Guest recital: “Across the Grain” 

On Sunday, April 14 at 1 p.m., Lawrence University was graced by bassoonist Susan Nelson and percussionist Colin McCall’s joint concert, titled “Across the Grain,” in Harper Hall.  

Nelson is the Associate Professor of Bassoon and the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Ohio. She has attended the University of Kansas, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Michigan. McCall is a well-established percussionist, participating in various competitions and ensembles. He’s won the Black Swamp Multi Percussion Competition and the Atlantic Symphony Modern Snare Drum Competition, participated in the TROMP International Percussion Competition and was a semi-finalist in the Northwestern Percussion Competition. McCall holds degrees from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s from Eastman School of Music.  

The duo began their recital on that warm and sunny afternoon with Gene Koshinski’s (b. 1980) “Get It!” (2011). The piece was almost four minutes long, and its mix of percussion was upbeat and uplifting, making for a danceable song.  

Next, Nelson and McCall enraptured the audience with David Bixler’s (b. 1964) “Not Yet” (2005). McCall rolled in the marimba. This piece was closer to 10 minutes long, and it started off slow, with the occasional “dong” of the marimba, before picking up tempo, then mellowing out again. Overall, this piece sounded rather easygoing, and I could imagine it being snuck into “The Jungle Book” (1967) somewhere, when the plot is slowly building and meandering its way along, until the end of the piece, where the speed picks up. Perhaps it’s a build-up song, in our hypothetical alternative 2024 “The Jungle Book.” 

“Texas Hoedown” (2005) was the title of the next song they performed. Nelson took a break, giving McCall the floor to perform his vibraphone solo. Compared to xylophones, vibraphones have metal tone plates, which makes their music louder, and it carries farther. “Texas Hoedown” was composed by David Friedman (b. 1944). Given the chance, I’d ask him about his thought process for titling this piece; with the metal tone plates, the sound of this piece reminds me more of a lullaby than any sort of hoedown. McCall’s solo drew to a close after about six minutes.  

Our last song before intermission was “Nocturne for bassoon and marimba” (2021) by Connor Chee (b. 1987). As the title indicates, the marimba came back, and so did Nelson. This piece was slow, despondent and dramatic — a far cry from the pieces preceding it. In looking for another rendition for a re-listen, I found a performance by the West Point Band, with the Diné Bahane’ — the Navajo creation story — voiced over it. “Nocturne for bassoon and marimba” is delicate enough to do justice to the creation story of a Native American people, and it was beautifully played by Nelson and McCall.  

An intermission gave the recital to a short pause, before Nelson and McCall returned to play Nathan Daughtrey’s (1975) “Triple Moon” (2020). McCall continued with the marimba. This piece was a mix of upbeat and slow. I could imagine it in a Disney movie when the characters are traveling somewhere to gain their desired goal with various short hiccups on the way. It wrapped up in eight minutes. 

Next, Nelson had a solo, playing Gernot Wolfgang’s (b. 1957) “Dual identity for solo bassoon” (2005). This four-minute piece was a mix of energetic and exciting and lyrical and sweet; the beginning was energetic, while the middle was lyrical, until it returned to a low, yet lively finish. This piece reminded me of the sound of ducks quacking. It was very fun to listen to. 

The final piece of the night brought our duo back together, with McCall back on percussion. “Wooden Stone” (2020) by Jenni Brandon (b. 1977) is based on a poem of the same name by Karla Linn Merrifield. According to Brandon’s website, “This work explores petrified wood, or the fossilized wood where the living parts of the tree are replaced by a mineralization process that turns the wood into stone. It maintains the original shape of the organic material, now hardened, and its transformation takes place underground once the wood has become submerged in volcanic ash or water. Using the colors of both wooden instruments and metals, this work follows the story of a tree turned to petrified wood, and its ancient journey of transformation.” This piece was more profound now knowing the backstory in mind, though it was difficult for me to conceptualize the transformation of trees via music.   

With that, the recital drew to a close. Stay tuned to the Lawrence University events calendar for more guest recitals at the Conservatory!