a tune while comping. Whether or not I choose to play a pitched instrument, I try and mentally play along with or mimic a tune on the drums to keep a sort of narrative going. In short, I improvise around a form created for the choreography.
"Red" from "Coloring Outside The Lines"
What is "Coloring Outside The Lines" or what are the ideas behind it?
"Coloring Outside the Lines" is 20+ minute dance I scored in the Summer of 2006 at NJPAC's Summer Youth Performance Workshop, an audition based program held in Newark, NJ. In what was an original concept I brought in that became the theme for the entire work, each section of 'Coloring Outside the Lines" was based around one of the primary colors. While the dance is based on movement that is based on associations (object, physical, emotional, etc.) with each color, I used a similar process for the music. For each color I chose both musical and visual associations (I say visual as well because I was to be performing on stage with the dancers and so I couldn't completely ignore how my instruments would appear, as opposed to if I was out of sight in the orchestra pit). For the structure of the piece, I used a balance of traditional composed phrases with structured improvisation (i.e. '16 measures of sparse rhythm on bongos, transitioning to the lower drums') to compliment the choreography.
For example, in 'Red' (the final section) I used what people would call 'hot' rhythms based on Latin and Afro-Cuban musics (using timbales and bongos) and the easy 'red' association of a heart beat combined with two large red Chinese tom-toms used as the centerpieces of the percussion setup. In Blue, I used chords associated with the blues (#9 chords in particular) along with a 12-bar blues form and bits of Wayne Shorter's Footprints, all played on marimba with purple-blue mallets. In Yellow, I used a known phenomenon called Synesthesia to choose the key center E (sometimes associated with the color by well known composers including Amy Beach) and used my 'one-man-band' setup (drums and marimba played together in a seated position) which is based around my pale yellow pair of congas.
"Degage" - Cajon
In these dance classes what dictates the instrumentation. You have a versatile setup, what leads to the use of the Cajon?
Instrumentation is dictated purely by what one plays personally. How much work you get as an accompanist, however, does depend on what you play. Most dance instructors who know how to work well with a live accompanist (as opposed to 'canned' music, a staple in cash starved dance programs) will appreciate a multi-faceted player that isn't limited to strictly piano or drum set. I know of people who play classes on all congas, trombone and jembe, piano and violin, and voice. The bottom line, though, is that you will get more work playing classes if you have abilities on pitched and non-pitched instruments.
In this case, I used cajon simply because I own one, it was appropriate for the movement, and because I occasionally want to surprise the dancers with a new sound in class.
Through the various ensembles and realms of music you have performed in, what allows you to be the most expressive or what allows you to use all of your percussion creativity/talent? Is there a particular genre that is more restrictive or regimented?
I personally enjoy the small percussion ensemble situation that I currently have in Exit 9. Our current program which has evolved over the past five years allows me to perform 'classical' transcriptions, jembe, amadinda style-marimba, jazz vibes, rudimental snare drum, and drum set during every show. Almost every piece we play incorporates a level of stylistic improvisation. I also arrange and transcribe for the group including amadinda, Chick Corea, and Musser music.
I'd be very careful about labeling any career path or genre as restrictive, however. There is a basic formula with any musical ensemble in that the more players there are, the less permissive it is with spontaneity and individual expression. John Coltrane and Beethoven, or the Cavaliers if you like, all come from similar creative places conceptually, but you wouldn't expect to have an orchestra or drum corps be able to spontaneously create the Ninth Symphony or the 1995 'Planets' production without music on the stand the way much of "A Love Supreme" came about. Having more players necesitates a more organized, central control. This, however, does not preclude finding expession within these narrower musical corridors.
With most percussion programs for high school students being an indoor drumline or high school band, what lead to the creation of Central Jersey Youth Percussion Ensemble?
CJYPE stemmed from my wanting to give my private students, and other talented NJ players, a percussion ensemble experience similar to Region and Allstate ensembles. One considerable issue that exists in High School programs more so than college is the 'big fish in a small pond' syndrome. I wanted to get my students to meet each other and learn from each other, not just from me.
I also didn't want to do indoor drumline because in my opinion, year-round drumline for high school kids where the student never really has to play outside of the group and becomes accustomed to a very high rehearsal to performance ratio, is detrimental to the development of a viable musician. Playing in the line is great for chops and timing, but depending on the approach of the teacher, can prevent developing a true individual with intrinsic enjoyment of playing music. Hopefully visitors to LotPatrol can see where I'm coming from on this.
What does your book, "A Percussionist's Handbook" contain? What is it's purpose?
The best way to sum up my book is in its introduction which states, "This is not a method book." Its basic purpose is to compile much of the information an average college/ semi-pro percussionist needs that they wouldn't be able to find in any one book nor necessarily pick up in their specific school environment (at least before they'd need to implement it). A large section of it covers logistics, sound concepts, and some techniques in the percussion section of the band/orchestra. Additional articles include resources for drum teachers, pick-up gig tips, and an article called 'A Dozen Things You'll Figure Out Sooner or Later." I would encourage anyone interested to check out www.APercussionistsHandbook.com.
What is Exit 9?
Exit 9 Percussion Group was founded at Rutgers University (off exit 9 on the NJTP) in January 2002 by students of RU professor and marimba virtuoso She-e Wu. The semi-rotating membership from the group has always drawn from RU students and although many schools have graduate percussion groups that spring up from the ranks of the studio's elite, we have the good fortune of being kept together past graduation through an agency called Young Audiences which books us for concerts, clinics, and assemblies. We've played 150-200 shows through them since then and it has also allowed us to plan other projects (competitions, commissions, concert series, etc.). Past members include players in Blast! and the Moscow Circus, the Seoul Philharmonic, PAS contest winners, college professors, and published composers/arrangers as well as alumni of Star of Indiana, the Boston Crusaders, and the Crossmen.
