July 29, 2009

Oberlin Percussion Institute 2009....

I went to the OPI summer camp in the hopes of learning a bit more about percussion in classical music. There is no doubt that I learned many important things about marimba, timpani, snare drum, triangle, etc. in a classical context. What I also learned quite quickly was exactly how much everybody else already knew about such things. It was overwhelming to encounter so much knowledge among my peers in so short a time. Partially this just made me angry. But fortunately it also encouraged me to work harder. At least it will at some point.
The campus is a beautifully empty place in the summertime, the few students that wander here and there in small groups don't exactly translate to the surprising amount of activities that are actually going on when school is not in session. Walking a couple long blocks down from our dorm, plus jaywalking diagonally across a four way intersection got us to the conservatory every day. This was a trip we made several times within a 24-hour period, having to return for lunch, dinner, etc. The main percussion studio was where we all spent most of our time, a cavernous rectangular space with a towering, messy set of cabinets at the far end that block the view of what is probably more space. The room is a percussion mecca withing a fortress of classical music at its finest. It houses at least two massive five octave marimbas, several xylophones, sets of bells, hanging chimes, bass drums, snare drums, several timpani sets, a vibraphone or two, and who knows what else. Every day, the folding chairs were arranged in some different configuration to accommodate whatever clinic or master class we would be attending that day. Everything from the style of four mallet marimba to the precise art of the triangle, that room was clearly where it all goes down. And I must admit that the majority of these classes were very interesting and much more in-depth than what I am used to. I rarely have the chance to study technique used specifically for orchestral snare, and the man who taught us, Tom Freer, was exceptionally skilled and undeniably engaging. I had a great deal to learn from him, and even more to practice afterward. But as all you drum set players should understand, I don't often practice or perform while standing up, which is the most common method among orchestral percussionists. Even his discussion on the precise art of the triangle (as I mentioned earlier) were very enlightening. The other teachers provided equally unusual and useful insight. The head of the percussion department lead a cymbal clinic and a demonstration of putting a calf head on a drum, among other things. There was also a timpani expert who assisted many of us with the technique used to get the best sound from these large, expressive instruments. All of this was infused with eccentric stories about the escapades of the teacher and/or their colleagues, which were always amusing and mostly related to what was being taught. And you cant end an experience like this without having your mind blown, it just wouldn't be right. There was an end-of-the-week performance given by Percussion group Cincinnati, of which one of our teachers is a member. The night's repertoire consisted of pieces that ranged from cheerful and melodic folk songs played on the marimba to their rock solid conclusion which John Cage's Third Construction, which was so intricate, complicated and precise that it absolutely must be heard to be believed. If brains could explode, my brain would have definitely exploded by the end of the week.

1 comment:

steven said...

did you know that Dave Brubeck played two concerts at Oberlin and they were recorded and are available as cds.