University of Akron’s Percussion Ensemble

Written by Mary Kay Palazzo, ArtsNow Intern and Kent State University Student

On Wednesday, February 28th, I had the pleasure of attending the University of Akron’s Percussion Ensemble performance. I chose to attend this performance out of sheer curiosity. I had never been to a show like this and had no clue what to expect, but I was intrigued by the idea of a concert in which all of the songs were played exclusively with percussion instruments. Naturally, I had a lot of questions about it. What is a percussion ensemble? What kind of songs will they play? And how in the world do writers compose dynamic, melodic songs with just percussion instruments? This performance became an opportunity to answer my questions and to introduce myself to a new type of music that I didn’t even know existed.

When I arrived at Guzzetta Hall, I took a seat and observed the vast arrangement of the various instruments on the stage. There were drums that I knew of, such as snare drums and bass drums, as well as ones that I had never seen before. Before the performance began, the director spoke about the songs that were to be played. He remarked on the history of several songs that were to be performed, including Ionization, which, upon its debut, was largely received poorly by listeners, but is now revered as a landmark piece for percussion ensembles. He even detailed a bit of the history of percussion ensembles, stating that they are relatively new, as they only gained acceptance around the 1930’s.

The performance contained six pieces; each piece was unique and captivating, despite being composed of only percussion instruments. The pieces ranged from containing booming, recognizable drum-like sounds to sounding ethereal and otherworldly. The songs were composed in such a way that they were accessible for someone who is not familiar with such pieces to enjoy, while still sounding experimental, which kept my interest peaked. I think my favorite piece was Four Dance Movements. This piece had four parts, each composed after specific dance movements: waltz, march, tango, and fox-trot. Each part reflected the dance movements they were based on through their tempos and the instruments used for them, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well each part evoked distinct feelings of each dance movement.

While I am definitely not qualified to review a percussion ensemble show, I was very impressed by the performance. This type of performance was completely new to me, and it is something that I found to be very interesting to watch and exciting to listen to. The University of Akron Percussion Ensemble will be performing their Spring shows until April 7th, and I would absolutely recommend going, especially if you’ve never attended a percussion ensemble show before.