Third Coast Percussion Performed at WAC This February - here's What 5 High School Students Had to Say about It

The Student Volunteer Corps is a high school job shadow program designed to give local students insight into the business of arts presenting. Twenty students from across Northwest Arkansas were selected to participate after submitting an application, referrals and an essay on their interest in the arts. From January to May, they will shadow Walton Arts Center staff and working theatre professionals at Trike Theatre, University of Arkansas and Theatre Squared. The final component of the program is to attend a 10x10 Series performance and write a one page review, in an effort to get them thinking critically about theatre. Our next five students came for Third Coast Percussion’s performance of ‘Lyrical Geometry’.

Written By: Jeremia Lo, 10th Grade, Fayetteville High School

Third Coast Percussion: Lyrical Geometry

The 10x10 series brings a variety of diverse and innovative performances to Walton Arts Center, and none better illustrates this than Third Coast Percussion. The Chicago based ensemble was formed in 2005, and has since forged a path in the diverse arts of percussion and contemporary classical music. As a Grammy Award® winning quartet, they have developed an international reputation for their unique and dynamic performances, as well as an amazing ability to connect to the audience.

Lyrical Geometry exhibits both the energy of percussion and its elegance by showcasing an assortment of different objects and instruments, from tables to bells; truly illustrating how everyday objects have the potential to create music. The program features new work from TCP’s Grammy Award® winning album, collaboration pieces with acclaimed composers Augusta Read Thomas and Glenn Kotche, and original music by TCP members.

TCP got off to a lively start with the performances of Steve Reich’s Mallet Quartet and Glenn Kotche’s Wild Sound, showing off classic keyboard instrument pieces with impressive energy; the audience could tell that the ensemble enjoyed what they were doing and in turn, shared the feeling with us. I appreciated how one of the members would introduce each piece’s background and their own thoughts on the work and if there was one, their connection with the collaborator. The ensemble also succeeded in covering the more unconventional forms of percussion through Augusta Read Thomas’ Resounding Earth and Thierry de May’s Table Music. The excerpt from Resounding Earth was elegant, hypnotic and executed with immense precision as needed to create the shimmering sound from Japanese prayer bowls and other sorts of metallic instruments. This type of music is not for everyone, I noticed increased shifting in a few audience members around me who grew restless at the slow pace and mystical tone of the work, but I enjoyed the fluidity of the piece and how each separate instrument came together to create a cohesive composition. In contrast, Table Music featured an original upbeat rhythm played on sound enhanced tables, and the coordination and skill required to effectuate such was nothing less than sensational. The incorporated humor in flipping the sheet music was also a nice touch. The program ended with one of my personal favorites, David Skidmore’s Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities. With Skidmore as one of the ensemble members, it is evident that not only does TCP consist of amazing performers, but of composers as well. The background video provided an interesting visual in correspondence to the music and introduced a new layer of interpretation.

At the end of the performance I felt like I had been missing out on an entire world of music, even though I had listened to percussion music before. TCP successfully introduced me to contemporary percussion and left me longing for more. The ensemble was mesmerizing to watch and listen to, and Lyrical Geometry consisted of a great selection of music, of which I would recommend to anyone.



Written By: Madison Smith, 11th Grade, Fayetteville High School
Also check out Madison’s blog:

The Grammy Award® winning percussion quartet, Third Coast Percussion, recently visited the Northwest Arkansas area to perform in the Walton Arts Centers 10x10 Arts Series. The 10x10 Arts Series is a season of 10 performances hosted by the Walton Arts Center with the intent to bring new and unique art forms to the Northwest Arkansas Community at the low cost of $10 a ticket.  Third Coast Percussion has been performing and expanding the depth of the world of percussion.

Who is Third Coast Percussion?

Each of the four quartet members are classically trained percussionists and composers. Based in Chicago, Third Coast Percussion is the ensemble-in-residence at the University of Notre Dame's DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Third Coast Percussion put on an outstanding performance that was full of new experiences that blew their audience away.


Throughout the week, the ensemble put on multiple master classes, and performances involving students of all ages and local musicians. Each of the members of Third Coast Percussion have been music educators at some point in their careers. This leads them be very passionate about their community outreach. They believe that "art is an invaluable experience for people of all ages."

