Erica Azim Performance and Workshop @ Winthrop University


Winthrop University will host Erica Azim September 5-6 for a concert and intensive workshop! Erica was among the first Americans to study mbira in Zimbabwe in the early 1970s (when the country was still called Rhodesia).

Thursday, September 5, 2013 – Concert, Traditional Shona Mbira Music of Zimbabwe – Barnes Recital Hall, 7:30 pm, admission FREE.

Friday, September 6, 2013 – Workshop, covering multiple aspects of Shona mbira music and culture – CMUS 120, 9:00 am – 12:00 pm, admission FREE. All welcome!

These are approved GLOBAL events.

Erica’s website:

Facebook Event:

Erica Azim is a Californian who fell in love with Shona mbira music when she first heard it at the age of 16. After studying Shona music with Dumisani Maraire at the University of Washington for two years, she decided she had to learn to play the ancient Shona mbira played in ceremonies. She began to learn the instrument by ear, using taped mbira 45’s and an mbira borrowed from a professor’s shelf. Leaving her studies, Erica worked singlemindedly to save money for the journey to the opposite side of the earth.

In 1974, Erica became one of the first non-Zimbabweans to study the mbira in Zimbabwe with traditional masters of the instrument. At that time, Zimbabwe was racist Rhodesia in the throes of a liberation war. Touched by the arrival of a young white woman who respected ancient Shona tradition — a stark contrast with the white government that reviled it — musicians extended a warm welcome.

Although banned by the racist Rhodesian government from visiting the rural areas which are the home of mbira tradition, Erica easily found many mbira teachers in the capital city of Harare (then Salisbury). After a first mbira lesson with a stranger on a train, Erica studied seriously with Ambuya Beauler Dyoko, Cosmas Magaya, Mondrek Muchena, Ephat Mujuru, and others. By studying with many teachers, Erica was able to develop her own personal mbira style. She later returned to Zimbabwe and studied with additional teachers, including Irene Chigamba, Tute Chigamba, Chris Mhlanga, Fradreck Mujuru, Newton Gwara, Forward Kwenda, Luken Pasipamire, Sam Mujuru, Fungai Mujuru, Leonard Chiyanike, Patience Chaitezvi, Endiby Makope, Gift Rushambwa, and Renold and Caution Shonhai. Erica is known in Zimbabwe as a gwenyambira – a skilled performer qualified to play at traditional ceremonies.

In 1997, Erica Azim toured the U.S. with Forward Kwenda, teaching and performing. In 1998, she performed in the U.S. and Canada with Cosmas Magaya. In 2000, Erica performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC with Forward Kwenda, and they toured together in 2000, 2001 and 2002. She performed with Ambuya Beauler Dyoko during 2000 and 2001, Fradreck Mujuru in 2003, Fradreck and Fungai Mujuru in 2004, Irene Chigamba in 2006 and 2007, Vakaranga Venharetare in 2008, Patience Chaitezvi in 2009, Renold & Caution Shonhai in 2010, Caution Shonhai in 2011, and Leonard Chiyanike in 2012. Erica also performs solo mbira around the world.

Erica is particularly adept at making mbira music accessible to American audiences and mbira students. She currently teaches regional mbira workshop groups throughout the U.S. and Canada, and internationally-attended mbira camps at her home in Berkeley, California; Hawaii; and Argentina. She wrote the article On Teaching Americans to Play Mbira Like Zimbabweans for the Journal of African Music.

Erica Azim was responsible for the formation of the non-profit organization MBIRA, and directs its day-to-day operation, supporting over 235 traditional musicians and instrument makers in Zimbabwe.





Two World Premieres

The Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble was fortunate to present two world premiere compositions for marimba ensemble on our spring concert March 19, 2013. We opened the concert with Inner Logic for marimba sextet by Christopher Hathcock. Chris is a Winthrop alum and currently serves as Director of Bands at Cheraw High School in Cheraw, SC (birthplace of Dizzy Gillespie). Here is what Chris says about his composition:

 “Inner Logic is the second movement of a larger work titled Doubt.  The entire work is an interpretation of the instinctual analytical side of people which we often refer to as doubt.  “Inner Logic” is a reflection of the rational side of our minds resolving cognitive dissonance.  This dissonance is represented through a frenetic pace littered with chromaticism and changing meter. The logic arrives in the mathematically composed 12-tone section which leads to a resolution (or understanding if you prefer) shown through a timbral and tonal shift.  But as with life, the finale introduces another similar but different dissonance that begins the process anew.  This piece was composed in honor of B. Michael Williams and the Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble, both of which were a boon to the composer.”


