Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble – First Construction

(1-2) Ronald Lo Presti – Prelude and Dance Adam Snow, Conductor

Ronald Lo Presti was born in 1933 in Williamstown, MA. He was a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and a former Ford Foundation Composer-In-Residence. He held teaching positions at Texas Tech., Indiana State College, and Arizona State University. Composed in 1971, Prelude and Dance is scored for four marimbas, two vibraphones, orchestral bells, chimes, and xylophone.

(3) John Cage – First Construction (In Metal)

Composed in 1939, First Construction could well be considered Cage’s first masterpiece. The work is scored for a variety of pitched and unpitched metal instruments, including orchestral bells, thundersheets, sleigh bells, oxen bells, automobile brake drums, Turkish and Chinese cymbals, Japanese temple gongs, anvils, cowbells, Balinese button gongs, tamtam, water gong (a small gong immersed in a tub of water producing rising and falling glissandi), and a “string piano,” Henry Cowell’s term for a grand piano played from its interior. In this case, one player performs at the piano keyboard while another manipulates the strings with metal rods, producing harmonics and glissandi. The piano strings are also swept back and forth with a gong mallet, producing a low, rumbling sound. The work consists of sixteen large sections (the macrostructure), each of which comprises sixteen measures based on the durational proportions 4:3:2:3:4 (the microstucture). This technique of fashioning a rhythmic structure to be filled with musical events became known as the “square-root” formula, and would become the hallmark of Cage’s compositional technique in nearly all his early works for percussion and prepared piano.

(4 – 6) Robert Suderburg – Chamber Music IV
I. Waves II. Symmetries III. Lyrics

Robert Suderburg’s Chamber Music IV was composed in 1979, on a commission by the University of Michigan Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Charles Owen. The three movements bear mildly programmatic titles. “Waves” utilizes various drum and tambourine rolls, along with cymbals and gongs scraped with metal rods and vocalized “sh” sounds to simulate the sounds of waves. “Symmetries” reflects the symmetrical patterns found in the keyboard percussion (glockenspiel, crotales, vibraphone, and chimes) over a stark minimalistic interplay of symmetrical rhythms in snare and tenor drums. “Lyrics” has the percussionists sing as they play various pitched and unpitched instruments. Ironically, the singing is textless vocalise. A former chancellor of the North Carolina School of the Arts and president of the Cornish Institute in Seattle, Suderburg has taught at Williams College in Williamstown, MA since 1985.

(7) Bob Becker – Atenteben *Premier Recording – Adam Snow, Conductor

Bob Becker holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied percussion with William Street and John Beck, and composition with Warren Benson and Aldo Provenzano. He also spent four years doing post-graduate study in the World Music program at Wesleyan University, where he became intensely involved in the music cultures of North and South India, Africa, and Indonesia. As a founding member of the famed percussion ensemble NEXUS, he has been involved with the collection and construction of a unique multi-cultural body of instruments which responds to his wide background of training and experience. Becker’s compositions and arrangements are performed regularly by percussion groups world-wide. His solo CD album, There is a Time, was released in 1995 on the Nexus Records label, and features many of his recent compositions. Composed in 1985, Atenteben (“a-TEN-tay-ben”) is scored for four marimbas, axatse (West African rattle), gankogui (West African double bell), high African drum (kidi), and low African drum (sogo). About Atenteben, Becker says, “The melodies in this piece are based on a few of the tunes played by the atenteben flute ensembles of Ghana. The patterns played by the gankogui and the drums are loosely based on rhythms found in the traditional Ewe dance musics agbekor and gahu, and the ubiquitous urban popular music kpanlogo.” The Winthrop University Percussion ensemble is proud to release this first recording of Atenteben.

(8-10) Traditional Zimbabwean – Three Shona Songs – Arr. Michael Williams

Michael Williams, mbira, lead vocals

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 (“thumb piano”), in which the kushaura (leading part, melody) line is complemented by the kutsinhira (responding or supporting part) line to create an interlocking “kaleidophonic” texture. 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.

