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Percussion section – an introduction

Learn about the many percussion instruments from expert musicians with the U.S. Marine Band. Includes demonstrations of the snare drum, xylophone, timpani, gongs, cymbals and more.

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Video transcript

(dramatic music) - One of the pieces that we're playing is "New England Triptych" by William Schuman. It has a very significant timpani part. The first movement is called "Be Glad Then, America." (plays timpani) So with this excerpt that I just performed, it's important to play musically, to play with phrasing and interest so that the listener has something to focus in on. In the same work, there is an extended louder solo which has a lot of jazz influences. (dramatic music) - Drums were one of the first instruments in the Marine Band when we started with fifes and drums 200 and something years ago. I'm playing the snare drum, and because of some of the many different pieces that we're playing, it requires us to have as many different drums as we can. Some are called tenor drums. Some are called snare drums. They all have different sizes and pitches. (plays drums) I'd like to demonstrate a piece that we're playing by William Schuman. It's "New England Triptych." It's the third movement, "Chester." It's actually an excerpt that we play all the time. In fact, it was one of the pieces that we actually had to play to get into the Marine Band. (plays drum) (solemn music) - One of the great things about being a percussionist is we get to play all these different instruments, and one of the great things about being in a concert band is that the repertoire might ask you to play so many of these different instruments within the same program. Now, one of the pieces we've been performing is Vincent Persichetti's "Masquerade for Band," and for that piece I've been able to play the mallet instruments. And while it includes both xylophone and glockenspiel, I'm gonna be demonstrating some of the xylophone licks for you. Now, the cool thing about the xylophone is it can take on many different roles, whether it's more of an accompanying kind of a passage where you might be using softer mallets, or in this case, a lotta soloistic stuff, which is kind of hard, bombastic, and in your face. Or maybe a little bit delicate, kind of sound effecty stuff. (plays xylophone) (dramatic music) - We'd like to give you a demonstration on some of the auxiliary percussion instruments that we play in the section, namely cymbals and gongs. Now, you may be familiar with the traditional cymbals that you use in bands and orchestras. They sound something like this. (plays cymbals) Now I'd like to show you some instruments from China, namely the Peking opera gongs and the Peking cymbals. They have a totally different sound than our traditional cymbals. They come in different sizes and make different timbres. (plays cymbals) The pitches are made to represent some of the words that are spoken in the Chinese language. (plays cymbals) You can also do other effects with them. (plays cymbals) - So you've seen the Peking opera cymbals. Now these are the Peking opera gongs. Now, when you think of a gong, you probably think of a large tam-tam that gives you that big whoosh sound. These sound a little bit different. These actually have a pitch to them, and the pitch, once you strike it, can either bend up or bend down. Let me demonstrate. (plays gong) As you can hear, that bends up. (plays gong) And that one distinctly bends down. Pretty cool, huh? (percussive music) - I'd like to tell you about one of the most unusual instruments that we have in our collection. This represents the deacon staff bells that composer Percy Grainger originally wrote for over 100 years ago. Now, originally this was a novelty instrument that was primarily used during the Vaudeville era, but Mr. Grainger wanted to incorporate the sound of this into his music as part of what he called tuneful percussion, which basically means pitched percussion instruments like marimba, xylophone, bells or glockenspiel, and chimes. So what we have here are Swiss hand bells, and they're suspended on a rack, and I'm gonna be playing them with some hard mallets. I'll play for you now an excerpt from Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy. (plays bells) (dramatic music)