Perhaps it was Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie who said it best, when she said: “The thing about playing percussion is that you can create all these emotions…sometimes beautiful, sometimes really ugly…or sweet…as big as King Kong and so on.” With renowned band director and percussionist Rick Dior assembling his latest collaboration with the UNC Charlotte Percussion Ensemble to deliver just that sporadic and unique variety of emotion, we are exposed to the vibrancy and versatility of the drum; and beyond that, percussion in its greatest form.
At its core, percussion can be defined as a refined riot. Slightly paraphrasing from Glennie again, I have always seen percussion as an ever-evolving art; messy, sometimes crude, but systematic. I instantly saw the gears turning within his mind and his fingertips as band director Rick Dior entered the stage. I saw various students and future band directors alike quietly assembling their instruments, tuning their drums, bells and snares to the ideal sound. I could see it clearly, that a unique dialogue was just waiting to unfold.
This particular percussion ensemble performance called to me for many reasons, but the main reason had to be my history with percussion. Once a wide-eyed student to the drum set myself, I found myself drawn into the past by Dior’s intriguing collection of famous percussion compositions. As the performance began with a feverish battery of maracas, tom toms, marimbas and vibraphones, my eyes lurched from instrument to instrument, my pupils bouncing with every beat. It was pure mania. My thoughts leaped back in time to 7th grade band class, Rick Dior appearing as a beautifully-evolved image of my old teacher. The performance itself felt matured to what I had been doing all those years ago. It was frantic, but all-together contained.
I was taken back to my high school days of learning to play the drums when the next performance began. Steeped in the rudimental snare drum tradition, Kevin Bobo’s ‘Quartet for the Four Snare Drums’ unleashed a visual and audible showcase with the truest intent of both blinding and deafening the audience’s senses. Nevertheless, I sat amazed as four immensely-skilled percussion students flared their sticks across the snare drum. Becoming only slightly more controlled than the last piece, the performance remained ever-sporadic, but demanded the audience’s attention with every movement of the hand. In a moment of strange melancholy I saw myself in the performers. I saw the refined skill of the drummer, as well as the patience and fearless that I had never had.
Composer Blake Tyson’s peaceful arrangement ‘Ceiling Full of Stars’ kicked off the next segment, as the mania of the night began to simmer down. “A journey through space as seen through the eyes of a small child,” as Tyson described it, the unusually somber yet awe-inspiring melody worked to relax my thoughts of the past. The eerie yet beautiful chimes of triangles and other instruments created a visual journey into the infinity of space, and furthermore, the infinity of life itself. The whirlwind of emotion that was my mind found solace in the quiet, mournful piece.
My eyes were plucked open suddenly as the conclusion of the night’s performance began, and the last piece, Tom Gauger’s ‘Portico,’ ignited the stage. Pulling from not only classical percussion pieces and Irish melodies, it also spun a fascinating Afro-Cuban likeness as it raised the tempo of the night one final time. My eyes, still wildly shifting from performer to performer, finally rested on Dior, his baton swaying ceaselessly through the past and the present.