Tuesday, June 21, 2011

January to June 2011

The first half of 2011 was an exciting (and busy) time for me. The UCA Percussion Studio was involved in many performances both at the University of Central Arkansas and around the state. I also had the chance to perform and work with students both in Arkansas and around the country.

In January, we loaded up the bus and headed out on tour with UCA's Bearly Contained ensemble. The Bearly Contained tour takes us to high schools around the state. This year's stops included Greenbrier, Yellville, Prairie Grove, Mountain Home, and Siloam Springs High Schools.

Above: members of the UCA Drumline

The show is a hybrid of our concert and marching programs at UCA and the group consists of a reduced hornline and drumline along with a small guard. Part of the program was my piece Cloud Forest. In addition to the usual percussion quartet accompaniment, graduate student Logan Smith arranged horn parts and we added a lot of extra hand drums (and triangles) to the mix.

Above: A shot of Cloud Forest at Greenbrier High School with the expanded ensemble.
photo credit: Marcy Wells

Above: A shot of the dress rehearsal for the opening number at Mountain Home High School.

Not long after our return from the Bearly Contained tour, the Wind Ensemble headed to Jonesboro, Arkansas for an evening runout concert. In addition to some other percussion heavy pieces, I joined my students Brant Blackard, Ashlee Burnam and Brian Elizondo for a performance of Gillingham's Concertino for Four Percussion and Wind Ensemble. We also performed Cloud Forest that night(the original version).

In February I headed down to Florida State University as part of John Parks' paternity leave. FSU enlisted a number of percussionists to visit campus in John's absence. I had a great week teaching classes, teaching lessons, and conducting rehearsals. Thanks to the students at FSU, who were not only incredible players, but who always made sure I had plenty of caffeine and Thai food!

Above: with the FSU Percussion Studio

In March, I hosted the UCA Percussion Festival. The festival began ten years ago as a way to bring well-known and talented percussionists to campus and give students at UCA (and from around the state) a chance to work with them. The first festival was attended by only 25 people. This year there were over 150 attendees.

As usual, we had many amazing percussionists as part of this year's festival. This year, though, almost all of them were former members of the UCA Percussion Studio. The alumni guest artists included Ben Finley, Justin Alexander, Jason Edwards, and Josh Knight along with Prairie Grove High School Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Neal Moss, and the Episcopal Collegiate School Steel Drum Band under the direction of Eric Saoud. The UCA Percussion Ensemble also performed on the festival. It was one of three concerts the ensemble presented last semester.

Our very special guest for the festival was Payton MacDonald. Although not a UCA alum, Payton is a great composer, performer, and one of my best friends in the world. He's a brilliant musician and I'm glad that my students had a chance to see him perform his compositions. In addition to his solo performances, Payton and I performed my piece Vertical River and his new duo, Gemini, on the festival.

Above: with Payton MacDonald and UCA Percussion Studio alumni

In late April, I headed up to Elmhurst College just outside of Chicago. Bob Rummage and I had been talking about a visit to the campus for a while, and we were finally able to make the scheduling work. I spent time working with the students in rehearsals and in private lessons. I conducted the ensemble in A Ceiling Full of Stars, saw great student performances of Cloud Forest and Vertical River, and played a few solo pieces for the audience. Not only was the concert amazing, so was the pizza afterwards. Thanks to Bob Rummage for his flawless organization of the event...and for the pizza!

Above: with Bob Rummage and the Elmhurst College Percussion Ensemble.
Photo credit: David Gross

In May, I had the great honor of returning to my old high school to work with students and perform with the percussion ensemble. North Gwinnett High School has developed one of the best music programs in Georgia, and the percussion program there (and at North Gwinnett Middle School) is really terrific.

Above: with the percussion ensembles of North Gwinnett High school and North Gwinnett Middle School

I performed Anubis and Cloud Forest with a student quartet, and Vertical River with Ryan Smith. (I met Ryan when I performed at UGA in 2009. I really appreciated that he agreed to perform with me. He's a talented musician and is doing many great things as a teacher in Georgia.)

I also played some solo pieces, presented a clinic, taught some private lessons and worked with the percussion class. As an added bonus, I got to see a lot of old friends, teachers, and family at the concert. Thanks to Hunter McCrae and Joe Higgins for having me in and for the incredible work they have done at North Gwinnett!

Click through to YouTube to see this video in widescreen

Just a few days ago I finished up my work at Dixie Band Camp at UCA. DBC is one of the oldest music camps in the country and celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. There were over 60 high school percussionists at the camp (and 500 students in all). Each year, Dixie Band Camp brings in well-known band conductors and composers to work with the students. Past guests have included Francis McBeth, Claude W. Smith, James Croft, David Holsinger, Richard Saucedo and Robert W. Smith. I spent the week working with students in masterclasses, clinics, sectionals, and percussion ensemble rehearsals. It's always a lot of fun working with enthusiastic students and colleagues.

Above: with the DBC Percussion Ensemble made of of students from the top three bands

Above: with the DBC Percussion Masterclass students

Of course, in addition to all of this, the usual day to day work of the percussion studio at UCA went on as well, with amazing recitals and ensemble performances by my students. When I see and hear my students perform in our symphonic bands, jazz bands, orchestras and percussion ensembles, I am always immensely proud of the work they do. New videos of the percussion ensemble's performances will be posted soon.

Above: The 2011 UCA Percussion Ensemble

We also had a visit from line upon line percussion trio (amazing concert) and the biggest turnout ever at auditions for next fall's drumline.

Above: line upon line and composer (and UCA graduate) Zack Stanton talk with UCA students before the concert.

Above: Drumline auditions at UCA.

I recently finished up a short new piece for solo marimba called Not far from here, continued work on my percussion trio Vagabond of Light (commissioned by the Caixa Trio) and started working on a new large percussion ensemble piece commissioned by Eric Willie and the Tennessee Tech University Percussion Ensemble.

I never forget how lucky I am to have the opportunities that I do. I get to work with great students at UCA and around the country, to perform my compositions with great ensembles, and work with great performers and composers. I can't imagine anything better.

Last year was incredible and, with a terrific freshman class and four incoming grad students, it looks like the coming year will be an amazing one for percussion at UCA!

As always, thanks to Dynasty, Pro-Mark and Zildjian for their support. They helped make my concert appearances and the UCA Percussion Festival possible.

Specific dates of the events mentioned above can be found on my calendar at www.blaketyson.com

If you've performed one of my compositions and don't see your performance listed on the calendar, please email me with the details and I'll post it right away. – BT

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