Percussion ensemble delivers masterful performance

The Lawrence University Percussion Ensemble (LUPÉ) put on a performance of Latin American percussion and traditional music last week in Memorial Chapel. The first third of the show was a marimba showcase that featured the talents of a guest artist, percussionist Jack Van Geem, while the second part featured the student group Tambo Toké, directed by senior Nolan Ehlers, and the performance concluded with a performance by the Sambistas led by Professor of Music Dane Richeson.

The program began with a trio of marimbists playing a tune by Marc Mellits titled “Gravity,” which was an impressive show of rhythmic control when confronted with an ever-changing and fast-paced melody. The guest performer, Van Geem, joined the fun in the next piece, which was a marimba concerto comprised of three movements called “Road Business,” written by Austin Yip, with four other student marimbists. It was an altogether beautiful piece that showed the range of talent that the students and their more experienced professional counterpart bring to the music, with the younger performers matching the elder musician in charisma and technique. With the end of the concerto, the student marimbists took their seats at the back of the stage and listened to Van Geem play a solo piece, which was much more ruminative and sweet-sounding than the pieces we had heard previously. It added a nice variance to the more energetic performances that had preceded it. Van Geem then went and joined the audience as director Richeson took the stage and led the ensemble in a performance of “Interstellar,” by Tom Nazziola, with sophomore Sam Green joining on the piano. 

Next up, Tambo Toké, a group inspired by traditional Cuban folk music, took the stage and Richeson and Ehlers took turns talking about the importance of this music tradition, both for them personally and why it is good to continue teaching this music as a way of maintaining a cultural tradition. Ehlers has spent time studying in Cuba and it is good that his work in this field can be recognized like this at an undergraduate level. Senior Kelci Page and sophomore Tyler Nanstad sung the lead vocals, while there was a backup choir also singing and playing various percussion instruments. Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnación also joined the group on percussion. Ehlers did a great job of leading the ensemble and Page and Nanstad did a beautiful job singing the lyrics to what must have been a difficult piece for non-Spanish speakers. The pieces that were played are called “Ríos,” “Océanos,” and “Profundidades.”

The Sambistas took the stage for the final performance of the afternoon, in which Richeson, with a snare drum slung over his shoulder, led the ensemble in a rousing rendition of the “Batucada Show,” from what would be a traditional Brazilian Carnivalé in Rio de Janeiro. Special mention must be given to Page, who effortlessly transitioned from singing their heart out with Tambo Toké to slinging a heavy bass drum over their shoulder and pounding away with the Sambistas. 

Overall, it was a spectacular show that showed a variety of both percussion music in general and Cuban and Brazilian traditional music in particular, with standout moments from the guest artist Van Geem and multi-talented students like Ehlers and Page. Everyone should try to go to a LUPÉ concert while they are at Lawrence.