Video Performance Feature:

"Song of Queztecoatl" by Lou Harrison
     Performed by Third Coast Percussion

Mallet Selection for this Piece:

Orchestral Series Keyboard
Medium hard nylon for a focused sound on xylophone and bells.
Head = 1" | L = 14 3/16"
  [enlarge photo]
Signature Vibraphone - Terry Gibbs
Hard vibe or marimba. Rattan handles.
L = 15 1/4"
  [enlarge photo]
Tim Genis -- Dolce Articulate
Outstanding clarity in softer passages. Felt core.
L = 14 7/16" Head = 1 3/4"
  [enlarge photo]

About the piece:

Lou Harrison became a percussion ensemble pioneer partly by necessity -- he could make money writing for modern dance companies and use of percussion overcame problems of lack of space and shortage of money -- and partly by his own predilection. He had become enamored of the many sounds from non-Western musical traditions that could be heard in San Francisco in the 1940s, and collected non-Western musical instruments, including percussion, which he supplemented by objects found in junk yards (e.g. brake drums and wash tubs) that proved to have their own interesting musical qualities.

Harrison had a strong interest in the history and cultures of Mexico. Harrison came to own a full-color reproduction of materials from Mexican codices, which are pre-Columbian and pre-Colonial Aztec books. Harrison found the color reproductions fascinating, and decided to write music concerning the life of Quetzalcoatl, the "feathered serpent" hero-god depicted in some of the pages in his book. Although there was no film project involved here, Harrison imagined the music he wrote might be used for a film capturing images from the Mexican codices.

The ensemble for Song of Quetzalcoatl is a collection of drums, Mexican instruments, and metallophones, including some of his "junk" instruments and Chinese instruments. The piece calls for bells, wood blocks, dragon's mouths, two sistrums, cowbells, suspended or muted brake-drums, wooden rattle, snare drum, guiro (a Mexican rasp), glass wind chimes, triangle, gongs, tam-tam, tom-toms, and a low bass drum.

The piece is approximately six minutes long and begins with a rhythmic pattern that recurs throughout the piece. The music has the quality of a procession or ritual, particularly in the first portions of the composition. The ending, which is hushed, has an awestruck, magical quality.

- Description by Joseph Stevenson - Edited by Third Coast Percussion

About the composer:

Lou Harrison was one of the great composers of the twentieth century--a pioneer in the use of alternate tunings, world music influences, and new instruments. Born in 1917 in Portland Oregon, he spent much of his youth moving around Northern California before settling in San Francisco. There he studied with the modernist pioneer of American Music, Henry Cowell, and, while still in his twenties, composed extensively for dance and percussion. He befriended another of Cowell's students, John Cage, and the two of them established the first concert series devoted to new music for percussion. They composed extensively for these concerts, including their still popular collaboration Double Music. In 1942, Harrison moved to Los Angeles to study with the famous Arnold Schoenberg at UCLA. Steeped in the atonal avant garde of Schoenberg's school, he moved to New York the following year, where he made a name for himself not only as a composer, but also as a critic under the tutelage of composer/writer Virgil Thomson. Harrison also worked at editing the scores of American composer Charles Ives and conducted the first performance of Ives's Third Symphony (which won Ives the Pulitzer Prize). Harrison also published a study of the music of atonal composer Carl Ruggles, and the influence of Ruggles and Schoenberg comes through in works such as Harrison's Symphony on G and his opera Rapunzel. However, the stress and noise of New York led to a nervous breakdown in 1947. To help his friend recover, Cage recommended him to Black Mountain College in rural North Carolina, where the quiet and idyllic setting proved conducive to studies in Harrison's new interests, Asian music and tuning.

In 1953, he moved back to California and (then) rural Aptos, where he resided for the rest of his life. Despite his relative isolation from the music world, in the 1950s Harrison completed a remarkable set of works exploring new tunings and approaches to tonality, including his Strict Songs for just intonation orchestra and chorus. In 1961, he was invited to the East-West Music Encounter, a conference in Tokyo, which proved a leaping-off point for extensive studies of Asian music, first in Seoul, then in Taiwan. In the 1960s he created some of his best known works incorporating these influences, including Pacifika Rondo and Young Caesar. In the last, an elaborate puppet opera, he used for the first time instruments designed and built by his new life-partner, Bill Colvig.