The Program

The program they performed Friday night,  Lyrical Geometry , is a unique and energetic collaboration of both traditional percussion and unconditional instruments. During the performance, quartet member Robert Dillon commented on the diverse selection of instrumentation; asking "What is a percussion instrument?" The definition of a percussion instrument is "a musical instrument that is sounded by being struck or scrapped", but Third Coast Percussion believe that a percussion instrument is "anything you ask a percussionist to play and they say yes" or anything "that the other musicians won’t play." This seemed to be the general theme for this concert. The program included obscure instruments such as Japanese Temple Bowls and amplified table tops.

The Lyrical Geometry Program :

Wild Sound

Composed by Glenn Kotche, Wild Sound uses a combination of marimbas and vibraphones that create an almost "wild" sound with its very fast and systematic layering of rhythms. At some points the rhythms were complementary, and at others, it was almost overwhelming. However, none of this distracted from the enjoyment of the piece. I was impressed by the way that the musicians maintained their inner pulse and were able to pull off such a feat so that their listeners did not get lost or distracted. This piece was an introduction to the rest of the performance by establishing the traditional percussion techniques with new flourishes and flares to establish a new art form all together.

Table Music

Composed by Theirry De Mey, Table Music was by far the audience’s favorite piece in the program. After the show, everyone was wondering which of the Third Coast Percussion Albums had a recording of Table Music on it. Sadly, Third Coast Percussion has not yet released a recording of them playing this piece. I was blown away by the use of amplified tables in the Table Music piece performed by Peter Martin, Sean Connors and David Skidmore. As a tap dancer, I found the idea of making rhythms with your hands amazing. The music for this piece includes descriptions of the exact way to hit or touch the table to make a particular sound. This makes the piece resemble both music and choreographed dance at the same time.

Resounding Earth mvt. II Prayer

Composed by Augusta Read Thomas, Resounding Earth was composed for and dedicated to Third Coast Percussion. This is a very unique piece that requires the use of hundreds of metal instruments including singing bowls and bells from numerous different cultures. This piece celebrates the idea that music brings cultures together and the vast variety of musical instruments. The piece is made up of four movements: Invocation, Prayer, Mantra and Reverie. As Robert Dillon explained the entire work is about 30 minutes long. So for time's sake, Third Coast Percussion only performed the third movement, PrayerPrayer, is an even distribution of eeriness and beauty that seems to grow out of nothingness. Third Coast Percussion had me sitting on the edge of my seat afraid to move or disturb the perfect balance of silence and music.

Mallet Quartet

Composed by Steve Reich, Mallet Percussion, is another composition written for two marimbas and two vibraphones with multiple movements. Third Coast Percussion played all three of these movements: Fast, Slow, and Fast.  In the two Fast movements, the two marimbas provide the foundation cannon like background that continues throughout the piece while the two vibraphones take turns playing the solo-like melody. I admire Sean and Robert for their fluidity as they seamlessly passed around the melody without delay. During the Slow movement, the instrumentation thins out. I enjoyed how the ensemble did not pause between the three movements and they seemed to just flow into one fluid song despite the contrast between slow and fast movements.


Composed by ensemble member, Peter Martin, BEND, is composed for a percussion quartet using two marimbas. This piece uses various different mallets, bows, and sticking techniques to create a unique sound. The bows create a very different sound when they are run across the edge of the keys that sounds like the bending of music. The piece ebbs and flows in an unpredictable and pattern-less way. As soon as a common theme is established, it is abruptly changed with the introduction of a new sound, or a drastic change of dynamics.  This was a very entertaining piece that I was not expecting to hear. I especially enjoyed the use of the other end of the mallets.


Composed by ensemble member, Robert Dillon, Ordering-instincts, is a 10 minute piece including the only two drums in the program, wooden blocks, and a few metal "disks".  It was easy to get lost in all the new sounds you were hearing. But with the aid of a live video streaming to a screen above the stage, you could see the choreographed dance of the musicians. Their music provided a road map to guide them through the traffic of the piece. Creating perfectly organized sound, music.


Composed by Isaac Schankler, Blindness, is composed for 4 percussionists playing on one vibraphone accompanied by an electronic recording. At first I was a little skeptical about how 4 grown men could play the same instruments at the same time, but all of my doubts were put to rest the moment they began playing. In the past, my personal experiences playing with an electronic backing track have not been successful. But in this composition the electronic track did not take away from the ensembles performance, but added additional sound effects resembling sounds one would expect to hear if they were blind.

Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities

Composed by ensemble member, David Skidmore, Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities, was the perfect end to a phenomenal program. This piece incorporated visual art by projecting an animated design that was mesmerizing and moved with the music. This addition to the program emphasized how all art forms are connected in their abilities to express feelings and movement without out the use of traditional language. Art: music, design, dance and literature are all abstract forms of communication used to express what one does not have the courage to express on their own. I feel that this composition described the diversity of life and talents among people.

