Mary Beth Bjork
The beating of drums, cans, and high pitched shrills from bows resonated through the Alumni Recital Hall on Friday, March 30.
Music faculty member Christopher Swist directed the ensemble work. The performance started with “Percussion Quartet,” including “Introduction,” “Song,” “Recitative,” “Monsters,” and “Dance” by Lukas Foss.
The musicians who played were Kenny Ballou, Felix Seidel, Josh Hanauer, and Jeff Hall. “Percussion Quartet” was followed by “Implosion” by Mantle Hood, performed by Corey Liss, James Shea, Adam Rhan, and John Ketelhut. The next percussion piece was “Third Construction” by John Cage. Guest conductor Murray Mast took a handle on the baton and lead the performance group of Tim Stone, Chris Meyer, George Robinson, and Travis Corcoran.
“Percussion Quartet No. 1” by Christopher Swist was played by Josh Brennan, Maria Franciosa, Tim Stone, and Aaron Taub.
The performance concluded with “Deep and Distant Thunder” by John Luther Adams. This piece featured drummers Jimmy Caltrider, Jim Tomaszewski, Travis Corcoran, and Sean St. Germain.
Composer, director, and professor, Christopher Swist, explained why he chose the specific artists work to have performed at the event.
Swist said, “With one exception, those are all pieces I have played before as a student and as a professional actually. They’re all pretty standard pieces. I’m not going to say that about my piece, although it has been played in Brazil and at WestPoint. Queens College just recently did it.”
Swist also said, “I’d never subject my students to my own repertoire unless I felt that the publication was something I felt they were interested in doing.”
Along with featuring his own work, Swist explained why he chose to feature the work of Lukas Foss. Swist said, “Lukas Foss is a Buffalo connection for me. I grew up in Buffalo, and then I went there for my undergraduate, and he was a notable conductor in the Buffalo Philharmonic and not just a conductor but a composer, and a great piano player.” He also said he wanted to bring that “hometown” feel to the concert.
Swist explained the composition process he went through. “This one piece of mine was written around six years ago. A friend of mine who is now in the West Point band,” he said. “We’ve been friends actually since undergrad. So originally I hadn’t written any quartets at that point, and he asked me if I wanted to do something and in the percussion world that’s not uncommon for someone to say, ‘Hey, I’d like to have a piece.’ So that was six years ago,” Swist added.
Swist continued, “They played it and it got published by a firm out of New Jersey called Key Board Percussion Publications it got reviewed in a few trade magazines.” He said, “Some other schools play it so I felt comfortable enough to throw it in our repertoire, and the students seem to like it, so I hope it goes well.”
Junior Sean St. Germain performed in the Percussion Ensemble. He said, “I like a lot of the music but a lot of it has its kind of experimental elements. [It is] kind of strange sounding, and it is kind of cool.”
St. Germain also said, “I think audiences do not always reach that because they will just sit there and be like what’s going on what’s happening. I’d like it if more people could walk away like understanding what a percussion ensemble does and how many different ways we can make an instrument sound and that kind of thing.”
Jeff Hall also performed in the ensemble work. Hall said, “A lot of people come into a percussion ensemble expecting loud noises. The message is that there is such a different array of sounds that we can create it.”
Hall also said, “[It] can be a soft sound, it can be such wide sounds. We did a lot of bowing in pieces. I don’t think a lot of people know about that, so it’s just kind of getting the expression of percussion out to people that don’t play, which is nice.”
Senior Tim Stone said, “Dynamics are important because too often drummers come out and just crank and no one wants to listen to that. The different levels and volumes is what makes the music colorful. I really tried to focus on that and I think that came across well. I think we all focused on that.”
Other musical qualities played a role with the ensemble works. Swist said, “In programming, I think you try to find pieces that people will hear and not be taken aback by. Something so weird or a-tonal, but at the same time enough will be there that it’s modern, but there’s enough there to be interested in. The last for example, by John Luther Adams is just inspired by his beginnings as a rock drummer, so it’s really raw, primal drumming and it’s something that any fan of rock and roll will dig even if it’s just drums.”
Delivering the musical qualities of the ensemble work required practice. Stone said, “This semester more than any other out of the eight concerts I’ve done, it’s definitely way more intense. We had rehearsals every Wednesday morning for the John Cage piece we played.”
Stone also said, “That was a really intensive piece to learn. We did have an extra three-hour rehearsal with everything on top of that, but it was great. It was definitely a different repertoire than I was used to playing. It was fun; it was a different change of pace.”
With this being a different pace and new to some students, this impacted the message portrayed to the audience.
Senior Chris Meyer said, “If I had to communicate anything to the audience, it would be that these are instruments and this is music it’s just not what we’re used to its not top 40 and it’s not even Beethoven it’s less approachable than that but it could definitely be performed and there is the high standard.”
Mary Beth Bjork can be contacted at