All rhythm, no blues: MSFO to perform percussion pieces

Video by Roxana Pop

Rhythm, by its nature, is sudden and infectious. In action, it entices then entrances. In movement, it quickens and slows pace, nods heads, sways limbs and clings to tapping feet.

Since the beginning of humankind, rhythm has set the beat of beings. Today, the percussion students of the Music School Festival Orchestra continue the tradition.

“They’re going to see and hear things they’ve never heard before,” said Brant Blackard, a second-year master’s student at Eastman School of Music. “It’s new music that is really going to connect to people. There are two instruments [the voice and the beat] that are in every single place. In every country in the world people sing and in every single place and civilization in the world people hit things and that’s percussion. It’s an inherently relatable art — playing percussion — and I think everyone can love it.”

At 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, audiences will feel the boom from African drums and catch the groove from Argentina in the Student Percussion Recital.

With an array of instruments and a repertoire infused with contemporary pieces, Michael Burritt, one of the world’s leading percussion soloists and Eastman School of Music Percussion Chair, said that today’s recital will open audiences up to an evening of fun.

“There are parts of the concert that will connect to the audience like any other music will, and then other parts will be very different,” Burritt said. “They’re going to hear a lot of instruments they haven’t heard before, which is always interesting. Percussion is a very visual art. We’re moving and it’s very physical. Watching percussionists perform is very fun.”

Kreable Young | Staff Photographer
Sarah Gartin rehearses Tuesday in Bellinger Hall. Gartin and the other Music School Festival Orchestra percussion students will perform in a recital at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

The young music virtuosos will charm performance- goers with Marc Mellits’ “Gravity,” Alejandro Vinao’s “Estudios de Frontera,” Ivan Trevino’s “Catching Shadows,” Steve Reich’s Drumming Part 1, Aurél Hollo’s “Jose beFORe John 5” and Burritt’s original composition, “Blue Ridge.” Burritt said this afternoon’s repertoire will captivate audiences in many ways, whether they are familiar with the music or not.

“This music and the drumming gets right inside you,” Burritt said. “Even if they haven’t heard the music they can still connect to it because there’s an olive branch in each piece. I think the music will hit everyone differently. Some people will find it fascinating because the sounds are new. Some will find it fascinating because the musical language is new. Some will find it fascinating because watching it is new. Watching the students, the energy and what they can accomplish is always exciting.”

Blackard said what most excites him about percussion is the variety of the instruments and the opportunity to explore.

“I love being able to play a drum set and play keyboards,” Blackard said. “We’re always finding new instruments. You’ll hear things at today’s concert that you wouldn’t even think was a percussion instrument, but we get to explore it and play all those things.”

Burritt, who will perform one piece today with his students, said that it is their excitement to explore and energy that make him a better musician as well.

“One thing I like about teaching and performing is that it is a very symbiotic relationship,” Burritt said. “I love to perform and write music but I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much if I didn’t have the students to share it with and to have their energy helping push me forward. I like to think that I push them but their energy, enthusiasm, work ethic and their desire helps keep me enthusiastic, too.”

Proceeds from today’s recital will benefit the Chautauqua Women’s Club Scholarship Fund.