Chris Hathcock with Michael Williams following the premiere of "Inner Logic."

Chris Hathcock with Michael Williams following the premiere of “Inner Logic.”

The Winthrop ensemble had the great fortune to perform Richard Maltz’s In Perpetuum…for large percussion ensemble back in 2009 (It is a stunningly beautiful work, by the way, and well-deserving of more performances). After the performance, Dick asked me what kind of piece he could write for us in future. I told him I would love to hear what he could do with a marimba quartet. Last year, he came through with Divertimento. Dick provides the following information on his website:

Divertimento (2012)

marimba quartet

Low C, Low A Low F, 5 Octave

Duration: 11 minutes

I.  Prelude
II. Mysterioso
III. Perpetual Motion
IV. Theme and Variations
V. Tango
VI. Postlude
Divertimento, an 11-minute work for marimba quartet, was composed for the Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble. It has six short movements: an inquisitive prelude, a mysterioso, a whirring perpetual motion, a sentimental set of variations, a crescendo of a tango, and an emphatic postlude. The melodies are lyrical. Any perception that the music might seem at times, schizophrenic, may be due to harmony which is derived from both nature’s overtone series and its unnatural, inverted ‘undertone’ series.

Dr. Richard Maltz

Dr. Richard Maltz

Dick teaches at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. Check out his music at Chris Hathcock teaches at Cheraw High School. Reach Chris at


Mallet Ensemble Arrangements

Here are some newly-published ensemble arrangements for mallet percussion; Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns, Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod, and Shona Spirit (three traditional mbira tunes for marimba ensemble).

Bachovich Danse Macabre COVER

During the summer of 1990, I was on the artist faculty at the Brevard Music Center in Western North Carolina. Since I had planned a Halloween concert for the Winthrop Percussion Ensemble the following fall (and had no clue what to program), I spent most of my free time that summer writing the  two concert transcriptions presented here. Both arrangements (the Saint-Saëns and the Gounod) were taken directly from the orchestral score. Danse Macabre is scored for glockenspiel, xylophone, 2 vibraphones, 5 marimbas, and string bass (a bass marimba plays the string bass part on the recording below). The historical significance of Danse Macabre is important to percussionists, as it is the first orchestral composition employing a xylophone (to imitate the rattling bones of a skeleton dancing at midnight on Halloween).



Bachovich Funeral March COVER

Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, originally written for piano, depicts the funeral procession of a broken marionette. Immediately following the first bar, containing only two notes a tritone apart (the “Devil’s interval”), a silent fermata announces, “The marionette is broken.” The somber adagio that follows depicts “murmurs of regret from the troupe.” The procession begins with the now-famous tune known by most as the theme from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” As the key changes from D minor to D major, the score reads, “Here many of the principal personages stop for refreshments,” and the recapitulation of the famous theme marks the “return to the house.”


Bachovich Shona Spirit COVER

The Shona people of Zimbabwe have a rich musical tradition.  Both vocal and instrumental musical expressions largely depend on the concept of a constantly recurring harmonic cycle over which improvised variations are layered, often in an interlocking fashion.  This concept is epitomized in the music of the mbira, in which the kushaura (leading part, melody) line is complemented by the kutsinhira (responding or supporting part) line to create an interlocking “kaleidophonic” texture.

All the marimba parts in these arrangements are derived from actual mbira parts, and are marked either kushaura  or kutsinhira  in order to facilitate the ensemble’s understanding of this important interlocking principle.  An effective performance may be rendered by starting with the kushaura lines together, followed by the kutsinhira lines, and finally by the composite line performed by the lead soprano voice. Other imaginative layering techniques may be explored as well in order to give the audience a glimpse into the intricate internal structure of each piece.

