TTU Percussion Ensemble makes it to music’s ‘Final Four’

Posted by Lori Shull - Thursday, September 27 2012

  • TTU's 26-member Percussion Ensemble is one of four universities invited to play at one of the largest conferences for percussion musicians in the world. They will introduce some of the best percussionists in the world to compositions written during the past two years in a compilation concert Nov. 1 in Austin, Texas.
  • The group will play a preview of the 15-piece compilation at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, in the Bryan Fine Arts building's Wattenbarger Auditorium.

thumb AdamMcInnesIf music were college basketball, the Tennessee Tech University Percussion Ensemble would be in the Final Four.

The 26-member ensemble was invited to perform Nov. 1 in front of more than 5,500 people at one of the world’s largest events for percussionists.

“My students are incredible. There are only four classic percussion ensembles invited,” said Eric Willie, TTU’s associate professor of percussion. “This automatically puts our name on the map and makes us rise on the list of music schools.”

Every year, three universities are invited to play at the Percussive Arts Society In-Service Conference through a winning entry in the Call for Tapes contest. A fourth is invited to present new works written for percussion during the past two years. This year, TTU was invited to present the best works written for the percussion repertoire.

“It’s exciting because we get to play in front of all these people who do exactly what we do,” said Adam McInnes, a senior music major from Dickson. “It’s nerve-wracking because they know exactly what we’re doing. It’s a higher caliber of listener.”

Through their performance, other musicians will discover and buy new pieces to play.

“At Tennessee Tech, we’re exposed to a lot of new-age repertoire and I feel like that’s why we’re going to play at PASIC,” said senior music major Konstantine Vlasis of Chattanooga. “We’re doing things that no one is doing. It’s a blast.”

The students will play selections from 15 pieces in a 90-minute set with no breaks. All but one of those pieces will be memorized.

“I’d rather have them looking at their hands than at the music,” Willie said. “That’s how they want to do it too.”

The Percussion Ensemble will perform the PASIC selections at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, in the Bryan Fine Arts Buidling’s Wattenbarger Auditorium on TTU’s campus. It is free and open to the public.

thumb NickEberhartEn route to Austin, they will perform in Little Rock, Ark., Dallas and Frisco, Texas on the way down to the conference in Austin, Texas. They will perform at the conference, then fly back so they can be in Cookeville for TTU’s Homecoming. TTU alumnus Daniel Wainright, ’11, is helping them find a restaurant for dining and celebration after their performance. Wainright lives in Austin.

Moving 26 students and their instruments is complicated. The ensemble will take 30 drums, 13 mallets instruments, 10 cymbals, 12 assorted gongs, and scores of mallets with them to Texas.

“In percussion, each piece has its own set up, its own instruments. It’s not like we’re a trumpet ensemble, where you just have one instrument,” Willie said. “We don't even have some of the instruments; there are pieces we have to order from different countries.”

The ensemble is raising money to help pay for the travel expenses, which include a bus to get to Texas, plane tickets to get home and a U-Haul for the instruments.

The musicians will take a bus to Texas so they can perform in front of crowds before Austin. They will fly home because they need to participate in many of the Homecoming events the next day.

To prepare for the performance, the ensemble has two-hour rehearsals every day. About eight hours will be spent choreographing the placements and movements of the drums on the stage and during the performance.

“It is beyond just setting up and practicing,” Willie said. “It’s getting our instruments and deciding which mallets to use. There are sometimes four or five sets of mallets for individual pieces.”

This is the first time TTU has been invited to perform at the conference, though most of the older students in the ensemble have attended.

In addition to dozens of performances by some of the best percussionists in the world, the conference includes an expo with hundreds of vendors, prototypes and other instruments.

Other universities scheduled to perform are the University of South Carolina, Troy University in Alabama and the University of Texas at Austin.

“We are an all-undergraduate institution and it gives us solid credibility,” Willie said. “For a percussion ensemble, if you’ve made it here, you can make it anywhere.”

“Now we just have to show up and throw it down.”

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