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Percussion Showcase features Millersville Percussion Ensemble

Millersville Percussion ensemble performs "Portico." The student conductor was Matthew Woodson. (Colin VandenBerg/Snapper)

Colin VandenBerg

Staff Writer

On April 3, the Millersville Department of Music presented a percussion showcase. The event was held at 2:30p.m. in the WVPC concert hall. The program featured performances from the Millersville Percussion Ensemble, and the Lancaster All Star High School ensemble. The co-director of the program introduced the show, “an ambitious program.”
The Program began with the Lancaster All Star High School ensemble’s rendition of “Fanga” a West African folk song. The All Star High school ensemble is composed of the best percussionists from six local High Schools, such as Penn Manor, Lancaster Catholic, and Donegal. The Millersville Percussion Ensemble then came on stage, opening with a Marimba Spiritual. The song featured soloist Christopher O’Leary on the marimba.

Millersville Percussion ensemble performs "Marimba Spiritual." Soloist: Tim O'Leary (Colin VandenBerg/Snapper)
Millersville Percussion ensemble performs “Marimba Spiritual.” Soloist: Tim O’Leary (Colin VandenBerg/Snapper)

O’Leary performed several complex mallet techniques, such as multiple runs, and using four mallets at once (known as “double sticking”). O’Leary and the other percussionists throughout the program used such mallet techniques. During the marimba feature for example, there were three other percussionists backing O’Leary, and there was at one point a back-and forth between these three. Next was “Rancho Jubilee,” a spirited song featuring four percussionists playing on a Cajon—a box-like percussion instrument on which people sit while drumming on the front/sides with various effects.

There was preparation time taken between the previous number and the next two, “Mixtures” and “Portico.” The High school ensemble comes back on stage to perform “Mixtures”, while several instruments were both added to and removed from by both ensembles. At that point, the musical directors came on stage to introduce the songs and saying that with percussion, “There’s only so much you can do without having to move something around”. Featuring eight musicians and almost as many instruments (e.g. xylophone, snare drum, and tympani) the pair of songs, like most of the in the program, include d a variety of tempos and accents, often switching between loud and soft, fast and slow.

Millersville Percussion ensemble performs "Portico." The student conductor was Matthew Woodson. (Colin VandenBerg/Snapper)
Millersville Percussion ensemble performs “Portico.” The student conductor was Matthew Woodson. (Colin VandenBerg/Snapper)

The next act was a medley performed by the High School All Stars, titled “Mountain Music.” Perhaps the most fun of all the pieces, the percussionists played a selection of bluegrass style folk songs while clapping, joking, and dancing on stage. During the medley, the audience was the most engaged, clapping along, and laughing a funny gag involving a bottle of “whisky.”

For the finale, “Ionisation,” Dr. Daniel Heslink introduced the piece as an avant-garde inspired composition dating back to the 1930’s. To set the mood for the song, Heslink told the story of the composers’ influence of the First World War, and how new-age thinkers like Albert Einstein enjoyed the song’s composition. The song featured all 13 members of the Millersville Percussion ensemble, and 41 different instruments. The avant-garde elements could be found in the lack of a consistent theme, siren machines, no real melody (e.g. no xylophones) inspired by WW1.

Millersville Percussion ensemble performs "Ionisation." The guest conductor was Dr. Daniel Heslink. (Colin VandenBerg/Snapper)
Millersville Percussion ensemble performs “Ionisation.” The guest conductor was Dr. Daniel Heslink. (Colin VandenBerg/Snapper)

The entire performance was excellent, and properly named as a “showcase” of many talented musicians. It takes a lot of hard work and talent to take such a complicated program, and turn it into a fun and engaging show for a captivated audience. On the weekend of April 22-23 there will be multiple percussion groups at Millersville for a Percussion Concert on Friday evening and an All-Day Percussive Arts experience on Saturday. Mark your calendar if you are looking for a novel and entertaining experience.