Thursday, May 15, 2014

URSP Student Kevin Thompson Researches hot to Approach Writing Music for Keyboard Percussion Instruments

During my time studying music at George Mason, I’ve grown fond of performing new music. In particular, I love to work side by side with composers, and to have the chance to create a product that no audience in the world has been exposed to. However, as a percussionist, this collaborative effort often proves to be uniquely challenging; often students of composition are driven away from writing music for percussion instruments because of their lack of pitch. When they do choose to write for percussion, more often than not they choose pitched percussion instruments such as the vibraphone or marimba, whose keyboard-like quality presents familiarity. This, however, can lead to its own problems: while keyboard percussion instruments have a similar physical shape to other keyboard instruments like the piano, they are played very differently, and I find that often I’m given music that is simply impossible to play on the instrument, which can lead to countless edits and seemingly endless frustration when preparing for an upcoming performance.

My project focuses on the latter point, understanding how to approach writing music for keyboard percussion instruments. To accomplish this, I have gathered a group of GMU student composers, and commissioned them to write solo pieces for the marimba. On a week-to-week basis, they have been providing me with music, and together we have been exploring how to make their musical ideas work most effectively on my instrument. This back and forth between performers and composers is becoming more and more the norm in musical performance, and is certain to be a skill all of us will need down the road in our careers.

I have a total of five composers working with me on this project, including two undergraduates and three graduate students. They are Cooper Minnis, a Junior Music Composition major from St. Louis, Missouri; Laura O’Konski, a Junior Music Education major from Nokesville, Virginia; Adam Rothenberg, a Graduate Music Composition student from Centreville, Virginia; Ben Ryer, a Graduate Music Composition student from Fairfax, Virginia; and Andrew Cote, a doctoral Music Composition student from Nashua, New Hampshire. In addition, I am also composing a piece of my own, and these six new works for solo marimba will be premiered in a recital that will take place in the deLaski Performing Arts Building room 3001, at noon on Sunday, May 4, 2014. It promises to be a great show!