blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

More northern music, and then some percussion, too

At the NAC the hugely successful Ideas of North festival lasted for 11 days. Chris and I went to another free concert in the series at midday last Friday, five members of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra playing wind instruments at the bottom of The Staircase on which we sat, next to a four year old boy who behaved attentively throughout. His young mother was Asian and the child's solemnity and intense concentration reminded me of our grandson Eddie. After the concert I saw his mother showing him the instruments at close quarters, left beside the performers' music stands. What excellent parenting!

The music we heard was all Finnish and unfortunately I didn't manage to record the composers or titles of the pieces that we heard. The first was "new" music with strange, certainly northern, sound effects, made by the performers doing strange things with their instruments, tapping and blowing through them in unconventional ways, also making vocal noises with their mouths and throats and hands, concentrating very hard on the sheet music in front of them. Some of it ressembled Inuit throat singing; perhaps the natives of Lapland do something similar. Then followed two four-movement, dissonant quintets by modern composers which was impressive, and sometimes beautiful, though anything but easy-listening, and for an encore, they played a short piece by Sibelius which came across as quite old-fashioned, after all this.

On Wednesday (Oct. 11th) I also attended an unusual half hour concert in the DOMS series by a pair of percussionists, Andrew Harris and Zac Pulak, who have also performed at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. They took turns to introduce what they were playing. We were told that the drum set and marimba were not as old as some other instruments, therefore not so much music has been written for them.

They began with a South American danza for the snare and the tom-tom drum. "Next up", as one of them said, was an arrangement for marimbas of a Bagpipe by Bela Bartok, originally composed for two violins, therefore more melodic! We heard that marimbas can be played using hard or soft sticks, and that the softer kind gave a more lyrical effect, as in the following duet, by Tom Gauger. Even JS Bach's harpsichord music was possible on this instrument (pause, while the right sticks were searched for). Then we returned to the un-pitched percussion, hearing a syncopated number by Joe Tompkins, called In the Pocket, in which the snare drum was beaten with wrapped drumsticks, for a more muted effect.

Sitting near the front gave me a good view of what the performers were doing. From the back of the church it wouldn't have been half so interesting.

The next item, Triplets, by George Green, was a fast piece, ragtime style, incorporating bells, blowers, rattles, blocks, cymbals, etc. Great fun. They followed it with a Xylophone Polka, with both players on one marimba, using a variety of (five) sticks. Then came another duet that added some other "accessory percussion" --- a tambourine and castanets, banged against the knee.

Finally we heard a clever arrangement by the men on stage of familiar military field music from 18th century America (such as Yankee Doodle Dandy), originally meant for a fife and drum combination, the drummer here sometimes hitting his sticks together as well as banging his drums.

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