Okay, I just want to get to the part when I tell you that Third Coast Percussion is way cool. But, that’s not how these blog posts usually work. First, I am supposed to write some catchy biographical information so that you know that they have proven themselves cool already. Then, I tell you I went to their RENGA:Cage:100 preview concert at the Kennedy Center last night and that I think they are cool. Then, I follow-up with how you can be super cool and go see them at MoMA Nights: Third Coast Percussion presents REVOLUTION: The Cage Century (Part of MoMA’s John Cage Day) Thursday, August 9, 2012, 5:30–8:00 p.m. Got the gist? Good. Let’s get on with it…
Third Coast Percussion is another ensemble that is desperately making me wish we had high-speed trains from Charm City to Chicago. Adding to the wealth of contemporary classical chamber ensembles there, Third Coast Percussion is taking on some of the most challenging and engaging rep and presenting it to audiences all over the country in places such as Music on the Edge, Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), Le Poisson Rouge, Round Top Percussion Festival, and the Garth Newel Music Center. Most recently, the members of Third Coast Percussion (Owen Clayton Condon, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and David Skidmore) turned their keen musicianship on to a project to celebrate the centenary of John Cage’s birth.
Replete with a new album of Cage’s percussion music on Mode Records, a super cool, free iPhone app, performances, and the 100-composer feature RENGA, Third Coast Percussion is going all out. They wrote on their blog, soundOFF, about the project:
Each of our 100 composers has written 5-7 seconds of music, and we are stringing together all 100 composer contributions to create a single piece of music that our friend Jen Richards from eighth blackbird described here as “the first true musical expression of social media culture.” Not our original intention – but perhaps an appropriate tribute to a composer whose work seems as relevant, innovative, even topical today as it did 20, 30, 40…even 70 years ago (as is the case with his early percussion music).
It has been very interesting to see what composers choose to do with their 5-7 seconds. We asked composers to spend at least 100 seconds on their contributions to the project, but not more than 100 minutes. So hopefully the result is a sort of musical stream of consciousness from 100 very different minds, all of whom are creating music in our world today.
The result when heard at the Kennedy Center preview concert was just as they hoped. The submissions spanned across a vast continuum of sounds. Some entries featured standard percussion notation while others had a more graphic score construct. More yet, had interesting elements such as audio files to be played in performance and there were even a few compositions of text instructions such as Jay Alan Yim‘s piece for four fortune cookies, one cookie for each performer.
What makes Third Coast Percussion extraordinary in this Cage project is that they understand what Cage is and what Cage isn’t. Like moments in the RENGA, there are moments in many Cage pieces that are humorous. Sometimes audiences find them humorous because they are uncomfortable; but oftentimes they are humorous because Cage wrote the music in a joyful way. Each member of Third Coast Percussion seemed to understand that mentality when performing. They approached all the pieces of the concert with energy, delight, and impressive technical skill. They were remarkable because they did not feel the need to “ham it up” for the audience. They trusted the music.
Now, if one were to be near MoMA on Thursday night around 6:30 PM and decided not to go to this concert I would feel sorry that they missed out. Even I personally know 10% of the composers that wrote for RENGA. So, go! Cheer for your favorite composer and support Third Coast Percussion. “In fact, it was at MoMA in 1943 that John Cage received his first major New York City showcase; the all-percussion concert he organized and in which he performed featured works by Cage, Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, and others.”¹ Thursday’s performance will not be the same concert — but it will be a truly Cagean event.