East Carolina University’s School of Music (SoM) will hold its annual Percussion Ensemble concert on Oct. 7 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Fletcher Music Hall and will present pieces that range back from the time period of Johann Sebastian Bach, to pieces that have been composed within the last few years.
SoM music professor Jonathan Wacker said the concert will be performed in front of an audience in the “reverse theater in the round,” where the audience sits in the center and the ensemble surrounds them. He said this was created to make it easier to transition from one stage set up to the next, the audience simply has to turn their chairs.
“They (percussion students) are working very, very hard to pull it all together and perform some very strange and interesting pieces, we always try to perform a complete wide range of styles of music,” Wacker said. “The students practice to learn the techniques necessary to play these pieces on their own practice time.”
Students were given the music to begin preparation at the beginning of the semester, Wacker said. They practice together two days a week and students also take their own time to practice in order to be as prepared as possible for the concert, he said.
Compared to last year, Wacker said the biggest difference was not being able to have an audience present. Throughout COVID-19, the percussion ensemble never went virtual because of how difficult it would be to practice without the other players present, he said. He said they were able to practice together at normal times as long as they were properly spaced apart and masked.
“One of the most important parts of playing in an ensemble is learning to listen to the other players and interact with those people in real time. That is completely impossible when you just record it in your bedroom and send in the recording,” Wacker said. “Which makes the whole effort pretty much useless when you’re recording and sending it in.”
Alvin Taylor, a first year graduate student and percussion performance major, said he enjoys the fact that these performances are all percussion instruments because percussionists are given more creativity with their pieces compared to playing with an entire orchestra.
Taylor has played for five years in the percussion ensemble as a part of his undergraduate degree, and he is now back for his master’s, making a total of six years so far as a part of the ensemble. He said he plays in the ensemble and assists with equipment and he hopes to be able to do some conducting as well next semester. In the future, he said his goal is to teach percussion at a college and play professional gigs on the side.
“In the percussion ensemble we really just get to like, play percussion, and come together and make a lot of music out of a lot of different instruments so, it’s more engaging than larger ensembles,” Taylor said.
This year the ensemble was able to bring back the steel pan ensemble, which is normally a big part of the concert that they were unable to include in last year’s performance when the ensemble was unable to get a hold of the people they needed in order to perform with that ensemble.
Taylor said it is fun to prepare for the concert because each player is given an individual piece that they practice on their own time, then when the whole ensemble practices together on Mondays and Wednesdays, they are all able to hear how each individual part plays a role in the entire performance.
“We come together in class on Monday and Wednesday to put our parts together and see how the piece works and see how our parts play off of other people’s parts,” Taylor said. “It’s really fun, it’s normally a lot of trios and quartets, so like, a really small number of players, each player has a really big part in each piece.”
Ronn Pifer, who plays with the ensemble as a self-claimed non-traditional student who decided to go back to school, has been with the percussion ensemble for three years now and said they are all working very hard for this performance.
“We have some very difficult pieces that you cannot sight read,” Pifer said. “You have to practice hours and hours and memorize many different sections of it, so it’s difficult in that there’s a lot of extra work and preparation that goes into this performance.”
The percussion ensemble is a very close group of people that works and functions as a family unit, Pifer said. Through their tight-knit community, these percussionists are able to work through difficult pieces of music together in order to create a one-of-a-kind concert for both the players and the audience, he said.
“I would invite everyone to come down and open your minds to different types of music, you know, it’s very interesting to listen to,” Pifer said.