Where are My Sticks and Drums? Talking Setups with the Meehan/ Perkins Duo

November 3, 2009 9:15 pm in Concert by Meehan Perkins Duo

Doug: Welcome to the first of three “articles” that Todd and I are doing surrounding our recent podcasts of Paul Lansky’s  “Travel Diary.”   At one point or another, every concert percussionist (no matter what age) is faced with a piece or a part that requires playing crazy combinations of instruments or what seems like a million stick changes.  “Travel Diary” is that piece for us!  We hope that sharing our playing and some of our thoughts can help give you some ideas for your playing.

Todd: Each new project we embrace is yet another opportunity to learn something new about ourselves. Doug and I are always amazed by the new works we take on as a duo and how we continue to grow individually and as an ensemble. After playing together for 10 years it would be easy to say we’ve learned all there is to know about our idiosyncrasies, our quirks, and our tendencies as musicians. But with each piece we find ourselves in a new landscape – a landscape requiring different approaches, and needing to learn new things, acquire new skills, and see things in new ways. This keeps us fresh and always seeking new challenges.

Doug: Lansky’s “Travel Diary” is the first (and biggest) work we’ve commissioned as a Duo.  The project grew out of a mutual love and admiration for Paul’s work – both his electronic and acoustic music.  The title refers to a trip that Paul took with his family from New Jersey to California in the 1980′s.  Each movement is a separate aspect of this and really any trip.  Paul’s work with computer music is one big reason that I think he is such a great composer for percussion.  Unusual sounds and timbres are no strangers to him.

Watch us play the first two movements here:

Todd:  One of the first big issues to tackle with the piece is how to handle set-up. Instrument placement is absolutely crucial within each performer’s set-up so we did a lot of brainstorming before we ever got in a room together to find something that would be manageable. Paul really took the time to ask our opinion during the writing process to see whether or not a given passage was possible. Because of this we were able to workshop several of the more difficult passages before we had the whole piece.

Doug:  The set-up we arrived at is by no means the only solution – in fact we were hesitant to have Paul include the diagram in the published score because we didn’t want to set something in stone that should really be left to each new performer. Everybody has different performance strengths and weaknesses, body types, comfort levels within set-up pieces, etc and these make all of us approach things differently.  What if you are a lefty,  what if you hate to put the bass drum behind you? You may even have different gear than us that allows you to do different things.  I am certainly open to other solutions.

Todd: Instrument placement really depends on where the primary performance areas are behind each set up. While our keyboard instruments (vibe and marimba) are the core of each set-up, we each have a multitude of other instruments to engage within each movement. In both set-ups we put most of our additional instruments as an extension of the upper end of our keyboard instruments, as tight to our keyboard instruments as possible. This set-up enables us to move quickly from one area to another or, as is often the case, engage two or more instruments at once.

Our set-ups in relation to each other are simply positioned in a way that gives us the greatest opportunity to communicate. The delicate opening of the piece is always a challenge with regard to verticality between parts and we need to fully engage each other to have a fighting chance. These moments of communication occur constantly throughout the work and whether it’s a large cue or a subtle glance, we need each other’s eyes at all times.

Doug:  Lastly, the placement and selection of our sticks were crucial.  Since Paul is typically giving us a couple of things to do at once, we are often holding a wide variety of sticks at the same time.  If we did not learn our stick changes as well as we learned the notes, we would be dropping sticks left and right and I would be playing marimba with glock mallets. That would be no fun!

As you watch this first video, check out how our gear is laid out and see what we did.  Notice where are sticks and drums are.  (Check out Todd’s ridiculously fast finger technique and watch me change mallets over and over.)  Let us know what you think or tell us about crazy setups that you are dealing with.  We are all ears!

The Meehan/ Perkins Duo website
Paul Lansky’s website
Watch Paul Lansky’s  Percussion Quartet “Threads” at vicfirth.com here and here