Great semester

We’re wrapping up a great semester.  Last night we had yet another amazing New Music Series concert that included some classic percussion ensemble literature and improvised music created in the moment.

Our next big event (and final one for the semester) is our WP Collage concert on Friday, December 4.  This features the WP percussion ensemble, as well as the wind ensemble, choir, jazz bands, and a variety of chamber ensembles.   Go HERE for more information.  Ticket sales will go to support scholarship funds for WP students.  Please come and please bring friends!

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Summer = practicing stuff you like.  Awesome, huh?  Sometimes during the busy school year we just barely have enough time to get all our technique exercises, band parts, percussion ensemble, and everything else in and we don’t have time to just shed the things that we really want to work on.  Not that we don’t want to work on that other stuff, it’s just that sometimes it’s hard to balance it all.

When I was in college I used my summers to really go deep into things I cared about but had less time for during the semester.  For me that meant marimba and Indian classical music.  For you it might mean blast beats or corps or congas or whatever.  It doesn’t matter so long as you’re making music.  I hope you’re having a great summer and it is musically rewarding.

–Dr. MacDonald

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The Transformative Power of Difficult Music

This semester I’m working with some of WP’s most advanced percussion students on Xenakis’s seminal percussion ensemble masterpiece Persephassa.  It’s a big piece—at least 25 minutes—with a lot of instruments and many intricate sections.  We get together every Saturday for at least two hours and hammer away at it.

The rehearsals are enjoyable.  The guys in the band are always on time, have their set ups built, and play well.  We work hard and we’re making good progress.  Xenakis’s drumming music is physical in a way that is familiar to us percussionists who grew up on rudimental and drum set playing and in that regard it is a natural fit for the students.  Nonetheless, questions come up.  Sometimes students ask me why we put so much effort into music that is so difficult and so few people appreciate.  It’s a valid question; after all, we’re consuming all sorts of resources when we rehearse and perform music, resources that some might argue are better spent supporting other activities that are more obviously beneficial to society.  And if we’re not reaching a big audience then are we really communicating anything?  Are we doing nothing more than just stroking our own egos?  Is this just art for art’s sake?

But music is about more than communication.  It’s also about transformation.  We are transforming ourselves by tackling a big, difficult piece like this.  You can’t go into something like Persephassa with a casual attitude.  It requires you to take a big breath, muster up a good deal of courage, and really dig in.  The hours are long, and the work is slow and often tedious.   It goes on for months and months and at the end of it there will likely only be about fifty people in the audience.  Is it worth it?

It is.  Because at some point as we get closer to the performance we realize that we can do it.  We can play the piece!  What at first seemed overwhelming and insurmountable becomes possible.  And in that moment of realization we are transformed.  We are better percussionists of course, but we’re also better people.  We’re mentally stronger, emotionally richer, and our concentration has deepened.  And we take these skills into every other area of our life and in turn inspire other people to push beyond their perceived limitations.  This may seem like hyperbole, but in fact learning difficult music makes the world a better place.

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Break time or practice time??

Winter break is upon us.  If you’re a high school or college student you are probably sipping some egg nog, hanging with your folks, and generally enjoying some time off from the business of the semester.

You SHOULD relax a bit, and you SHOULD spend some time with your family, of course.  But after a few days of that you should get back in the practice room.  Think of it this way: most college students get nearly a month off for Winter Break and over three months off in the summer.  So that’s four months a year.  If you take all of that time off every year that means that by the time you reach the end of your four-year degree program you’ve lost over an ENTIRE YEAR of practicing.  Wow!  That’s a lot of time!

Of course, many of you have to work during this time to earn money to pay for school.  Do what you gotta do, but find time for a couple hours of practice each day.  When I was in school I used these periods of time to go deeper into things I didn’t have time for in the normal semester.  That might be drumset or tabla or maybe glock excerpts, but whatever it was, I kept studying and growing and learning.  Nothing has changed.  Here I am in the middle of my life and as soon as I turned in grades last week I made a bee-line for the marimba and started practicing some material that I had been itching to play.

Being a musician is a life style, not a career.  It truly is a 24/7 life.  Look at any successful musician from any style and you’ll see that s/he works hard all the time.  As 50-Cent once said in an interview: “It’s always a hustle.”

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And we’re rolling again . . .

This is Dr. MacDonald writing.  I was in India last year on a Fulbright, but now I’m back and super excited about our new students and all the great stuff we’re doing this year.  Peter Jarvis has a great season planned for the New Music Series, including some wonderful guest artists like Stephen Rush from the University of Michigan.  Check out the WP music department website for more detailed info about all the great events.

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Busy semester

The semester is cooking along with lots of concerts and recitals and other good stuff.  Check out the WP Music Department homepage for information about upcoming events.

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School has started

And we’re up and running again!  We have a great year planned with lots of amazing concerts, new ensembles, new compositions, and other events.  Stay tuned for more info!

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Busy Days . . .

I just realized today that I haven’t posted since November.  Agghhh!  One might think we haven’t been doing much, but it would be quite the opposite.  We’ve been completely bonkers with New Music concerts, band concerts, orchestra, several outstanding recitals, etc, etc, and all of the faculty have been busy touring, composing, performing on Broadway, and teaching of course.  Things are hopping here at WP.  Please be sure to check out the New Music Series and come to one of our concerts.  We’ve also been working to finish up our percussion ensemble recording, which is sounding very, very good!

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Great New Music Concert coming up

On Monday, November 26, at 7:30 p.m. in Shea Auditorium we have our first New Music Concert of the year.  My colleague Peter Jarvis directs this series and he does a fabulous job with it.  This will be an amazing concert, with lots of great music, including works by Levitan, Hause, Ligeti, Morris, and Peter Jarvis himself.  Pete’s piece is a very cool vibraphone concerto featuring one of our other stellar faculty members, John Ferrari.  I’ll be performing Robert Morris’s Stream Runner, a tour-de-force for solo marimba and percussion ensemble.  The composer will be with us, as will Evan Hause, the composer of a piece that our freshmen are performing.  Don’t miss this amazing event!

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Concerts coming up

Our New Music Series (directed by Peter Jarvis) gets off to a strong start on Monday, October 29.  We’ve got a stellar line up of performers who will present a variety of music, including the world premiere of Pete Jarvis’s new work for vibraphone and percussion ensemble.  Pete will be conducting and John Ferrari will perform the very difficult vibe part.  Then, we’ve got another concert on Monday, November 26.  I will perform Robert Morris’s Stream Runner for solo marimba and percussion and piano.  Morris will be there, which will be cool to have a composer in house.  I hope you’ll join us for these concerts.

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