In 1975, Harrison met K.R.T. Wasitodiningrat, familiarly known as Pak Cokro, one of the great masters of the Javanese gamelan orchestra in that century. Pak Cokro not only instructed him in gamelan music, but also encouraged him to compose for the ensemble. Over the next ten years, Harrison would produce dozens of works for gamelan, often in combinations with Western instruments, such as Philemon and Baukis (violin and gamelan), Main Bersama-sama (horn and Sundanese gamelan), and Bubaran Robert (trumpet and gamelan). He and Colvig built various sets of gamelan instruments, including ensembles at colleges where Harrison taught at various times--Mills College, San Jose State University, and Cabrillo College. In the 1980s, with the rise of interest in the "new tonality" and world music, the world began to catch up with Lou Harrison, who by the time of his death was recorded on dozens of CDs and was the subject of many festivals and tributes. On his way to another festival in his honor in January 2003 in Ohio, Harrison suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 85. As a composer, artist, poet, calligraphist, peace activist, Lou Harrison dedicated his life to bringing beauty into the world, and those of us who remember his warm generosity, his integrity of spirit, and his irrepressible joyfulness, owe a great debt of gratitude that he did.

About the performers:

Hailed by The New Yorker as “vibrant” and “superb,” Third Coast Percussion explores and expands the extraordinary sonic possibilities of the percussion repertoire, delivering exciting performances for audiences of all kinds. Since its formation in 2005, Third Coast Percussion has gained national attention with concerts and recordings that meld the energy of rock music with the precision and nuance of classical chamber works.

These “hard-grooving” musicians (New York Times) have become known for ground-breaking collaborations across a wide range of disciplines, including concerts and residency projects with engineers at the University of Notre Dame, architects at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, astronomers at the Adler Planetarium, and more. The ensemble enhances the performances it offers with cutting edge new media, including free iPhone and iPad apps that allow audience members to create their own musical performances and take a deeper look at the music performed by Third Coast Percussion.

Third Coast Percussion is the Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Notre Dame's DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. They have the honor of being the first ensemble at the University of Notre Dame to create a permanent and progressive ensemble residency program at the center. The ensemble performs multiple recitals annually as part of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Presenting Series season. Third Coast Percussion assumed the position of ensemble-in-residence at Notre Dame in 2013.

The ensemble champions the awe-inspiring music of John Cage, Steve Reich, George Crumb, Arvo Pärt, Gérard Grisey, Philippe Manoury, Wolfgang Rihm, Louis Andriessen, Toru Takemitsu, and Tan Dun, among others. Third Coast has also commissioned and performed world premieres by many of today’s leading composers, including Augusta Read Thomas, Timothy Andres, Glenn Kotche, David T. Little, Marcos Balter, Ted Hearne, and ensemble member David Skidmore.

Third Coast’s recent and upcoming concerts and residencies include the University of Chicago Presents, Atlas Performing Arts Center (Washington, D.C), Ensemble Music Society of Indianapolis, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Austin Chamber Music Festival, Millennium Park “Loops and Variations,” the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, and more. Third Coast has introduced percussion to chamber music audiences in Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Illinois, securing invitations to return to many of these series.

Third Coast’s passion for community outreach includes a wide range of residency offerings while on tour, in addition to a long-term residency with the Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Marimba Ensemble on Chicago’s South Side. In addition to its national performances, Third Coast Percussion’s hometown presence includes an annual Chicago series, with four to five concerts in locations around the city. The ensemble has collaborated in concert with acclaimed ensembles including Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Eighth Blackbird, and Ensemble Signal, pianists Anne-Marie McDermott, Amy Briggs, David Kaplan, and Timo Andres, and video artists Luftwerk.

The members of Third Coast Percussion —Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and David Skidmore—hold degrees in music performance from Northwestern University, the Yale School of Music, the Eastman School of Music, the New England Conservatory, and Rutgers University. Third Coast Percussion performs exclusively with Pearl/Adams Musical Instruments, Zildjian Cymbals, Remo Drumheads, and Vic Firth sticks and mallets.