Third Coast Percussion at Lawrence University

For the average concert-attendee, such as me, percussion can be easily dismissed as a simple backbeat element invented to support another main cast of musical instruments. There is no denying that percussion serves as the glue and backbone of many songs closest to my heart, and that without its various forms, music simply wouldn’t work the same way. However, the percussion quartet Third Coast Percussion, who performed at Lawrence’s Chapel on Friday night, showed me that there is a certain showmanship to percussion instruments, fuming with passion and pure energy, drawing listeners and players into the fundamental human experience of sound.  

Third Coast Percussion consists of percussionists Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore. The Grammy Award-winning group has been performing for over fifteen years and, in addition to original music, has premiered many compositions by both experienced and debut artists. The stage consisted of many instruments utilized throughout different pieces, including two five-octave marimbas, tuned metal pipes and bars, two bowls of water with a splash guard and several other sticks and mallets varying in size, texture, length and hardness.  

The pieces performed included the works of Clarice Assad, Philip Glass, Danny Elfman, Devonté Hynes and Jlin. Before each performance, Third Coast Percussion would reveal what inspired the piece, often including videos of the composers talking about their work. Then they would begin to play, and while they were sometimes accompanied by videos on the screens behind them, there were very few instances where this was essential to the work. These artists are no doubt performers, and watching the intensity of their playing and expressions, I finally understood why someone might want to perform for a living. They felt what they were playing and built off of each other’s energy to make each performance memorable. 

While every piece performed that night was worthy of adoration, my personal favorite was by the last artist on the program, Jlin, who wrote the five-movement piece Perspective. The fourth movement in particular, titled “Derivative,” was when I found myself most drawn into the music. Suddenly I wasn’t just picturing scenes of nature or watching and enjoying a performance. I felt the intensity and emotion, and was able to understand music as a language in and of itself. As Third Coast Percussion’s musical journey continues, I can only hope that others will be swayed with the passion their performance entails, and that their music will live on for generations.