With Exit 9 or in your own arranging for various performances, how do you maintain a balance between what is exciting to percussionists and exciting to the average "not a music person" and blend them together (with a rudimental snare drum solo or drum set solo in mind. much of the technical aspect is great for those who know what's going on but can be rather boring and uninteresting to the rest of the world).
I think that if you set something up well through speaking about it and showing genuine enthusiasm, anything can be accessible to a general audience. Also, don't under estimate your audience's natural curiosity in percussion instruments. Exit 9 played Cage's "Third Construction" in front of a very large live and televised audience in Seoul and it was extremely well received, even with the language barrier.
As far as my own arranging goes, I picked up two concepts through studying with Paul Rennick: "A good arrangement should always seem shorter than it actually is" and "A good arrangement should not necessarily rely on exceptional players to come across successfully." In considering the audience, I don't confuse knowing how to write idiomatically for percussion instruments with writing for the players' amusement. I try to remember that the players are ultimately part of the audience anyway. One of my composition teachers always complained about how mediocre player-written music (especially percussion and guitar) can be, and how it runs the risk of being too inbred, inside, and redundant. Player-composers often write from their hands as opposed to their ears and I try my best to avoid this.
In any aspect of percussion and in any position (educator/performer/spectator), is motivation ever a problem? Getting yourself motivated to perform, to educate? Getting students excited/motivated about a particular endevor?
This is a great question and one that I am constantly mulling over. Although I'm not sure that you could consider the spectator's motivation in the same sense as the player or the teacher, I believe that as long as the educator or performer has goals, short and long term, and a means to them (opportunity, information, facilities), motivation isn't a problem. Motivating a spectator to buy a ticket to your show, however, has a lot to do with what they're expecting to get out of the experience (Entertainment, giving someone what they expect, vs. Art, playing on or changing expectations). Teachers and performers can help influence this by keeping their standards high. While motivating myself to educate is a combination of a desire to give players opportunities to advance and a desire to pay my rent, motivating students has a lot to do with showing them what is possible and showing them that they are capable of it.
Thank you, Alex, for giving me a forum on such a large number of subjects. It's great that you are connecting all of this diverse information on your site.
Thanks to Pete for taking the time to talk with us. You can check out more information about all of his current projects and other percussion related information on his website:
A Percussionist's Handbook
Central Jersey Youth Percussion Ensemble
Play flam fives, now grid it! Grid a flam, grid a diddle, grid a flam drag, grid a flam five. You know exactly what those mean. Any semi-experienced drummer has probably come across "The Grid" or has been told to "Grid It." For the marching percussionist both old and new you have probably heard of or visited the "Gridit" website, a collection of audio, video, photos, and transcriptions. The site hasn't been updated at least 6 years but I've always checked it out, with every visit more links are broken and the collection slowly dwindles. I still hold the site in high esteem as it was one of the first drumline related websites I discovered, the other being the now defunct percussion.simplenet.com.
Before drum corps sheet music, audio, and other media was widely available on the internet, and before DCI and the individual corps clamped down on the free exchange there was Gridit. This site is often linked to and discussed on the popular drum forums as it still contains a good amount of media that isn't as widespread, not widespread simply because the internet wasn't as popular at the time and with the drum corps community always evolving, the corps of a few years ago are always forgotten.
After years of enjoying the site but never seeing any updates I decided it was time to see what was going on. I wanted to know what happened to the person or people who ran it, I wanted to say thanks for creating the site, and of course, possibly motivate them to update it :-)
I sent an email hoping it wouldn't be returned do to a closed account, I received an email from Pete "Gridit" Saleh. I learned that Pete, like so many other corps vets, simply didn't march and then go and get a "real job", Pete is an percussion educator, composer, and arranger, not just a person who marched and forgot music and became an accountant.
Pete and his endeavors are a perfect example of all the possibilities open to you as a percussionist. There is more than playing the drumset in your garage band, there is more than playing quads in your high school band, there is more than playing the marimba in wind ensemble.
My name is Pete and I'm a New Jersey percussionist with degrees from Rutgers and the University of North Texas. I currently make my living performing with my quartet Exit 9, playing music for modern dance, and teaching. 'Gridit' is just the screenname I chose when I got AOL in 1997. I wanted something sort of 'inside' and drumming-related but not too stock like 'snaredrummer2000.' (No offense to SnareDrummer2000) At the time, there was only one site that was decent for drumline content, 'Cool Drummings.' I liked the idea, but the few soundclips and music samples there were weren't terribly current at the time (like the Gridit site now, I guess). In the drum corps world, it ended up being pretty successful. I met people from all over DCI (including some Asian corps) that had my 'Ditty' transcription and when I was still playing in corps, people would occasionally recognize me from the site. You have to remember that this was before groups like BD and SCV got smart and realized they could sell their stuff. It was also before mp3 file sharing was easy and common (Napster, LimeWire, iTunes, etc.) so in order to get a good collection of audio and sheet music, you had to know a lot of people around the country. People sent me music, audio, and video through the mail somewhat frequently when the site was at its peak.
I gradually gave up working on the site by 2000 because my career/playing required more attention. I could also attribute it to the fact that server space at the time was hard to come by and that I was encountering potential legal troubles. In particular, one relatively well known player/publisher actually called me (and other people above me at work and school) at 7am in my dorm room and reprimanded me for not giving publishing credit. I know a lot more about the business aspect of this now and wouldn't repeat those particular mistakes (I've since worked for a music publisher for 3 years and learned a lot) but it was mainly a time consideration.