We've seen some weird/unusual stuff in the compositions we have performed over the years. Many of those unusual things translate into difficult things because they are things that we never expected to have to do. Here's our short list of the most unusual or difficult things we had to learn in order to perform some pieces.
(Composition - why it was unusual/difficult)
Ken Ueno building - Its not often that percussionists have to learn how to play non-percussion related instruments. But in Ken's piece I had to learn how to play the flute. At the beginning and the end of the work the percussionist plays a long tone on a flute headjoint for a minimum of 20 seconds. Definitely no small feat! After taking some lessons with Meerenai and putting in some practice time on my breath control I have a new appreciation for flutists.
Sidney Hodkinson Kerberos - This is a piece for solo snare drum and voice, that requires the percussionist to simultaneously speak and play. Performing the proper inflection of each word while coordinating my snare drum part was definitely a new experience. Combined with the aggressive nature of the text and aesthetic required a level of commitment to the performance that embodied the spirit of Kerberos, the multi-headed dog that guards the underworld in Greek mythology.
Mark Applebaum Straitjacket - The last movement, Taquinoid, requires each percussionist to complete a portion of a mural on a large piece of paper. The music is comprised of short rhythmic measures which correlate to the strokes of the pen on paper. Each percussionist plays unison rhythm, but with varying shapes that when you reach the end of the movement creates one large mural thats been drawn over 5 individual pieces of paper. Definitely check out a video of it on youtube if you've never seen it!
Janice Misurell-Mitchell The Art of Noise - As a percussionist, I'm often asked to play a variety of instruments in one piece. It's one of my favorite parts of playing percussion, the variety of instruments. Janice takes the art of variety (see what I did there) to a whole new level, in this one piece I play 38 different instruments over a12-minute work. Needless to say, the "choreography" of moves to each instrument was just as crucial as learning all the notes.
George Crumb Music for a Summer Evening - In the 2nd movement, entitled "wanderer-fantasy" both percussionists play slide whistles into the piano strings with the pedal depressed, creating an ethereal and dream-like atmosphere. Crumb creates a stunning texture but the difficulty is that the slide whistles parts are melodic with specific pitch and rhythm that interact to create various dyads. We had to mark on the slide whistle where our starting pitch was and then use our ears to correctly find each successive pitch. Glad I paid attention in aural skills class!
(Composition - why it was unusual/difficult)
Cornelius Boots Chthonic Flute Suite - The 3rd movement of this piece requires that the flutist playing the 1st flute part blow across what I like to call the butt end of the flute in the style of a ney and change pitches by depressing the keys in the foot joint and body of the flute. (!!!) It's genius, fun, effective, and really hard to get a consistently good sound from the very first note.
Ivan Trevino Things We Dream About - When Ivan asked me if I'd be cool with playing a little bit of drums on this piece, I said, "of course!" I said to myself, "how hard could it be?" Although the drum part for the flutist in this piece is rudimentary, it was a major challenge to keep a steady beat and actually learn a completely new instrument. This piece inspired me to take drum lessons. (Chris played all the drum parts when we recorded this piece!)
Ian Dicke Chaper One, Page One - This is a great piece for one flutist with a lot of looping and singing. The reason why I include this piece on this list is because I'm not a good singer. The flutist has to actually sing, for real. Not into the flute for a sound effect, but actually sing words in beautiful phrases. For someone who has never had a singing lesson, this is a major challenge.
Janice Misurell-Mitchell The Art of Noise - This was the first piece I've had to learn that combined many tricky aspects of performing contemporary classical music: most of the extended flute techniques, playing percussion instruments, and learning to perform while wearing a headset microphone.
Michael Gordon Yo Shakespeare - Both of the flute parts in the piece double on pan pipes. The pan pipe parts are really fast and it's very difficult to play on one intact actual tune-able pan pipe set. And, of course, I had zero actual pan pipe experience other than messing around on them now and then. I think this was the first time that I had to make instruments for a piece. I took a couple cheap bamboo pan pipe sets that I bought a long time ago and disassembled them, reassembled into useful pitch groups, and enlisted the help of my husband and his Dremel tool to cut the pipes into the correct frequencies.
What are some of the unusual things you've had to do in order to perform a piece? Let us know in the comments!