Percussion Ensemble

Hey Everyone,

Any suggestions on some Percussion Ensemble literature for medium level players? We are just starting an ensemble at the College where I teach. I have A LOT of beginner/intermediate players and have begun the search for music to play (I will also be using VDL sounds to write original works geared to the students' abilities) We really have a limited amount of equipment. We don't have any pitched percussion. We have two drum sets, congas, bongos, various cymbals and toys- shakers, claves, tambourine, cowbells etc. I have already chosen the Pete O'Gorman piece ";Fire";, and am working on our first original piece.

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!
I really enjoy ";Overture for Percussion"; by John Beck. It's about a grade 4.

I also recommend ";Sabre Dance.";  It's on the easy side, perhaps a grade 3.  It has high energy and lots of doubled parts if you desire.
Also this year my group is tackling ";El Cumbanchero"; by Hernandez arr. Phil Faini. It is another high energy piece but this one has a slow introduction.  It is listed as Medium-Advanced and would be a step up from Sabre Dance.  If you have a bass guitar player, this piece will rock!
Do you have any mallet instruments and students who play those instruments? How many performers total do you have? I have quite a database of solo/ensemble literature and I believe that I could help you out, but I would need some details to hit the mark, so to speak.

For a battery only percussion ensemble which you describe in your instrumentation, here are a few pieces:

[b]Mosaics[/b] by Jared Spears - CL Barnhouse Publ - sextet - this might be the perfect piece for a less experienced group

[b]Antiphon[/b] by Michael Combs - Southern Music Publ - 10 performers - cool antiphonal piece, lots of split 16ths and so forth.

[b]Ritmica No. 5[/b] - Amadeo Roland - Southern Music Publ - this is a historically significant piece; it was one of the first percussion ensemble pieces ever written (before [b]Ionization[/b]). Not really difficult.

[b]Three Brothers[/b] - Michael Colgrass - Music for Percussion Publ - 9 performers - This was one of the first pieces of music written by Michael Colgrass, who later won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Music. The ";three brothers"; are the snare drum, bongo and timps and they carry the majority of the musical content. The other parts are accompamental and are pretty simple. So, if you have a few strong players and some weaker ones, this might be a great piece. It has an improvisational style.

[b]Scherzo for Percussion[/b] by William Schinstine - 7 performers - the instrumentation on this piece is Tambourine, Snare, Field Drum, Sus. Cym, Crash Cym, BD and Timps. It is a really easy piece in 6/8 and would fit a beginning ensemble nicely.

[b]Roll-Off Rhumba[/b] by Vic Firth - 7 performers - this is a kind of ";dated"; little piece, but again it has a simple instrumentation and can be performed by less experienced students.

[b]Common Relationship Across Percussion[/b] by Jon Kellis - 6 performers - Drop6 Media - this is a GREAT piece! 3 toms, 2 snares, 3 congas (or you can sub a bongo), maracas, temple blocks, & BD. The opening rhythm pattern is manipulated from 8th notes, to 16th notes and even 32nd notes in the snare drum part throughout the piece. The overall style of the piece is like a rhythmic ";fugue"; with counterpoint trading between instruments. This piece would require at least a few strong players so it might be too much for an inexperienced  group; but it would be something to work towards in the future. (Plus Jon Kellis was my favorite Grad Assistant at UNT when I went there so I wanted to give his music a plug)

I hope this might help. Good luck!
No, I don't have any mallet instruments. Our school offers Music Industry Degrees, so my primary role is Drum Set instruction. I currently have a roster of 27 students and wanted another outlet for them other than just studying Drum Set. (I do have 2 students who are interested in marching corps!) I won't know for sure how many I will have in Ensemble class until next quarter, but am trying to at least get some ideas flowing. 

I really appreciate your list and have been checking these pieces out online. I will be considering them when I see how many (and who) of my students end up in Ensemble.

I'll keep you posted!


