WSU's Percussion Ensemble features guests, noisy surprises

4:35:02 PM CDT - Thursday, November 18, 2004

By Shannon Littlejohn

A sculpture that plays itself, two extraordinary guest artists and the WSU Percussion Ensemble will treat audiences this November to a rocking time in Miller Concert Hall.

Liam Teague, from Trinidad and Tobago, and Robert Chappell, head percussionist at Northern Illinois University, are the featured artists. They are longtime colleagues in advancing steelpan performance and composition. Steelpan is the national instrument of Teague's homeland.

"Robert is a musician extraordinaire," said J.C. Combs, professor of percussion at WSU. "And Liam is probably one of the greatest steel drummers today."

The percussion partners will perform with WSU's Percussion Ensemble and also do a couple of pieces from their latest CD, "For Lack of Better Words." Combs said that one of those will likely be the "Moto Perpetuo," an arrangement of one of Italian composer and violinist Paganini's works. The duo easily moves from classical arrangements to their own original works to calypsos from Trinidad to 1920s' ragtime.

Teague and Chappell will also solo on a big African xylophone that Combs is importing (on loan) from Africa especially for the occasion.

The concert's opening will feature another loaned instrument: "the sculpture that plays itself." But this one's on loan from a local source: arts advocate Ann Garvey. Garvey purchased "Drum Tower" from artist Tom McGuire, and only recently saw it delivered to her Wichita home.

"I'm delighted that it's going to be used," said Garvey. One push of a button sets the strange structure off into a happy hullabaloo.

"It's pretty funky," Combs said with a laugh. A member of the local Boys & Girls Club Samba Band will be on hand to give the sculpture the jumpstart it needs to perform, he said.

Then the program will blast off in earnest with "Vociferation," an exciting piece loosely based on the African clave and featuring 13 players, Combs said. The ensemble will also perform a choro, the classical music of Brazil. It's fast and very difficult, but fun for the players.

The program will also feature a piece called "Ionisation," written by Edgard Varese in the 1930s.

"Varese was from a school of composers who were totally enamored of noises, especially from urban areas," said Combs, comparing him to Spike Jones, a U.S. pop star of the 1950s in the cacophonous style of music. Frank Zappa was heavily influenced by Varese, Combs added. In fact, Zappa penned a tribute to him, "The Idol of My Youth," in the June 1971 issue of Stereo Review.

"Ionisation," the work most often associated with Varese, consists of 13 musicians playing a total of 37 percussion instruments, including two sirens (one low and one high pitched), two tam-tams, ditto, gong, crash cymbals, three different-sized bass drums, bongos, snare drums, guiros, slap-sticks, chinese blocks (three registers), Cuban claves, triangle, maracas, sleigh bells, castanets, tambourine, anvils (two registers), chimes, celesta and piano.

In addition, the WSU steel band and Afro-Cuban group will strut their stuff as students Kim Garey and Brian Cheesman lead the groups with assistance from Steve Wilson. The students will also perform a choro arranged by Daniel Cathey, he said.

"All of the music is extremely complex," Combs said, with a tinge of pride that is well-placed in WSU's percussion program.

WSU Percussion Ensemble with guest artists Liam Teague and Robert Chappell is at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22 in Miller Concert Hall, Duerksen Fine Arts Center, WSU campus. Tickets are $5 general admission with discounts available. Call the College of Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233 for more information.

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