Although the marimba is indigenous to Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and other nations of Southeastern Africa, it was not introduced in Zimbabwe until the early 1960s at the Kwanongoma College of African Music in Bulawayo.  The marimba ensemble, patterned after those found in neighboring countries, was chosen as a practical vehicle for preserving traditional Shona musical experiences and concepts without favoring any particular cultural or ethnic group. The Zimbabwean marimbas come in four sizes (soprano, tenor, baritone, bass) covering a four-octave range.  The tuning of most marimbas found in Zimbabwe today is diatonic, usually in the western C major scale.  (Many of the indigenous African marimbas and xylophones are tuned to pentatonic or heptatonic scales.)  The keys are laid out in one manual, and the soprano and tenor instruments are provided with both F-natural and F-sharp keys, thereby affording them the opportunity to play in the keys of C major and G major.  Because of the single-manual diatonic layout, the playing of these instruments depends more on aural awareness than the more visually-oriented western chromatic instruments for which these arrangements are written.

In these arrangements, the basic cycle for each instrument is notated along with suggested variations. The lead soprano voice (mushauri) is afforded the most freedom, while the supporting sopranos and tenors (vatsinhiri) have considerably less leeway for improvisation.  In most cases, the supporting soprano voices play a fixed pattern.  The baritone and bass voices (mazembera or mahon’era) usually outline the cyclic harmonic progression, and may vary their patterns occasionally as long as they maintain the chord progression.


According to Stella Chiweshe, Mahororo is the name of a small river in Zimbabwe. The interlocking melodic lines found in the tune Mahororo create a flowing effect that Chiweshe likens to a flowing river. She further states that people used the song to welcome hunters back to the village following an extended hunt. Forward Kwenda translates the title as “Baboons’ Voices” (onomatopoeic sound of baboon’s voices created by the interlocking mbira lines) or “Freedom following victorious struggle.” Likewise, Chartwell Dutiro describes it as a “song played after achievement.” Mahororo is harmonically derived from the older song Nyamaropa. The tune’s flowing rhythmic style results from the interlocking of the mbira player’s right and left hands on every other underlying pulse. One will note that Mahororo (as well as Nyamaropa) has a key signature of two sharps, although the tonal center is clearly “A.” This reflects the standard mbira tuning (also known as “Nyamaropa tuning”) in mixolydian mode (major scale with flat 7th). The key center of  “A” was chosen for these works in order to accommodate a performance along with mbiras pitched in that key.


Nhemamusasa, meaning “temporary shelter,” is a tune once associated with war that is now considered a hunting song. The title has to do with building a temporary shelter, called a musasa, which soldiers or hunters could use while away from home. Nhemamusasa differs from the other two tunes most obviously in its tonal center, a fourth above the lowest note on the mbira. Given an instrument pitched in “A,” Nhemamusasa would have a tonal center of “D,” the key in which this arrangement is written. The harmonic progression found in Nhemamusasa is identical to that of Nyamaropa and its derivative pieces, but with a higher tonal center. Unlike Mahororo and Nyamaropa, the kutsinhira line for Nhemamusasa is noticeably different in rhythmic character from the kushaura line, creating a rich polyrhythmic tapestry.


Nyamaropa (literally “meat and blood”) is generally considered among the most ancient of mbira compositions. Some musicians say it was the first piece composed for the instrument. Andrew Tracey calls it the “big song” for mbira, probably because it is the prototype for so many other mbira pieces such as Mahororo, as well as several others. Possibly originating as a war song “to raise emotions before a battle,” the piece is now considered a hunting song, its title suggesting the scene following a successful hunt.

These arrangements are available at


Bachovich Music Publications


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, 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



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.

006 005 Road to PASIC - Da Costa018

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.



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!
Sally 1 013


Dissertation Download!

My Ph.D. dissertation from Michigan State University, The Early Percussion Music of John Cage:1935-1943, is available for Free Download on my website! Here’s what Robin Engelman says about it:

“If you are searching for clear, authoritative insights into Cage’s early works for percussion, you should read B. Michael Williams’ Ph.D. thesis, The Early Percussion Music of John Cage, 1935-1943. It is superb.This one handy text contains information gleaned from many sources and includes interviews of Cage by Dr. Williams. His meticulous analysis and thoughtful questions drew insights from Cage that lift veils of ambiguity and illuminate these seminal works for today’s performers. For example, Cage’s description of the thundersheets he used in First Construction (In Metal) is revelatory. It resolves irksome interpretive issues and alone is worth the price of the book. Much has been written about John Cage and, in my opinion, Dr. Williams’ thesis should be on any essential list of reading for all percussionists; performers, teachers and students.”

