Percussion ensemble resonates with audience

The UConn Percussion Ensemble, directed by Robert McEwan, performs several orchestral percussion arrangements for their winter concert in the Von Der Mehden Recital Hall at the UConn Storrs Campus on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. (Owen Bonaventura/The Daily Campus)

Tuesday night in the von der Mehden Recital Hall, percussionists from various parts of the music program led by masters degree student Shaun Cayabyab and percussionist Rex Sturtevant collaborated on a diverse and exciting show of all percussion instruments.

All the stage lights were on, brightly illuminating the huge variety of instruments that would be used in the performance. The stage was arranged with marimbas, vibraphones, xylophones, kettledrums, bongos, symbols, a piano, a drum set, wood blocks, shakers and anything else one could possibly imagine

The audience waited patiently for the show to begin, chatting amongst themselves quietly before a small group of students in casual concert attire took the stage, assembling around only a few marimbas for the first piece, titled “Sosso-Bala” and composed by Emmanuel Séjourné in 2007.

This piece was highly dynamic. Not only did the musicians use single and double mallet grips, but this piece also included bows like that used on string orchestra instruments. The bows were used on the sides of the keys to produce a unique and drawn out sound that could not otherwise be obtained with mallets alone. There were also lulls in the piece where performers snapped their fingers and the pipes below the keys were blown on in piano tones for a very mysterious and gentle sound, a contrast to the striking of the mallets.

“I have heard this piece before, and they did a great job with the scaffolding process of building upon each other, coming in and out during the piece. It really built a beautiful communal feeling, which is what many percussion pieces are all about. The textures were deep and layered beautifully with the bows,” said Carly Burriesci, a seventh-semester music education major.

The second piece in the show was radically different from the first. Four performers took to the front of the stage in a symmetrical manner with wooden stands and toms as well as boomwhackers, which are plastic pipes that are cut to a specific length to play a note when struck. Titled “Second Thoughts,” this was an almost tribal sounding song.

The third piece, titled “Shared Space” had a much more relaxed tempo, with multiple performers on either side of marimbas creating complex melodies and progressions, all working together in seamless harmony.

Fourth in the show was certainly a favorite of the percussionists as their body language and wide smiles let the audience know that they were enjoying this sporadic and complicated piece which featured steel drums, many different toms and snares, a base drum and wood blocks.

“‘Sharpened Stick’ was definitely my favorite to play,” Shaun Cayabyab, conductor of the final piece, said. “It is always a lot of fun. But the piece that gave the group the most adversity was definitely the final piece. It was not like the others where you have four or five musicians that can feed off each other. This piece required a conductor because of how complex it was,” Cayabyab said.

“Stained Glass” required a 10-minute intermission to set the stage and had many diverse effects like wine glasses and symbols that were submerged in a tub of water to taper off the pitch during the piano parts of the piece.

“The final piece is a bit of a throw back to old school percussion and orchestra composing,” said Robert McEwan, the show’s director.

The percussionists were given a thunderous applause at the end of the show as they took a bow. Be on the lookout for more percussion shows coming in December.


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.