By Izzy Yellen
Saturday, April 11, the night of the Third Coast Percussion concert, had finally arrived. The entire percussion studio was in attendance along with many other conservatory students and even some locals, all there to see the unique quartet. The concert took place in Lawrence Memorial Chapel and was part of the 2014-15 Artist Series.
Third Coast Percussion is a percussion quartet based in Chicago and has been stretching the limits of what sounds an ensemble like them can create since 2004. With their various instrumentations, theatrical performances and a wide variety of compositions—both covers and originals—they amaze their audiences.
They opened the concert with a mesmerizing piece that primarily used marimba with other traditional percussion instruments as well. This set a nice mood for the concert and was a great opener, while also being accessible to the casual listener, whereas the rest of their program was a bit more experimental.
Their experimental traits came from various sources—uncommonly used instruments, unconventional ways of playing objects and unique inspirations, to name a few. In one piece, the four of them stood around a table of twenty-six singing bowls, all tuned to specific notes to create interesting, meditative chords. In another, they played tables equipped with contact mics, making sounds not only by hitting, but by scraping, squeaking and many other methods. All of their pieces—but these two in particular—showed their innovation and openness to using all sorts of sounds to engage themselves and the audience.
What they listen to and take in as influences also greatly shapes their overall sound and program. Their final piece, “Third Construction,” by John Cage, is a staple in their repertoire and is essential to who they are as musicians. They play it in almost all of their concerts not only because they enjoy it, but also because it defines them as a quartet. The fourth piece, “Trying,” by their own David Skidmore, takes influence from quite a different end of the music spectrum—Swedish metal band Meshuggah. It is uncommon to hear a contemporary ensemble with such a wide set of influences, so it was refreshing to learn about Third Coast’s inspiration.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the concert was their overall showmanship and how they engaged the audience. Each of their eight pieces got a short introduction from one of the members that explained the process of composing, a bit about the instruments used or various other facts, giving the audience things to think about while listening. All members also maintained the same mannerisms to establish a theatrical feel for each piece. For example, in “Table Music,” by Theirry de Mey, in which they played tables, each movement was perfectly synchronized. This made the piece not only interesting to listen to, but also to watch. This approach was evident in all of their pieces and added to each performance.
As someone who has not had much exposure to percussion music, this concert was very entertaining to attend; it opened my ears.