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  • Writer's pictureNathan Coles

Insights into Multiple Percussion Performances

insights into multiple percussion performances

This blog post was initially published by Black Swamp Percussion as part of the educational article series in 2016, now reformatted for the Black Swamp Blog.

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Meet The Author:

Joseph Gramley

GRAMMY award winner Joseph Gramley (Black Swamp Artist Endorser), acclaimed by The New York Times as “brilliant,” is a versatile percussionist and founding member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silkroad Ensemble. He performs with Organized Rhythm, The Knights, and in dynamic solo concerts. Gramley has released two solo albums, American Deconstruction and Global Percussion, and toured globally with the Silkroad Ensemble, collaborating with renowned musicians and appearing on eight albums. He has performed with prestigious orchestras and artists, recorded music for PBS’s 'Vietnam' documentary, and joined Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music faculty in 2019. Born in Oregon in 1970, he studied at the University of Michigan and the Juilliard School.


Multiple Percussion Repertoire

Just as the solo multiple-percussion repertoire has increased exponentially since 1970, so have the performance challenges. Thanks to the explosion in the literature, younger and younger players are taking on multiple percussion works, and that’s great. But I’d like to address some of the hurdles that less experienced players have to face. To consider touring and stage logistics, let’s select one composition and examine the set-up and instrument selection.

"Cold Pressed" by Dave Hollinden is a hugely popular piece for 19 percussion instruments that’s widely performed and studied at the high-school, university and professional levels. For reference, listen to my own recording of Cold Pressed.

In fact, I’ve changed the set-up over the years in order to improve both touring logistics and stage movement. Audiences can become impatient with set-up changes that take too long, so I decided to put all of my multiple percussion set-ups on multi racks. When you have to set the piece up quickly and move the set-up in the course of the performance, using this rack system can really save time and hassle. The same is true when you’re just packing up and getting back on the road. I have found that the round racks work best for me. Taking time to customize your rack system will pay off in the long run.

Multiple Percussion Instrument Selection

black swamp temple block set

For Cold Pressed, I use both the Black Swamp Bentwood Temple Blocks and the Black Swamp Birch Tone Blocks (no longer in production). I use these blocks at different parts of the piece, for both balance and orchestration. For the louder, more rocking sections, I use the Birch Tone Blocks. For the middle section, which is given the notation “Dark, Ritualistic,” I use the Bentwood Temple Blocks. This allows for a change in timbre between the two sections and makes for better dynamic balance with different instrument groups. Another reason I use the Birch Tone Blocks is the mounting system. It can seamlessly integrate them with a multi-percussion rack; as the score requires, I can take off three of the blocks and mount wood blocks and cow bells in their place. Since each block has its own clamp, you can use some or all of the blocks in any configuration you choose.

Editor's note: Consider the Black Swamp RecPlate for an all-in-one mounting solution for your Multiple Percussion set up.

black swamp percussion recplate

My woodblocks for Cold Pressed are the MWB2 Medium and the MWB3 Small woodblocks.

For the tambourine on this piece I like the new Black Swamp Resin Fiber Tambourine (no longer in production). It can really stand up the beating it gets from mallets and sticks during Cold-Pressed!

My snare drum of choice is the Black Swamp Multisonic. I can fine-tune it to any concert-hall situation and get the benefit of its amazing sensitivity for both loud and soft passages.

Often, in a multiple percussion work, we have to learn a new notation system for each piece, but in Cold Pressed, Hollinden made the inspired choice to use what is known as “timbre-staff notation.” There is no correspondence between notated and sounding pitch, but the piece is certainly a lot easier to read this way: each instrument is assigned a note on the staff, and this how I set it up. The “white notes” would be the floor tom, snare drum, bongos, temple blocks, high wood block, high cow bell and high crotale. The “black notes” would be the mounted tom, tambourine, two cow bells, low wood block and low crotale.

I hope this gives some insight to the logistics and performance choices associated with multiple percussion repertoires


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