A rousing performance by the UMBC Percussion Ensemble, directed by Tom Goldstein, proved that percussion can do more than make toes tap. The eleven member ensemble played a variety of instruments ranging from timpanis and sheet metal to marimbas, all while clad in Hawaiian t-shirts.
Entitled “Aloha! AND Happy Mother’s Day (in Mexico),” the ensemble drew upon many different composers and styles of music in their setlist. The night began with a dark stage and a single lit candle for their first piece “Crescendo.” Small bells eventually grew to a cacophony of sound that rattled the Linehan Concert Hall, proving true to the piece’s title.
‘Towers’ produced a similar effect, creating a more industrial sound like that of a busy city by using all sorts of metal percussion. To an untrained ear, the piece was deafening and unclear in its meaning and purpose, but upon reflection, is was meant to convey the chaos and sounds of city life.
The piece used a multitude of instruments, some conventional like marimbas and drum-sets, but others like playing a bike tire or a sheet of metal with a violin bow. Some performers even used their mouths to make sounds, some whistled, and some plucked piano strings.
Other pieces, such as “Soweto Stomp,” “Bis,” and “5/4 Joe” radiated a purely jazzy feel. The use of different drums, a bass, an army of marimbas, and other easily identifiable instruments created easy to follow, toe-tapping beats for the audience. These upbeat pieces were refreshing after the confusion and chaos of the previous pieces.
The finale was a stunning performance with each ensemble member playing a different drum, all synchronized perfectly, in a piece called “Alone or Together.” It was hard not to notice how each drum had a different tone and pitch, allowing for there to be an unconventionally complex, yet unifying sound.
Overall, the performances were beautifully executed down to every single beat and the energy of the players was felt through their precise, yet meaningful execution of each piece. Ranging from 1968 to 1995, each piece was interestingly unique against each other and the ensemble knew just how to highlight that with their playing.
The ensemble itself was actually able to rehearse and work with the composer of ‘Bis’, Riccardo Piacentini from Italy. Goldstein announced this before the piece was performed and explained how Piacentini had helped the ensemble understand his music better and perform it more expressively.
The night was an excellent exploration of the massive variety and capacity of music that can be performed. The UMBC Percussion Ensemble proved that percussion can be just as melodic and expressive as any other type of music, which is a refreshing notion to any music-lover.