Percussionists Join Moving Light Lab for Stunning ‘Creation’
In the beginning, there was chaos.
The percussionists scurried about, switching, tuning and arranging instruments. They strategically placed a set of marimbas before intermingling the other pieces of the ensemble with them. Director Tim Jones stood behind his timpani drums, surveying the group of master’s students before him.
Soon, the stage was set and the ensemble, joined by Dean Gronemeier, professor in the music department and the composer of “Creation,” stood ready to begin one of their final rehearsals before the show.
“Most people think that percussion is just people hitting stuff,” Jones said. “They should realize that percussion can create music just like any other ensemble.”
The UNLV Percussion Ensemble and Moving Light Lab performed their experimental concert, “Creation,” in the Black Box theatre at the Alta Ham Fine Arts building on the evenings of April 17 and 18. This concert marked the seventh year that lighting and percussion students had the chance to collaborate.
Though the show is named “Creation,” that is simply the name of the featured piece that headlined the show. Jones chose the other pieces in the lineup.
“The other pieces were chosen because they relate to creation of the Earth,” Jones said.
For example, one piece in particular, “Marimba Quartet No. 2: Sensing the Coriolis,” reflects elements of the earth and wind through the music.
Though the percussionists played music that audience members would expect from an ensemble’s concert, they also created various sound effects that were interspersed throughout each piece, none of which were pre-recorded. The percussionists made vocalizations during “…durat(A)ions: ‘broken landscape’ ” to give a chilling effect. Also, they occasionally combined instruments, such as placing a cymbal directly on a drum, or used various tools in unique ways, like playing a bell with a bowstring.
The music and effects helped to create the message each piece tried to convey, while the pieces culminated to the headline of the show, “Creation.”
“I never really studied composition,” Gronemeier said,” but I have a knack for it.”
Before writing “Creation,” Gronemeier wanted a piece that could tell a story, but had no initial ideas as to what story he would tell.
“I couldn’t think of a story to write,” Gronemeier said. “So I figured the most basic story that anyone would know is that of the creation of the world.”
In “Creation,” Gronemeier takes the audience through the biblical creation of the Earth, with each movement representing one of the seven days.
“I took each day and tried to convey the story,” Gronemeier said.
The musical arrangements and sound effects came together to tell a story. Thunderous drums create the sounds of a storm while rolling beads imitate the gentle lapping of waves. A marching theme, reminiscent of a monarch’s parade, ushers in man and segues into a slower jazz motif, signaling the appearance of woman. Finally, the theme that opens the piece is reprised on day seven and slows to a stop, representing a day of rest.
“Creation” appealed to the sense of audition and the visual sense through its implementation of lighting to match the music.
“We tell them what emotion we’re trying to portray if they’re not feeling it,” Gronemeier said, regarding the lighting technicians. “Or we ask what they get out of it.”
Lighting designer Josh Lentner, a Master of Fine Arts student, was tasked with providing the lighting arrangements for most of the show as well as for “Creation.” The lighting effects matched each day of creation. Lighting effects represented the sun, moon, stars and even birds.
“Each piece tells a story,” Lentner said. “I try to find that story and project it onto what the musicians are doing.”
Lentner brings seven years of lighting experience to the table and learned in that time that all lighting effects should be based off tempo.
“You don’t want something distracting,” Lentner said. “You want something that enhances the performance.”
In the case of “Creation”, Lentner created generic effects during the rehearsal process then layered those with more complex effects during the actual performance.
“I prepare as much as I can,” Lentner said. “A lot of it is done on the fly though.”
Rehearsals for “Creation” started at the beginning of the semester. Gronemeier said that this gave the percussionists and lighting technicians time to rehearse the show without adding an unneeded time constraint on their schedules. The nearly sold out crowd on opening night expressed their gratitude for the attention to detail.
After the ensemble took their final bows at the end of the show, the spectators that packed the cramped risers gave a standing ovation for the night’s performance.
“The show opened the world of percussion as a solo instrument,” Steven Dansky, an audience member, said. “I admire the percussionists’ abilities, and I think the university should be proud of its students.”
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