Singers are notorious for not being great at counting. I will admit I spend more time correcting rhythms than notes in lessons and rehearsals with my groups. I pride myself on being pretty good at rhythm.
Well, counting as a percussionist is really busting my chops. John Luther Adams’ piece that I’ll be participating in next weekend is S-L-O-W and meditative. Really a cool piece, and my little part (I’m one of 90+ folks) is interesting and challenging. And I have to memorize it and count slowly.
I never thought of myself as a hummingbird type, but this is a challenge. I practice by taking walks around my neighborhood, counting measures until I come in, breathing in and out instead of playing the siren or conch shell or clanging a small bell. Just trying to count long phrases. A kind of spiritual practice, if you will.
I’ve also been listening to his music. After all, this guy recently won the Pulitzer Prize for composition, and we get to play his piece in our own tree park, aka the Arnold Arboretum. His music is gorgeous and spacious as the land. In addition, I met my percussion teacher, Maria Finkelmeier, after a performance she did in said Arboretum a few years ago. So I am doubly excited to be invited to be part of a great community of folks, each counting to their own inner rhythm. Not quite improvised, but not scripted in the way each of us comes in at the same time.
When I was a pup, in the late 1970’s in the Bay Area, I sang with a cool new-music group called the Port Costa Players. One concert we did in the University Art Museum included a piece that called for ceremonial walking and whistling by the singers, while two percussionists played large hand drums to give a beat. We repeated the concert in the same museum two nights in a row. After the first concert, the composer who had just come up from LA to hear the piece (was it Doug Leedy? not sure) told our conductor that we had done it WAY TOO FAST. So the next night, when we arrived at our short pre-concert warm-up, we were told to just follow the beat of the drummers, which was now something like three times as slow. That was one weird performance. We could not adjust without a real rehearsal, and it was hard to follow the cues of the whistling and waiting for something like a minute in between each drum beat.
I know the Adams piece will be a different kind of space-time-continuum, and we get to rehearse at the proper speed. But it brought up (nice) memories.
Anyway, come hear this cool piece next weekend. You can sit and listen from one vantage point or walk around as we performers walk on our our paths and integrate with the sounds of the land.