Rice University here in Houston is a very prestigious school in itself; its Shepherd School of Music is one of the top music schools in the country. They put on a bunch of free concerts, and I recently (Oct. 16) went with a friend to see a percussion concert in the Alice Pratt Brown Hall:
It was an amazing set of performances. There was a lovely diversity of instruments and styles. Now, I’m no musical scholar, so these are my amateur’s impressions…
The first piece was “Varied Trio” by Lou Harrison (three parts: Bowl Bells, Gending, and Dance). Two percussionists switched around between playing bowls, xylophone and marimba, accompanied by a violin. I was really there for the xylophone and marimba; I love the clear, pure, resonant tones they make. And the bowls were very interesting, too. I liked how the violin was mostly plucked rather than played with the bow; it behaved more like a percussion instrument that way.
Next two young ladies performed Marcel Tournier’s “Promenade a l’Automne” on marimba and cello. This was a truly amazing and beautiful piece of music and far too short! I wanted much more of them!
Bela Bartok’s “Duets for Two Violins” (Pillow Dance, Ruthenian Dance, Arabian Dance) was performed by one violin and a marimba, and the marimba stands in beautifully for the second violin, as far as I can tell. I liked that each movement had its own sound to it. While a violin makes lovely music I really love what the marimba brings. The notes it creates are like liquid or glass, so round and perfect.
John Cage’s “Credo in US” was the evening’s total departure. I would call this piece avant-garde, although I’m not sure of the technical correctness of the term – I’m no music student. It involved a piano, two percussionists playing a bunch of what seemed to be plain old tin cans, and a fourth student playing samples of recorded FM radio. Most odd and cacophonous; my immediate thought here was while Husband would not necessarily have enjoyed the earlier pieces – not enough metal – HERE was the metal; he’d be fine! It was a really, really fascinating and interesting piece. It was suspenseful; I was certainly not sure what was coming next and I’m not sure I would have noticed if one of the musicians had made a mistake. It reminded me somehow of Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Make of that what you will. But I mean all of it in the most positive way!
Next came a young lady on the marimba (or xylophone? I’m not sure I recall) accompanied by a French horn, and this was just so lovely! They played Verne Reynolds’s “Hornvibes” in three movements: Fantasy, Riffs, and Elegy. The first and third played with harmonics; my buddy Justin (my date for the evening, and a musician, so we’ll listen to him) said the timing was based on the intervals of the harmonics. The waves of sound were almost tactile; it was amazing.
“Birdsong” by Scott R. Harding was performed on marimba and alto sax, and was enjoyable and kind of jazzy (maybe that’s just the sax getting to me) but I think I was distracted by trying to find the titles of the three movements (Bird of a Feather, Flock Together; Kill Two Birds with One Stone; Early Bird Gets the Worm) in the music, which I couldn’t. Maybe I was being too literal.
Bernhard Heiden’s “Four Fancies” (in three movements, confusingly: Ostinato, Dialogue, and Coda) finished up the night with a xylophone, a marimba, and an electric bass, which was an interesting touch. I’m pretty familiar with the concept of the bass as a percussion instrument; this involved three instruments that are both percussive and melodic. I love that kind of playing around with the definitions.
My favorites pieces of the night were “Promenade a l’Automne” and “Hornvibes.” It was a very special evening; I need more music like this in my life. Best of all, these performances are free, you don’t have to dress up unless you want to , and just showing up helps local musical talent by showing support (and giving them an audience to practice any stage fright upon). Thanks Justin for accompanying me. I’ll be back for more!