I am not a percussionist but as a musician, I am enamored by new art forms and Third Coast Percussion did not disappoint. Each piece introduced a new theme accompanied by a perfect blend of traditional instruments and new sounds. The program was a perfect arrangements of pieces that made a statement: the art world is changing. I had never seen or heard anything remotely familiar to what Third Coast Percussion played. Third Coast Percussion never ceased to impress me.

The Grammy

A Percussion Quartet is not the norm, but Third Coast Percussion despite skepticism from friends, they did it anyway and won a Grammy for it! In the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, the quartet won their first Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance on their album featuring works by Steve Reich, an iconic percussionist and composer. In their Performance at the Grammy Awards, they performed the third movement Steve Reich’s Mallet Quartet with jazz saxophonist, Ravi Coltrane. This is a huge game changer for the world of percussion as it is the first time a percussion ensemble has won a Grammy in a Chamber Music category.

Third Coast Percussion is opening doors for future generations of percussionists. Percussion has come a long way since the 18th century and the invention of the drum. Percussionists are constantly looking for new things to play around with to create new sounds.  Third Coast Percussion is always pushing the boundaries of what percussion is. Modernist composer, Edgard Varèse, once said that music is "organized sound" when referring to his own musical style. I feel that this definition of music describes Third Coasts Percussion perfectly.



Written By: Joshua Deck, 9th Grade, Fayetteville High School

Third Coast Percussion Critique

The most recent installment of the Walton Arts Center’s acclaimed 10x10 Arts Series, Third Coast Percussion, toured to Northwest Arkansas for one night only, bringing too many instruments to count and an impressive repertoire along with them. The four Chicago natives, David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and Sean Connors display their wide range and their truth that “… a percussion instrument is anything that you ask a percussionist to play and they say yes.”

Founded out of a passion for fine music and a wish to change the way that we all think of modern music, the Grammy Award® winning ensemble takes an audience through an auditory experience like no other, an experience that hundreds of school children and a theater full of patrons were happy to join in on.

When we combine their overwhelming talent and creativity, you get a show that uses the most out of the box instruments, including a box, to create beautiful art and a technical masterpiece. The performance is outstandingly visual, with movements choreographed as well as any of the incredible Broadway shows that have graced the same stage. The show that was performed, Lyrical Geometry, features a mix of songs that are original, commissioned, or covers. They performed pieces from acclaimed percussionists Augusta Read Thomas and Steve Reich, which have been designed for a foursome, a rarity in the musical and percussion fields.

Although there are many modern techniques used in this performance, the four classically trained musicians, one a Yale graduate, clearly respect those that came before, and excited to put their own twist on it. Their modern style not only captures the minds of young children who are usually restless in their seats, but the minds of people used to traditional styles of percussion.

While watching four men play keyboards and bells for two hours can easily sound like an auditory experience, but there was never a dry eye in the audience. This show combined stellar music with extraordinary visuals and produced a concert like no other, great for all ages and anyone who likes music. The Lyrical Geometry concert series is definitely a show to see, hear and become surrounded in. Although it may be a while before the group returns to Northwest Arkansas, it is certainly worth your time to pursue them.



Written By: Morgan Heflin, 10th Grade, Fayetteville High School

On Friday, February 24th, an eager audience trickled into Walton Arts Center to attend Third Coast Percussion’s Lyrical Geometry. The show promised musical entertainment to people of all ages, from families with elementary-age children, to the well-seasoned Walton Arts Center attendee. Lyrical Geometry is meant to bring the great possibilities of percussion together, featuring Grammy-winning music written by Steve Reich, as well as respected artists like Augusta Read Thomas. Using a complementary combination of percussion instruments, including some seeming unconventional, few groups can rival the thought and creativity Third Coast Percussion put into their show.

While some may consider the performance a sort of unusual percussion, Third Coast Percussion integrated all their instruments beautifully, making the audience feel at home with new instruments and ideas. Many would name a drum when asked to name a percussion instrument, but much of the instrumental focus fell upon vibraphones and rin, Japanese prayer bowls. Drums, the familiar percussion instrument, were used, but in a raspy, haunting manner, created by dragging a rubber mallet across the surface of the drum.

