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Percussion: Interview and demonstration with principal Chris Devine and members of the percussion section

Created by All Star Orchestra.

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Video transcript

(orchestral music) - [Chris Deviney] As percussionists, we do play a lot of instruments. A lot of different techniques required to learn to be able to get all the different sounds out of those instruments. - We have the most fun of anybody in the orchestra. We have the lowest of the low pitched instruments, the bass drum. (bass drum) (orchestral music) - Next, is the triangle, one of the higher pitched instruments. Usually single notes (triangle) or a sustained sound by rolling between the two sides. (triangle) (orchestral music) - [Matthew Strauss] As percussionists, we also get to play pitched instruments such as these crotales, part of the keyboard family. They're laid out like a piano is laid out with the white notes and the dark keys right here. Normally, we strike them with various types of mallets. (crotales) Now, we have more fun than anybody else in the orchestra 'cause we get to do things like using a Super Ball on a stick to make sounds like this. (percussion) - And then if we're not making unusual sounds like that, we're usually providing rhythm of some sort with another variety of different drums. Snare drum is the typical one. (snare drum) These other drums are the Latin variety, bongos and timbales. (bongos and timbales) - Then we get to play instruments that are found throughout the world such as this tambourine. In many different cultures, they have their versions of the tambourine and we have various ways of striking the instrument with our hand (tambourine) and we can play fast by using other parts of our body. (tambourine) And then we can shake and make a sustained tone which we call a roll. (tambourine) And what would be a percussion section without the crash cymbals? Now, everybody, hold your ears. (crash cymbals) Ah, fooled you. Percussion instruments can play loud and soft but of course we all love to play loud. (louder crash cymbals) - And then, finally, oftentimes, we're asked to play mallet instruments which can provide melody like any of the other instruments and one piece that we've recorded, Daphnis, has a very, very loud glockenspiel part played on the glockenspiel. ('Daphnis' played on glockenspiel) (orchestral music) - [Chris Deviney] Percussion instruments, like anything, are learnt skills and essentially, you're learning specific motions required to produce certain sounds and with a lot of practice, which that's really the key, a lot of practice will give you the repetition to learn those motions and that's how you develop the different techniques. A typical technique to play something like a snare drum, just a simple drum, would be 2 sticks, one in each hand, and the motion is very, very simple as far as up and down goes, as long as you're only striking the drum with one stick at a time. There are different techniques though, where you use more than one note per stick and when you combine those, that's what we call a roll and it changes the sound quite a bit so it's almost kind of like if you were going to become a very fast runner, you probably wouldn't be very fast at the beginning, you would learn how to jog slowly and comfortably and increase your speed over time. It's the same kind of thing with a technique like that. (orchestral music) - (Chris Deviney) Cymbals can be a little bit different that way in the sense that when you're playing a pair of cymbals, what we call crash cymbals, you can have one in each hand and there's a motion that you need to prepare in order for the cymbals to strike at exactly the right time when you want them to for the right dynamic that you want them to and hopefully getting the, kind of, roundness out of the cymbal sound that you also want. You can change that slightly by the direction that the cymbals meet. In other words, if they're more up and down, you can get a little bit more highs out of them. If they're a little bit more side to side, (orchestral music) you can get a little bit more lows out of them and that's actually, kind of, the sound spectrum that the instrument has that you're trying to bring out. (orchestral music) Typically, what would happen for something like, say, the mallet instruments that we play - vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba, chimes. These instruments are often their sound is greatly altered by the mallets that we choose to play them with. That's not the only way you can alter it, but it's the most instantaneous and effective way. If you have a mallet that's the material is very hard and dense, it's gonna get a different kind of attack than a mallet that's softer, more malleable, so we have a whole variety, an array of mallets to choose from. Sometimes we think, "this mallet's probably good." We send our colleague out into the audience to see. They come back and say, "Nope, I can't hear it. There's no attack. It's lost in the big orchestration of around us. Your instruments not pushing through and it needs to be so that's the kind of feedback we need to adjust and know which mallets to use. (orchestral music) Mallet instruments are set up exactly like a piano - white keys, black keys. Anybody who can play a piano can play a percussion mallet instrument and I was fortunate enough that my parents got me piano lessons. I took 5 years of piano when I was younger and that was very, very helpful to be able to make that transfer. My mother and grandmother like to take credit for the fact that they encouraged me to pull out pots and pans in the kitchen. On the kitchen floor with wooden spoons. That's literally how I started and they thought it was funny. They thought it was cute and of course I loved it. I didn't know what I was doing. I think once I got into the 6th grade, I joined the public band. The public school band program and that actually kind of set me on a path to really enjoying music. In high school, when I played with the community orchestra, I experienced all kinds of different music and wanted to be, actually, a really good drum set player at one point, turned and went the orchestral route and fell in love with orchestral music and that's really how I ended up being a percussionist. (orchestral music) I think I was probably about 16 when I was asked to join this community orchestra in Pensacola, Florida. I had recordings of orchestral music but I'd never played live with an orchestra and I remember sitting in a rehearsal, my very first rehearsal, and listening to this amazing sound of strings surrounding me that I had never heard before and I totally missed my percussion cue because I wasn't paying attention and that's when I knew. Wow, this is a really unique situation and I hope that I can somehow do this as a career. The public school band program provided the instruments and all the variety of instruments to learn and I studied privately with the local percussion teacher. As I progressed, though, I needed somebody with a higher level of teaching ability. I went to I used to drive from Pensacola to Tallahassee, Florida, which is about 3 and a hours away, on the weekends to take my lessons with a grad student at Florida State University. As I got better, my teachers got better obviously and I sought them out and that's really important, I think, in development is really being active in finding and searching out the best teachers you possibly can because they're out there. They're willing to help. (orchestral music)