Yesterday, I had a discussion with my colleagues about what attracts people to percussion — what brings people to percussion concerts. Is it all the motions and gestures that go into playing? Is the exhaustive list of instruments we get to play? Is it all the interesting “noise” we make?
Steven Schick got it right in his book, “The Percussionist’s Art.” When the general public (those without formal musical training) attend a string quartet concert, there is a disconnect with the audience. The audience is looking in awe at the performers as true masters of their craft. The audience thinks, “Wow, that’s impressive. It looks so difficult!” However, when the same audience attends a percussion recital, there’s immediately a connection. The audience thinks, “Oh, hitting those terra-cotta pots looks so easy. I can do that!”
We can’t see the air going through a clarinet or the targets of each finger on a fingerboard. We can’t see long and short form a trumpet player. Percussionists give the audience all these things. The audience can see the contact of the bar. They can see the flowing motions of a Bach Cello Suite and the quick strokes of boisterous snare drum entrances in Scheherazade. The targets are the bars on instruments and the instruments themselves.
They often view percussionists as foley artists who play with toys and novelty. However, there seems to be a general appreciation for the ability to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of the percussion section. It all seems easy until someone comes up to try out the gear.