Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mobius Percussion and their performance of Thank You (___) by Jason Treuting

After reintroducing myself to Drumchattr with last week’s blog entry, I decided to peruse the site once again this week. I found an article written by Dave Gerhart, percussion instructor at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at California State University. This article was about the chamber percussion group, Mobius Percussion and their video premiere of Jason Treuting’s Thank You (___).  Mobius Percussion consists of Mika Godbole, Yumi Tamashiro, Frank Tyl, and Jeremy Smith. I had the pleasure of meeting both Yumi and Mika when I attended the So Percussion Summer Institute where they were So’s interns. I can’t express enough how much I learned from the members of So Percussion, Mika, Yumi, and the other attendees when I participated in the two week program. 


I was very eager to read Dave’s critique on the new piece. He explained that Jason Trueting, a member of So Percussion, wrote  ThankYou (___) as a performance art snare drum quartet, utilizing the snare drum in unconventional ways. As I continued reading, Dave had mentioned controversy,  negative reactions, and 27 “thumbs down” on youtube.  I then immediately thought, “What is going on?” I’ve seen two out of the four percussionists live, and they are quite amazing musicians. I’ve also been coached by Jason at the So Percussion Summer Institute and have heard a number of his other compositions. Heck, all four members of So Percussion just premiered a piece that involved breaking twigs on stage with the LA Phil and Maestro Dudamel

As musicians, there have been many times when we’ve heard someone make remarks such as, “classical music is so lame.” “I just can’t understand it.” “This stuff is just so boring.” Maybe it is because I’m a percussionist, but I’ve never imagined someone thinking that percussion can fall into the “Lame” category.

Hearbroken, I went directly to youtube to take a listen to theVic Firth  produced video that was videographed by another alumn of the So Percussion Summer Institute, Evan Chapman. I thought it was amazing. The vocals added an extra texture that I really found interesting. I loved how the composer thought of whistling and buzzing into the bottom of the snare drum head to produce harmonics.  The whole thing was great and really inventive in my opinion.

I have posted some of the negative comments below:
“What a waist of such nice snare drums…”

 “Why would they insist on whistling if they are never on key? Don’t get it.”

“Okay you guys just lost a subscriber if I want to see the drum corps videos I will search it up bye”

“Plenty of people think lots of things are good that aren't, as they're perfectly entitled to. I personally don't find the use of space very musical and while there are plenty of creative ideas, the execution is lackluster. Why would I get excited about 4 players like this when I could hear 1 Bobby McFerrin or Zakir Hussain. Maybe an unfair comparison...but I wouldn't start whistling into my snare drum until I knew there was nothing left to accomplish on the head of it.”

Jason retaliated very eloquently, replying:
“Hello. I'm a bit late to the party. I wrote this piece, I play in So Percussion and had the extreme pleasure to get to know and work with Mobius through So’s Summer Institute we have each summer.  I really love what they did with my piece and had the chance to be at the video session and make the collages that are on the wall behind each player.

I really appreciate you all watching the video and sharing thoughts- even the more aggressive commentary.  I guess “garbage” can now make my quote sheet.

The percussion community is generally a really open minded place and it is wonderful that Vic Firth puts up videos of composers that span really different styles.  To me, it is pretty obvious that Mobius is playing the piece at an extremely high level and I feel no need to reply to any of those comments.   But I did think I would put my thoughts out on the compositional commentary/criticism and share what I was thinking.

I am always happy when someone has a response to my music, good or bad.  I think that means I did my job of putting my ideas out there.  I would never think that everyone would like what I make.  I don’t write “popular” music, so that isn’t even my goal.  One of my goals is to raise questions and it sounds like maybe I did that for some folks.

It seems like maybe some viewers read pretention into the sounds I used, like the coins and the humming/whistling.  Maybe that’s because the piece is framed as a snare drum piece, so whistling or humming feels out of place.  One purpose was to make the harmonics of the drum sing or to get the snares to rattle in the freer sections and listen to those sounds collide as a collage of sorts.  I find those sounds really beautiful and I guess I tend to leave it there.  Any sound is always available to use as percussionist in the lineage that I am coming out of.

When I write music, I think in layers.  With the snare groove built up, I needed something to happen with longer durations on top and I chose 3 sounds- a whistle, a high hum and a low hum.  If anyone is interested in seeing a score or seeing how the piece was constructed, let me know. I’ll send some tidbits your way.  It is made with some flexibility built in and I think that can be real freeing as a performer.  As someone who performs a lot, I find lots of joy in making music that way.

Anyhow, thank you for watching it.  And thank you to Mobius and Evan Chapman for making it sound and look so good. “

A number of these comments believed that the performance was not “good” music because of their musical preferences.  One commenter mentioned unsubscribing from the Vic Firth youtube page and will find their Drum Corps videos elsewhere. Another person wondered what the purpose of a snare drum quartet would be if listeners had the option of listening to tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain

It seems to me that most of the comments are from percussionists of some variety. I felt very sad that a supposedly open community could be so harsh and judgmental in regards to different art forms of the same family. Shouldn’t all musicians support one and other? Can’t there be a place and purpose for all different types of music in our society?

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