While they may be located at the back of the orchestra, percussion sections deliver some of the most exciting and action-packed performances. In preparation for the 2023-24 season's second Masterworks concert, featuring Sandbox Percussion, we wanted to highlight what makes the percussion section the most unique and fascinating section in the orchestra.
- They play a wide range of instruments.
- Instead of specializing on one instrument, percussionists must be proficient in many instruments and a variety of techniques. Throughout a concert, and often in the middle of a single piece, percussionists will switch between instruments. Watch the percussion section to try to catch some of their quick transitions! In addition to the well-known snare and bass drums, percussionist's arsenal of skilsets includes things like timpani, drums that have varying pitches that can be changed and tuned. Some drums are played with a drumstick, some are played with a fabric covered mallet, and some drums are played with the hands. Percussionists are also responsible for keyboard-like instruments, such as xylophone and marimba. Various small instruments, noise-makers, and sound-effects like tambourine, maracas, cymbals, slide whistles, and the triangle also fall under their purview.
- They specialize in the rhythm.
- Orchestra music is known for its beautiful melodies, but someone has to be responsible for keeping the beat! While percussionists can play melodic material on some of their instruments, other instruments are just played for the rhythm. This means that the music is written using the neutral clef, a clef that is not used for any other instrument.
- They use common objects to make music.
- Many musicians' instruments can cost thousands of dollars, but percussionists sometimes use common objects to make music. Our Masterworks 2 concert will feature Viet Cuong’s Re(new)al, which uses crystal glasses and compressed air cans as percussion instruments. In addition, aluminum foil is used on a vibraphone to recreate the sound of electronic music. It is fascinating to watch how percussionists can use these objects to make meaningful music. Check out our Masterworks 2 concert to experience it for yourself!