Third Coast Percussion is not your typical percussion ensemble, so we asked them 10 questions to understand what makes them just so unique.
1. What inspired the creation of Third Coast Percussion?
The four of us met while studying music at Northwestern University. Percussion ensemble music was a really important part of our curriculum there and we felt like it was a genre that was exploding within academia but not being performed much outside of that. We loved playing this music and wanted to bring it to wider audience.
2. You are known to be very passionate about community outreach, what drives this passion?
Each of us has worked as an educator outside of Third Coast Percussion, and we love teaching and connecting with young people. To engage with art –whether as a creator or an audience member – is an invaluable experience for people of all ages. We believe this experience can be transformative.
3. What has been one of your most memorable performances to date?
In June 2015, on the 10th anniversary of our very first concert, we organized a massive performance of Terry Riley's piece "In C" at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. It involved over a hundred Chicago musicians, including students from local music schools and universities, professional classical and contemporary musicians, and people from the city's rock and jazz scenes. It was an amazing expression of community, to have so many people of different ages and backgrounds all on stage together performing for an audience of thousands of Chicagoans.
4. What moves you to create a new project (e.g.: a musical piece, life experience or specific composer)?
Collaboration is often at the root of what we do and helps to get us to creative places that we wouldn’t normally get to on our own. For example, we have a partnership with the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, through which we’ve been able to collaborate on multiple groundbreaking projects. One such program is our educational show WAVES that explores the ‘Science Behind Sound’ using both technology and interactive musical performance (we’re presenting WAVES for hundreds of school students during the course of our weeklong residency here at Walton Arts Center). We’re often interested in exploring things that haven’t been done before and that means finding partners who are as equally excited about getting out of a comfort zone as we are.
5. What are some of the defining characteristics of tonight’s performance?
Probably the main characteristic featured on tonight’s performance is variety. Most audience members are pleasantly surprised when they come to a Third Coast concert by just how diverse percussion music can be. We play on everything from typical western percussion instruments such as marimbas and vibraphones, to instruments borrowed from other cultures such as Japanese temple bowls, and even make our own instruments like amplified table tops, which we play for an entire piece.
6. Pick 5 words—that start with the letter ‘T’—that best describe your work.
Timbre – As percussionists, any object in the world that you can hit, scrape, rattle, etc. becomes our musical instruments. This means that we literally have thousands of different instruments that we play, each with its own unique timbre, or color of sound. We love exploring timbre and music that deals with it as a primary musical building block.
Thought-provoking - Much of our music sparks a sense of curiosity in our audience. Sometimes it directly relates to the subject matter of the piece, while other times the new sounds and diversity of pieces inspire an audience member to think about music in an entirely new way.
Tantalizing – Percussion music is especially exciting because it doesn’t just excite one sense, but many at the same time. A live performance of percussion music is not just aurally engaging, but visually quite interesting to watch because of the physical gestures that are needed to play our instruments.
Tintinnabulation – This is just a fancy word for “ringing,” but we really do deal with a variety of ringing objects. The movement from Augusta Read Thomas’ piece Resounding Earth that we will be playing perhaps deals with this the most directly through the use of all ringing metal instruments
… And the last one isn’t really a word but does describe what we do …
Truck full of stuff! – We brought so many goodies with us from Chicago that we needed to rent a moving truck just to get them all to Walton Arts Center!
7. Are each of you exclusively trained in percussion or do you play other instruments as well?
Some of us grew up playing piano, which certainly helps to play keyboard instruments like marimba and vibraphone, however we all went to music college to focus on percussion. The wonderful thing about learning percussion is there an endless world of new instruments to play and musical traditions to study. As a group we’re learning new instruments from around the world constantly and continuously learning to play new instruments. We joke that the word “percussion” sometimes just means everything that the other musicians won’t play!
8. Whom do you define as a visionary?
Steve Reich is a composer whose music we play a whole lot and who has created a truly unique musical voice for himself, which has in turn inspired so many other musicians. It's interesting—and important—to note that Reich's unique musical style is the result of many different musical influences: Ewe drumming from Ghana, John Coltrane, medieval music, Bartok and others. It shows how much we all gain by opening our ears and our minds to as many experiences and cultures as possible.
9. What do you hope the audience takes away from your performance?
We love it when an audience member approaches us after a performance (hopefully smiling) and says, "I've never heard anything like that before!" If we can create excitement and curiosity about something unfamiliar for an audience member, that's a big win in our book.
10. What’s next; do you have your sights set on any new adventures?
There are a lot of exciting performances still coming this season, but one new project on the horizon for next season is called “Paddle to the Sea.” It's a project that explores people's relationships with bodies of water, inspired by the children's book and film of the same name. It includes music that the four of us composed collaboratively, as well as other music with water themes that we've arranged or learned, including music by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman and Shona music from Zimbabwe.
Third Coast Percussion will be at WAC Feb. 24, 2017, at 8pm. Tickets are $10. Don't miss out!