PS.....See everybody in Dayton in April?!?!?!
I wish I could remember the name of this thing that Portland State University did in the mid 90's. The piece was kind unusual and had guys playing on coffee cans, etc. It also had a part where they played this thick rope that was duct taped to a gong drum. (They'd pull on it to do the ";lion's roar"; thing). I remember thinking it was awesome when I heard it, but it was too long ago to remember the name. And I'm not sure, but it doesn't seem like it used any chromatically tuned instruments.

Maybe someone here can place it from this description.

Or maybe you could just have several guys play the Black Page :)
Mike, sorry for the delayed response to your inquiry.  Guess I missed the chance to share some info.  These are a few of some of the pieces that I have collected over the years that might help you.  Don't know if some are in print or POP.  Anyway, it will be worth the effort.

[b]Clapping Music[/b] for two performers by [i]Steve Reich [/i] - published by Universal Edition, London (1980)
Written for two performers using different timbres which is left to the discretion of the performers.  Has repeated phrases which puts the piece at about 5 minutes.  No accents and the players are to avoid adding any metrical accents with the claps.

[b]Knock on Wood[/b] for 4 Players on 12 Wooden Instruments by [i]Allan Blank [/i] - published by Music for Percussion, Inc. (1974)
Each performer plays 3 instruments.  The total scale of 12 gradated instruments should be arranged ina semi-circle.  No specific wooden instruments are designated since several are possible on each level.  The composer advises using the following guidelines in choosing instruments: 1) timbre & pitch should be as distinct as possible, 2) the total range should be as wide as possible, & 3) the resonance should allow for a clearly discernable range of dynamics.

[b]Quasi Bossa Nova[/b] by [i]Owen Clark [/i] - published by Ludwig Music Publishing (1968)
Uses 5 players snare drum I, snare drum II, tenor drum, bass drum, cowbell

[b]Percussion Suite[/b] by [i]Armand Russell[/i] - published by Music for Percussion, Inc. (1962)
This suite is for three players and has three movements.  The first movement, ";Toccata"; uses temple blocks (player I), 4 tom-toms, triangle (player II), snare drum, suspended cymbal, triangle, bass drum (player III).  This one is a challenge since it uses mixed meters and some interesting rhythmic interactions.  The 2nd & 3rd movements use limited bells and xylophone inaddition to some other percussion instruments.

[b]Fugue for Percussion[/b] by [i]Lou Harrison[/i] - published by Music for Percussion, Inc. (1962)
Harrison liked to use non-Western music ideas and sounds in his compositions.  Take a trip to the local junkyard(s) and you'll have all the instruments that you will need in addition to the other ";store-bought"; percussion instruments. Player I uses a flexatone (or saw if you prefer), claves, maracas; Player II uses metalaphone (you need 7 pitches), box (my group used a very large but nice cardboard box, and 5 different cowbells; Player III uses meditation bells (you need 5), brake drums (5 different timbres), washtub (we used a galvanized tub from the local old-fashioned hardware store); Player IV uses bell - coils (you need 3; we used old suspension springs off of old trucks and cars), bass drum, gongs (2), suspended cymbal, and triangles (3).
[u]Side note:[/u] This piece is ";out there"; so to speak.  Instead of conducting, I had the for players use an earpiece that I wired into one metronome (tempo is half note equals 72).  I had someone run a slide show of random pictures using two different projectors on the ceiling while the quartet played.  It made the music more palatable and at times we even got some humor going.

[u]If you can get two to four roto-toms or some more tom-toms to use as substitute timpani, then take a look at:[/u]

[b]Prologue & Fight[/b] by [i]Jared Spears[/i] - published by Southern Music Company (1974)
Percussion quartet

[b]Rondo for Percussion[/b] by [i]Donald K. Gilbert[/i] - published by Southern Music (1965)
7 players

[b]Fanfare for Percussion[/b] by [i]Alyn Heim[/i] - published by Music for Percussion, Inc. (1967)
5 players

Good luck!  I'm sure you will discover more.
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