Butsu Mutandari is a Shona shangara dance song. Butsu is a Shona word meaning “boot” or “shoe,” and Mutandari is the dance. In the shangara style of dancing, the performers imitate the rhythms of drumming with their feet. The song lyrics say, “Look at my shoes! Watch me dance!

Vamudara is a song about an old man who wears tattered clothes (marengena) and sandals made from car tires (manyatera). According to Chartwell Dutiro, “Mudhara is a man who is old. In his capacity as a senior, he cannot be asked by the young where he goes. What the old man rises early for, the young do not ask. In contrast with ‘young,’ it is a pejorative term used by the young to mask their envy. In this song they dare to expose what is yet forbidden to them by singing a critical comical song. Though oblique, there is a direct attack of the old man’s dress code and his assumed drinking habit. But given the opportunity they are ready to follow his lead.” The song lyrics say, “Mr. Old Man, you are wearing tatters. Where did you hear that people are drinking, as if you had any money? I will follow you, chief. I will follow the beer. Oh, shame!”

Chiro Chacho is a light-hearted Shona wedding song. It is sung by the bride’s siblings, who gently tease the groom for taking away their elder sister.

(11) Traditional West African – Djole – Arr. Mohamed Da Costa

Mohamed Da Costa, solo jembe, lead vocals

The Winthrop Percussion Ensemble has been fortunate in having a long and fruitful relationship with Guinean master drummer Mohamed Da Costa. Mohamed has taught the group many traditional West African rhythms and songs over the past several years. One of the first rhythms he taught the group was Djole, a mask dance of the Timini people who reside near the border of guinea and Sierra Leone. Originally played on square-shaped frame drums called sico, Djole is often played today in modern “arrangements” for jembe (djembe). When approached with the idea of performing for this recording, Mohamed immediately chose this “new, more traditional version” of Djole. The song pays tribute to Mohamed’s teachers, Ali Kalissa and Musa Silla Kanute, as well as other influential people in his life. The song names these special people and says, “You will be with me wherever I go.”

(12) Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre – Arr. Michael Williams

(13) Charles Gounod – Funeral March of a Marionette – Arr. Michael Williams

Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre and Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette were both arranged for mallet keyboard ensemble by Michael Williams during the summer of 1990 while he was on the artist-faculty of the Brevard Music Center. Anticipating an October 31st concert date for the Winthrop Percussion Ensemble, Dr. Williams was having difficulty locating appropriate literature for Halloween. These two famous works were ideal for the holiday concert. Even more importantly, Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre held historic significance for all percussionists. Composed in 1874, it was the first orchestral work to employ a xylophone, the brittle sound of the wooden keys representing the rattling bones of a skeleton. In this arrangement, the lead marimba takes the virtuosic solo violin part. Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, originally written for piano, depicts the funeral procession for 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.”

(14) Manuel de Falla – Ritual Fire Dance – Arr. Mitchell Peters, Ed. Gordon Peters

(15) David Rose – Holiday for Strings – Arr. Jim Dotson

In the spring of 1954, Gordon Peters organized a marimba ensemble with his fellow students at the Eastman School of Music. The group, which would later take the name “Marimba Masters,” started out with a handful of published arrangements, but soon began adding to their repertoire with their own transcriptions and original compositions. The Marimba Masters became quite popular, making appearances throughout the country and on television’s “Arthur Godfrey Show,” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The library of the Marimba Masters eventually numbered over one hundred works, including transcriptions of classical repertoire, folksongs, Latin American and Spanish tunes, popular music, and original compositions for marimba ensemble. Mitchell Peters’ transcription of de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance and Jim Dotson’s arrangement of David Rose’s Holiday for Strings (the theme song from the Garry Moore and Red Skelton television shows) are excellent examples from the Marimba Masters library. Both arrangers were original members of the group. Many of the works from the Marimba Masters library are available today through Steve Weiss Music in Philadelphia.