– Robin Engelman – Member of Nexus, The Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, Conductor/Director the University of Toronto Faculty of Music Percussion Ensemble, 1975-2007.

1333127842-ln1uth25edxiht5n-1Just click on John Cage’s smiling face here or on my homepage for an instant download.


Welcome Back to the New BMW.COM!



Welcome to my new website! It’s clean, neat, and….NEW! I’ve been test-driving the features and I like the way this site handles. Kudos and thanks to my webmaster and colleague at Winthrop University, Joe Miller ( Joe is a film composer/guitarist/tech guru and overall terrific guy! In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting updates on some exciting new ventures and experiences that have come along for me and my students at Winthrop University. It’s been a fun ride this past year and a half since I’ve been away from the blogosphere, and I am looking forward to sharing all the fun with you!

I’ll be on the road in March performing and giving clinics at the University of Central Arkansas Percussion Festival with Blake Tyson and the West Tennessee Day of Percussion with Josh Smith and Bethel University. On the way, I’ll visit Julie Hill for some djembe drumming with her students at UT-Martin. Look for more posts coming soon!

UCA Percussioon Festival

West Tenn DOP


Winthrop Students Tour Ludwig Industries

The Winthrop University percussion studio recently toured Ludwig Industries in Monroe, NC. I remember touring Ludwig when they were located on N. Damen Avenue in Chicago while attending graduate school at Northwestern University in 1976. In the early 1980s the entire facility was moved to North Carolina. Many of those old machines I saw in action at the Damen Avenue facility are still in use today. “We had some incredible engineers designing machines,” said plant manager Jim Kinsey. “When we moved to Monroe, we figured ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ so we’ve just kept using those great old machines.”

Some little-known facts I learned on this tour:

Since there is such limited demand for 20″ fiberglass timpani, they don’t use a mold for the 20″ drums. If you order a complete five-drum set of fiberglass timpani, the 20″ will be made of aluminum and painted the same copper color. The original color of the fiberglass is whitish grey, and the original color of the aluminum is a dull silver.

Rack of timpani bowls ready for drilling

Drilling timpani bowl for the tuning gauge assembly

It takes two hours of sanding on a specially-designed machine to bring a copper timpani kettle to the mirror-like finish we are accustomed to.


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Artie Lieberman’s Mallet Instrument Service

Artie’s father was a bread deliveryman in Manhattan. One of his best customers was Lionel Hampton, who liked to have his breakfast at a certain coffeeshop in Greenwich Village at 4:00 AM, when Mr. Lieberman typically delivered fresh bread. Artie’s father asked Lionel Hampton if he would recommend someone to teach his son to play drums. Hampton referred Mr. Lieberman to Freddie Albright, who agreed to teach young Artie, on the condition that they must begin on the xylophone. Once Artie learned to read music on the xylophone, they could begin to split the lessons between xylophone and drums. Lessons progressed nicely, and later on Mr. Lieberman again approached Lionel Hampton asking about the purchase of a used vibraphone for his son. Hampton replied that he happened to have one he wasn’t using and would sell it for $300.00. The recently refurbished instrument remains in Artie’s collection and is pictured above.

Artie has dozens of vintage and new instruments in his collection, including many one-of-a-kind instruments such as those pictured below. Highly sought-after instruments such as Deagan roundtop bells, Deagan songbells, specially-made bass marimbas and extended-range chimes are available for rental. (more…)


Peyton Becton at Winthrop University

Peyton Becton, Principal Percussionist with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, presented a clinic on orchestral percussion techniques at Winthrop University October 2nd, 2009. Peyton covered essential techniques and repertoire for snare drum and tambourine.
Peyton Becton demonstrates his flawless thumb roll technique!

Peyton Becton demonstrates his flawless thumb roll technique!

Peyton Becton demonstrates roll techniques on snare drum

Peyton Becton demonstrates roll techniques on snare drum


Peyton Becton with Winthrop Percussionists

Peyton Becton with Winthrop Percussionists