Concert Review
Day Of Percussion at RNCM 30 January 2000

Following hot on the heels of the Quartetfest and The International Tuba Euphonium Festival came the Royal Northern College of Music's Day of Percussion. Although smaller in scale, this 'day of drumming' packed in no less than eight lively events including workshops, talks and concerts led by some of Europe's best-known percussionists. This event was primarily for young percussion students, their teachers and parents but was also of interest to composers and schoolteachers. There is a real enthusiasm and spirit about percussionists; often seen as the 'also-rans' of the orchestra, they positively revel in an event such as this, where their musicianship and interests are brought to the foreground for a change.

The RNCM Day of Percussion catered for many musical styles and interests. There were several workshops dealing with specific areas of technique. For instance John Beck spoke of the issues which affect accuracy and musicianship on mallet instruments; Dave Hassell and Ian Wright - two percussionists from diverse sides of the business - spoke of how to improve your time, rhythm and pulse; while Birger Sulsbruck, the leader and conga player of Salsa Na' Ma - the Latin orchestra from Copenhagen - led a session introducing some of its percussion instruments. In the evening he joined the RNCM's Big Band in a performance of traditional and modern Latin music.

The much sought-after percussionist Paul Clarvis, together with two fellow musicians on violin/guitar and bass, presented an informative workshop on the drum kit. His amusing style and amiable manner proved a real hit with the audience and although the proceedings had a relaxed feel the advice was practical and honest. He spoke of how necessary it is for percussionists to develop their own style and not let themselves become slaves to examination syllabi, advice that had some teachers shuffling in their seats and their young students smiling broadly! He also spoke of the importance of hearing the melody and in turn playing that melody on the drums. This notion sounded slightly confusing until demonstrated; the result was a natural, integrated percussion line of great musicality and freedom. His example of improvisation was enhanced by his immediate - not to mention humorous - response to a ringing mobile phone in the audience.

The percussion ensemble Backbeat presented a superb talk/concert in the afternoon. Since forming in 1995 the group has achieved considerable success. Last year this four-piece were winners of the inaugural Yehudi Menuhin Gold Prize in the 3rd Oaska International Chamber Music Competition. Their tremendously upbeat presence at the RNCM demonstrated even further why percussion ensembles are becoming increasingly popular with both contemporary music audiences and the general public.

Backbeat performed a selection of pieces from their current touring programme. These included their own arrangement of Graham Fitkin's excellent Hook, a selection of quirky pieces by their own Damien Harron - one of which used two basketballs to produce a surprisingly rich percussive sound when bounced on the floor - Children's Songs No. 6 & 7 composed by Chick Corea and a body percussion piece by their own Chris Bastock. We heard a great variety of timbres as they performed on a mixture of percussion, from the more traditional marimbas and vibraphones to the ethnic talking drums and dum-dums and the aforementioned basketballs and body parts. Backbeat are an impressive, energetic percussion group, definitely one to watch.

Ailís Ní Ríain



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