The Millersville University Department of Music showcased its percussion ensemble this past Sunday, along with two high school groups, with a mix of smooth and high intensity pieces.
The Millersville University Percussion Ensemble, or MUPE, is directed by Professor James Armstrong. MUPE has been an ensemble with the university for more than thirty years. Members who are a part of this ensemble are either percussion majors or minors to the music department. They often perform with Percussive Art Society events and are active members of Lancaster Music For Everyone.
One of the members of MUPE, Luke Helker, is the director and founder of Penn Manor High School Percussion Ensemble, another group that performed at last weekend’s concert. Helker, a percussion major at Millersville, founded the group in the fall of 2013. This group, unlike MUPE, is not limited to students who list percussion as their primary instrument. In addition to performing at concerts for Penn Manor, the group recently performed for the Pennsylvania School Board Association Conference in Hershey, Pa.
Armstrong also directs the Lancaster All Star High School Percussion Ensemble alongside Stephen Gross, the Director of Bands at Ephrata Area School District. Currently in their fourth season, Armstrong and Gross founded this ensemble to bring together the percussionists that exhibit a high level of skill and talent from Lancaster area schools. The group is sponsored by the Millersville University Percussion Studio, which provides the students with the necessary instruments and rehearsal space as well as additional tutoring from MUPE members Andrew Schwartz and Matt Woodson.
MUPE opened up the concert with a performance of G Spot Tornado, composed by Frank Zappa. This piece was originally composed on the Synclavier, an electronic instrument, because the composer envisioned that it could never be played by humans. It was later arranged and performed by the Ensemble Modern from Germany. Zappa, from Baltimore, joined his first band called The Blackouts in Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster.
The All Star Ensemble continued with their performance of Bolivia, arranged by Heslink. The piece was originally composed for folk instruments including the guitarrone, a guitar, two quenas and a charango. When the arranger was visiting the Andes Mountains, he overheard an Andean Band from Bolivia playing a folk tune. The unknown melody was then arranged for the Lancaster Marimba Ensemble and titled “Bolivia.”
Following the All Star Ensemble was the Penn Manor Percussion Ensemble with their piece, 4/4 for Four. This piece is a quartet that focuses more on tonal drums, such as bongos, concert toms and timpani. 4/4 for Four is one of the most performed pieces of the composer, Anthony J. Cirone.
Members of MUPE returned to the stage with a performance of Scenes From the Woods. Composed by Brian Blume, this piece utilizes a quartet of marimbas with each percussionist also using a woodblock of a different pitch. Blume said he wrote this piece as a reflection of the time he spent in the woods near his parents’ home, and called it “a fast-paced game of tag or hide-and-seek; the quiet moments of solitude and reflection…,” among other emotions he experienced.
The next piece was a premier performance of a newly composed pieced written especially for the All Star Ensemble. Composer Gordon Stout was approached by Armstrong and was asked to write a piece with solos that featured a skilled percussionist. The marimba solos were executed by Grace Asuncion, a student at Lancaster Catholic High School. The solos were written to reflect the personality of Grace, thus giving the piece the title “Something To Do With Grace.”
Limerick Daydreams, performed by MUPE, is a twelve-minute piece composed by Nathan Daughtrey. It is based on the Irish reel, “Highway to Limerick,” and opens mysteriously with keyboards, transitioning into a series of playful, melancholy and majestic sounds. The piece was the second place winner of the 2005 Percussive Arts Society International Composition Contest.
The All Star Ensemble concluded the concert with Armstrong’s composition, “It Came From The Garage.” This piece goes beyond the use of percussion instruments and, instead, uses objects that can be found in one’s garage. Buckets, metal trash cans, larger trash bins and paper are all exhibited in this style of drumming that is similar to the Broadway ensemble, STOMP! All players are featured as soloists throughout the piece.
MUPE has several upcoming events over the course of the next two months. Their next concert will be held Friday, Apr. 24 at 7:30 p.m.. The following day, the music department will host its annual “Day of Percussion.” For more information on the Millersville University Percussion Ensemble, you can find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/muperc.