Seven (R)evolutions in Music:
Real and Virtual

 

 

 

 

Mini-Music  Q & A

The Evolution of the Percussion Ensemble: A Striking Story
Prof. Aiyun Huang and Fabrice Marandola

1 – In your opinion, when does sound become music?

During the 20th century, the question of the limit between musical sound and noise has been permanently challenged, because of 1/ the evolution from a classical way of thinking tonality (i.e. the hierarchical organization of pitches within the musical scale) towards experimental ways of thinking it, 2/ the development of electric and electronic devices to produce sounds, bringing to life an incredible collection of sounds which had never been heard before, 3/ the discover of music and musical instruments from all over the world, in use in cultures where the criteria defining the appreciation of music may be extremely different from those in Western culture.

Nowadays, we could claim that any sound can become music: the key factor is the organization of the sounds. Music does not depend only on the intrinsic sonic qualities of a given sound; it is based on the organization of sounds together, this organization being based on criteria such as global form and syntax, pitch registers, categories of timbres, rhythmic and metric, etc.

2 – With so many percussion instruments available for an ensemble, is there a sequence to learning all the instruments in order to become a percussionist?

There are different approaches to this matter, depending on the teaching tradition and/or the particular curriculum designed by a teacher. For example in France, the traditional way was to begin on drums (namely the snare-drum), with or without some basics on drumset, before introducing the keyboards (generally, the xylophone played with two mallets), then the timpani (you need to be tall enough to play on them!). The vibraphone and the marimba were introduced later, because they are often performed with four mallets (two in each hand) and the vibraphone has a pedal to let ring or to cut off the resonance of the bars, which brings another parameter to master. Some traditions tend to focus more on the marimba (played with two mallets) at the beginning, but the general tendency remains to start with rudiments on the snare-drum. The auxiliary instruments are introduced in parallel, when required in orchestral or ensemble parts.

3 – Is there a specific style of music where percussion instruments would not play a role?

In our Western culture, drums and percussion were often associated to dance accompaniment and rhythmic support for melodic instruments, and to military purpose (march, funerals, fight). Their role started to evolve during the 19th century to become, in the current century, treated in contemporary ensemble as any of the other component of the ensemble (winds and strings). Therefore, the limitation of use of percussion instruments is rather a composer's decision than a cultural consensus ruling over possible restrictions within given circumstances. It should be noted that such rules exist in different cultures around the world.

 

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