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Percussion ensemble concert pleasantly surprises with interesting programming

The Concordia College Percussion Ensemble consists of musicians from all areas of the music department.

Most percussion instrumentalists have only four primary ways of communicating with audiences: dynamic level, rhythmic intrigue, tempo, and articulative ability. But, this doesn’t hinder performers’ abilities to allow for much diversity in performances, the creative programming or a concert. This was made very clear to me in the performance that members of the Concordia Percussion Ensemble and Viva Marimba gave this Saturday in Memorial Auditorium (MA) under the direction of David Eyler.

The concert started with an incredibly intriguing and up tempo performance of “Windows of the Maloca” by Jim Casella. In Casella’s program notes he writes that the piece is “a tribute to [his] time spent in the Amazon jungle of Peru.” Casella’s influence would have been apparent without the program notes as the Latin rhythms quite literally had me dancing in my seat. The members of the percussion ensemble were dancing right along with me and they shared their excitement for all of the audience to see. It worked and kept the audience on the edge of their seats for the entire first half of the concert. The ensemble was able to keep the attention of the audience due to fantastic playing, but also because of Eyler’s intelligent and interesting programming.

Here, I will say that in the middle of the concert Eyler spent a lot of time addressing the audience. It’s clear that this was done to give his players time to get set for the upcoming piece, but often times Eyler’s comments weren’t very helpful in connecting the audience to the next piece. Instead they outlined how Eyler himself first heard the piece, and although that’s interesting, I wish I could found this out from him individually instead of in a concert setting.

In spite of this, Eyler is still an amazing programmer and each piece that he put in to the first half of the concert was completely different than the one before it. “Institutionalized” by Josh Gottry was a piece featuring only four cajon players, “Memphis Stomp” was played by five exceptional keyboard percussionists and had me reminiscing, reflecting and swaying in my seat. Ending the first half was an absolutely amazing piece written by the late David Maslanka titled “Hurtling Through Space…at an unimaginable speed.” Maslanka’s piece was absolutely magnificent. “Hurtling” was based off of the idea that we as members of humanity are tiny and insignificant. I definitely felt that way as I listened to the massive sounds and all encompassing tones that the full percussion ensemble was producing. In the middle of the piece came a shockingly different piece of music that was almost hymn-like. I was thrilled by this sudden shift, and think that Eyler did an amazing job programming this at the end of the first half of the concert. The audience was given time to ponder and reflect before we were thrown back into more music in the second half.

In the second half of the concert, Eyler’s intense programming gave way to a more simple and pleasant style that balanced the serious thought provoking status of the first half. This was a very welcome shift, and helped the concert not feel like the almost two hour marathon that it was. Instead, I never felt the need to look at my watch, I was able to just enjoy every moment of the music making.

Most predominant in the second half were four Christmas arrangements by Richard C. Gipson that made me feel warm and full of cheer. “The Christmas Song” performed entirely by marimbas and vibraphones was something I never knew I wanted, but definitely needed in this bitter cold time of year. Concordia senior Natalie Fideler played a stunningly soothing vibraphone solo, and the supporting marimbas filled MA with a robust sound. My favorite part of this second half was here in the piece where a surprising, almost Caribbean, Christmas in the sand-esque rhythmic feel made the arrangement original and exciting to listen to.

The Concordia Percussion Ensemble gave an amazing performance this last weekend that featured thought provoking pieces and an incredibly balanced program from Dr. David Eyler. If you’re in need of a calming break from finals study I suggest you listen to the second half, and if you’re in need of music to stir up an existential crisis the first half may be exactly what you need. As usual, you can find a recording of the performance on the Concordia College UStream account.

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