Jim Lange Published

Icy Music


Percussionists- let’s tip our hats to them.

Drummers, per se, have been the butt of many a joke over the years, but the percussionist, a slightly more subtle animal, has to be given kudos. They have been a major force in moving music forward since the early part of the 20th century.

SIDEBAR: A drummer, in the most confined definition, is someone who plays a kit, a drum set. A percussionist, by my own definition, is someone who plays a wide variety of percussion instruments. That's the distinction for me. No emails, thanks.

You see, no matter how beautiful and convincing a musical construct is, say baroque music, there always lies ahead an era which contains rebellion against or a deconstruction of that style. Each successive musical era turns its back on the previous, in other words.

Once tonality had been stretched by Ravel and then further by Wagner, and then eventually broken by Schoenberg, what was there left to do? As John Cage said in his magnificently prophetic book, Silence, composers were going to move away from keyboard-based composing and towards percussion. Rhythm was now going to be front and center and indeed it has been.

Here we are, almost 14 years into the new millennium and music is alive and well. Watch these young percussionists make music with lake ice.

Or this piece by Steve Reich which uses repetition as a propulsion forward, as harmonic stasis, and as a way for canonic (echoing) melodies to float above. Brilliant!

How about John Cage’s use of natural objects to create an aquatic sound world?