An audience favorite by far was Table Music, which is exactly as it sounds – music made with a table. Mini “tables” with integrated microphones were placed on a life-sized table, and three band members used their hands to play the tables with the same fluidity they would an ordinary instrument. Different strokes, strikes, and motions elicited their own unique sound, and the band even managed to integrate turning the page on their sheet music in a way that fit into the music, but was humorous to the audience.

The show seemed to be engaging for a majority of the audience, although people were often seen shifting in their seat or exchanging glances when a piece seemed to be lingering in a slow spot or dragging on. To me, it seemed that Table Music was most thoroughly enjoyed by the audience, with the constant movement of the band, focused lighting, and unique instrument ideas. I remained engaged for the entire show, as the band was just as interesting to watch as they were to listen to. On top of this, the band members seemed like they were having a good time as well. You could often see them grin as they played a particularly difficult portion, step to the beat of what they were playing, or nod their head as another member played.

Though other artists had written a few of the songs played, it was evident that Third Coast Percussion had taken that music and made it their own. They didn’t just play the music; they were with the music, invested in each piece played. Their own, David Skidmore, had written the last piece performed, titled Aliens With Extraordinary Abilities. With this song came unique graphics that responded to every high and low in the music, and definitely seemed to fit the title of the song. This was probably my personal favorite piece, as the visual effects really added a lot to the music. On the other hand, other audience members may have found the graphics random, too flashy, or even exhaustive, as they were constantly moving and changing. I enjoyed the graphics for the reason that they were exhaustive, and really seemed to cover each little note with a flash of color or pattern.

Overall, I was impressed by Third Coast Percussion’s Lyrical Geometry, and completely enjoyed the show. Their music showed diversity, and I think anyone could enjoy it, regardless of age or music tastes.



Written By: Kamrin Thornton, 10th Grade, Fayetteville High School

Third Coast Percussion

Recently, I had the privilege to attend a performance by Third Coast Percussion, a music group that has won the ensemble regional and national recognition. Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore, the members of this group established in 2005, put together an astounding show called Lyrical Geometry. This group of musicians is most interesting because of the fact that they are a percussion quartet. A percussion quartet is not typical in the music world and that may very well be why the group was so impressive. I believe they formed the group not only to learn and grow in music as a group of four, but also to shed light onto the percussion world; they want to show that though percussion quartets are atypical, they have a world of magic to offer. Third Coast Percussion adds a nice, refreshing aspect to the music world.

Third Coast Percussion knew that the audience wouldn’t be all musical professionals, so they formulated a performance that had some good variety. They showcased keyboard percussion, table music, prayer bowls and various effects like violin bows, plastic wrapped sticks, and audio/visual playback. I personally loved the performance. I loved how enthusiastic every musician looked on stage; how they were absorbed in the music, never looking bored. I enjoyed the variety and the energy they brought to the auditorium. They did a good job showing that percussion is not always just keyboards and drums. There was a lack of drumming in the show, in fact, which was both a positive and a drawback. Being a percussionist myself, I can appreciate the effort they put into showing the other sides of percussion, the sides no one pays attention to when drums are in the way. However, some people who are not as much intrigued by music that is not “banging” and loud were a little caught off guard. Some were a bit disappointed, but others were just surprised. Still, even though some audience members’ expectations were different, the room was still swallowed in applause at the finish.

I also think that the music selection was a hit or miss. Again, I appreciated the intricate pieces, but some of the seemingly slower ones that require a trained ear and a certain taste, such as the prayer bowls, caused the crowd to get a little restless. After a few minutes of what seems like random bell sounds to someone who doesn’t know the music or how the song is supposed to go, one can begin to feel like maybe they just don’t understand percussion the way they’re supposed to. However, for those who were very interested in music, the song choice that Third Coast Percussion made gave us a taste of the versatility of percussion. The visuals they projected onto a screen almost hypnotized me, and in combination with the music they were playing, I was sent to another world. I believe that Third Coast Percussion achieved their aim to show that percussion quartets aren’t as crazy as they may seem. Additionally, they successfully demonstrated John Cage’s principle that all sound is music. It was still a quite refined performance, not just trying to make loud noises to get people to listen. The different effects and changes in the music definitely kept the crowd intrigued for the most part.

Even though the musical concept and literature was quite advanced for some of the audience who may have just been there to “see something cool”, overall, Third Coast Percussion’s performance was stellar. The passion that could be seen in each and every one of the performers made for a moving immersion into the world of percussion music. After getting to see Lyrical Geometry, there is something to be said about the world of percussion, and that is that the versatility of the instruments makes for an exciting journey through the world of sound and music.