Friday, November 6, 2009

Life in the Percussion Section

One of the jokes I make about my life is that when I married Warren, I married the Symphony. As Executive Director of a small regional symphony with a staff consisting of only himself, his duties range widely from administration to janitorial, with anything else in between those two extremes. Since Warren lives so much of his life with and for the Symphony, I live a lot of my life with and for the Symphony too.

What I have recently been reminded of is that not only am I married to the Symphony, but I also now live in the percussion section.

Warren is a percussionist. Until we became involved with one another, I had no idea what that truly meant.

I played in concert band all through school - first the flute and then the tuba, the latter being my true love instrumentally. There were always plenty of students - Warren among them - in the back of the band, playing the plethora of instruments that make up the percussion section.

In my naivety, I assumed that adult percussionists plied their trade just like high school percussionists. I figured when they played for an orchestra, all of the instruments were there on stage waiting for them. All they had to do was show up with some sticks or mallets and start playing.

My first intimation that this might not be so was when Warren offered to lend me some traps (what some of us novices might call "noisemakers") for a spelling bee. It turns out he owned lots of them. Lots of them? How about cases of them? Cowbells and ratchets and slide whistles and finger cymbals and gongs and gourds and slapsticks and things that I didn't even know were played, much less had a name.

As we saw more and more of each other, Warren started to talk about instruments that he had built or hoped to build or needed to rebuild - marimbas and xylophones and vibes and bass drum stands and tom toms. He would mention having to pull this or that instrument for a concert, and at the point that the instrument in question was a bass drum, I finally asked him just what all did he own? After Warren ran down a pretty extensive list, I asked what in retrospect was the end of my innocence about percussionists.

"Doesn't the orchestra own these things?"

No, as it turns out, the orchestra did not. In fact, most orchestras do not own many percussion instruments. Percussionists own most if not all of their own instruments. In fact, as Warren explained, not only do they own their instruments, but many of them make their own as well. (Have I ever mentioned the machine shop Warren has?)

He then looked at me. "Are you okay with this?"

I think Warren was afraid that once I learned just how much stuff - how many gongs and bells and drums and sticks and things that I didn't even know existed - he had, I would run away screaming and never come back.

He then added, "It's a lot of stuff."

It is a lot of stuff. And events of this week reminded me anew of just how much stuff a lot of stuff can be when you live in the percussion section.

Earlier this year, Warren replaced the door between the house and the garage with a custom made door that has a 38" opening. Why such a wide door? So he could get his timpani in the house. This Wednesday, with the help of Sam and Sam's friend Dylan, the timpani came home. They are in what used to be called the family room, along with a bass drum and a xylophone Warren just rebuilt. Oh, the two old timpani from another set are in the room too. I call it the percussion room.

The marimba is in the basement - the other percussion room - right now. Good thing because otherwise it would be really crowded in the room formerly known as the family room.

Warren practiced on his timpani last night for an upcoming performance next weekend. I was two rooms away, reading. He was concerned the sound would disturb me.

Not in the least. Timpani are sonorous instruments and the notes hang in the air long after the playing has stopped.

Next week we are heading to the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC), which will be in Indianapolis. A couple thousand percussionists from all over the world will descend upon the Hoosier State for four days of playing and talking and teaching and sharing. I don't understand 90% of what goes on at PASIC (I've attended before), but I am looking forward to it all the same.

After all, I live in the percussion section these days. I live with six timpani, two bass drums, a marimba, a xylophone, snare drums, tom toms, a drum set, congas, bongos, roto-toms, numerous cymbals, more gongs than I can count (from small to big), bells, chimes, tambourines, a whole bunch of traps, and enough steel, wood, resonators, and bars to make more xylophones and marimbas. Who knows? We may even bring more home from PASIC. Truth is, I'd love to have a spiral trash cymbal.

Back when Warren was pulling together traps for the spelling bee, he emailed me: "Doesn't everyone have a Chinese gong in their house? Seems perfectly normal to me."

After we decided to get married, I didn't get a ring. I got a small gong, hung on an oak stand that Warren had made.

Doesn't everyone get an engagement gong?

Seems perfectly normal to me.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Music in any section is one of life's great gifts. You are blessed to have a full home and life. I am blessed to have you share it with me!