Bachovich Music Publications

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I am pleased to announce several new compositions recently published by Bachovich Music Publications. Bachovich was founded by NYC percussionist Andrew Beall. You can view their extensive collection of cutting-edge compositions for percussion at their website, www.bachovich.com. Future blogs will discuss details of individual pieces with video/audio samples.

Andrew Beall

Andrew Beall

Hand Drums – Rhythmic Journey Series

Bachovich Rhythmic Journey 1 COVERBachovich Rhythmic Journey 2 COVERBachovich Rhythmic Journey 3 COVER

Hand Drums – Other Works

Bachovich Kirina Dreams COVERBachovich Merck’s Tattoo COVERBachovich Maqsumed COVER

 

Mallet Ensembles

 Bachovich Danse Macabre COVERBachovich Funeral March COVERBachovich Shona Spirit COVER

MbiraTab Series

Bachovich Mbiratab 1 COVERBachovich Mbiratab 2 COVERBachovich Mbiratab 3 COVERBachovich Mbiratab 4 COVER

 

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Andy Cox “Stradivarius” Mbira

Andy Cox has made some fabulous mbiras for me over the years, but this one is particularly special. It has 26 extra firm keys in a stunning mirror finish and a deep, rich sound. Being a visual artist, Andy enhanced the look of this wonderful instrument with some impressive artwork.

A. Cox Nyamaropa mbira - front view

A. Cox Nyamaropa mbira – front view

The famous “Bird of Zimbabwe” (the fish eagle; national emblem of Zimbabwe, appearing on flags, coats of arms, and currency) is etched into the UL3 key (located on the top left rank, 3rd key from the middle).

Zimbabwe bird detail

Zimbabwe bird detail

A spider monkey dashes accross the bottom rim of the finger hole.

Monkey finger hole detail

Monkey finger hole detail

Finally, an intricate carving graces the back of the soundboard. Two elephants stroll through the deep forest vegetation.

Andy Cox Nyamaropa mbira - back view

A. Cox Nyamaropa mbira – back view

As wonderful as this instrument is to look at, it sounds even better. Andy no longer builds mbira due to physical limitations, so this “Stradivarius” of mbiras is a lasting testament to his artistic work.

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My Mbira Beginnings

Bob Gailer of Hillsborough, NC wanted to know about how I got started with mbira, so I thought this would be an excellent topic for a blog post (thanks, Bob!). I first heard mbira around 1977, when I was a graduate student at Northwestern University. I took a class on the history of jazz with noted ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner. Berliner was a jazz trumpet player, but he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Zimbabwean mbira. The dissertation was published under the title The Soul of Mbira. In this jazz class, Berliner used the mbira to demonstrate aspects of improvisation. I remember being rapt by the complexity of mbira music, and fascinated by Berliner’s singing and yodelling in Shona, but at that time I wanted to be the next timpanist of the Chicago Symphony. It would be fifteen years before I would have another encounter with the instrument.

SouMbiraX

In 1992, I was teaching percussion at Winthrop University and playing in a percussion quartet with Fred Bugbee, a colleague of mine who taught percussion at Limestone College in Gaffney, SC. One day, Fred showed me an mbira he had acquired from a friend. I said, “I know that instrument. Paul Berliner played it at Northwestern.” I remember stroking the keys, saying something like, “Cool,” and going on with our rehearsal.

I thought about that instrument for days after that rehearsal, and finally called Fred to ask who made it. He said it was made by an art professor at Limestone, Andy Cox. Andy had learned to make an instrument by looking at the photos in Berliner’s book and following the tuning figures Berliner had cited. I called Andy and asked if he would make an instrument for me. Andy was gracious on the phone, but stopped short of agreeing to make me an instrument. Later, I gave a presentation for a music class at a local elementary school, and the music teacher there gave me an mbira with rattan keys from West Africa as a gesture of thanks. It looked very similar to this one from Mali.

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It had two ranks of keys: one on the left and one on the right. I had purchased The Soul of Mbira and a couple of tapes of mbira music and was becoming more and more enthralled with the idea of learning to play. I took the West African rattan mbira and converted it to a karimba configuration (using toothpicks to make a secondary bridge) so I could learn to play some of the tablature arrangements in the back of Paul Berliner’s book. I felt like Richard Dreyfus’ character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when he was carving the mountain out of his mashed potatoes. I was becoming obsessed!

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I learned to play Butsu Mutandari on this instrument. When I played it for Andy Cox, he finally agreed to make a karimba for me.

From these beginnings, I developed a close relationship with Andy, and he eventually made several mbira dzavadzimu for me in various tunings. I came up with my own version of Berliner’s tablature notation, and still use it today in my MbiraTab series of tablature transcriptions, which will be available soon from Bachovich Music Publications (www.bachovich.com).

Andy Cox karimba

Andy Cox karimba

Andy Cox
Andy Cox

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Road to PASIC

We made the decision to enter the 2012 PAS World Percussion Ensemble competition in late December, 2011. My graduate assistant, Sarah Hann, had been hosting other percussion students for “Mbira Monday” since she had arrived in the fall. Students would gather with food and play mbira together every week. The contest would give us an opportunity to develop a more formal mbira ensemble. We decided to perform traditional music for mbiras and to include some djembe drumming as well, so we brought in my teacher from Guinea, West Africa, Mohamed Da Costa. Mohamed came to Winthrop in February to work with the students on three traditional rhythms from Guinea: Yankadi-Makru, Sorsornet (with the song “Gombo”), and Djole. Mohamed taught dundun parts, djembe patterns, shakers and rattles, and movement.

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In the video below, Mohamed works with the dunduns on Sorsornet…

…and singing on Yankadi.

In early March, we brought in Michael Spiro to work on production issues. At that time, we had three mbira pieces (Nhemamusasa, Nyuchi, Shumba) to go with the three djembe rhythms we had worked on with Mohamed. I viewed the program as being structured in two halves: an opening mbira set followed by a closing djembe set. I should have known from experience that Mr. Spiro would have other ideas.

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Michael Spiro is a master of production in the recording studio and on stage. Spiro worked with the students on seamlessly integrating the mbira music with the djembe pieces (through what he refers to as “connective tissue”) and infusing the mbira tunes with movement and clapping. In the video below, he develops clapping patterns for Nyuchi.

Here, he works on Shumba…

and cajoles the students in his inimitable way!

We presented our concert in early April, and had our entry mailed to PAS by the mid-month deadline. Here is our contest performance.

In June, I received a phone call from Kenyon Williams, chair of the PAS World Percussion committee, informing me that Winthrop University had won the PASIC contest! The ensemble would perform in Austin in November. We set to work refining the pieces we had performed that spring, and added two opening numbers: Butsu Mutandari on marimbas, and a lovely mbira duet with Sarah Hann and Allison Riffe playing Kariga Mombe. Here is the entire PASIC performance.

The group photo – thanks to the help of good friends!
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