Percussion | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Percussion. Instruments from which sound is obtained by shaking or rubbing, or by blows of the hand, fingers, sticks, or mallets upon wood, metal, a stretched skin, or indeed any other material.


Percussion. Instruments from which sound is obtained by shaking or rubbing, or by blows of the hand, fingers, sticks, or mallets upon wood, metal, a stretched skin, or indeed any other material. While the role of the percussion instruments is chiefly rhythmical, they may be used as well to obtain colour and evoke atmosphere. Berlioz was among the first composers to provide the percussion instruments with a distinctive role. In the 20th century percussion has come to the fore in the symphonic repertoire, and it is integral to jazz. Its participation is almost indispensable in contemporary repertoire, especially as many composers have contributed and are still contributing to the establishment of an original and exclusive repertoire including pieces for one or many soloists and for various ensembles. Today's percussionist has access to a full range of all kinds of instruments which allow for an almost unlimited variety of timbres and effects.

Percussion instruments trace their origins back to remotest antiquity and were man's earliest means of extending the effects of hand clapping and foot stamping. The considerable and steadily increasing number of instruments in this family, including the host of exotic instruments from the Orient, Africa, and South America, has made it difficult to classify them. New instruments made from various materials are being introduced constantly, as are new ways of using the traditional instruments.

Berlioz divided the percussion instruments into two groups: those with a definite pitch, which may assume a melodic role, and those with indefinite pitch, used for rhythmical purposes or simply to make a noise. Doubtless more practical for classification is a division into four groups: skins (timpani, drums, etc), metals (cymbals, bells, Chinese gong, other gongs, etc), keyboard instruments (xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, etc), and accessories (triangle, castanets, whip, claves, wood-blocks, etc). Besides expanding its role in the orchestra, percussion has attained a measure of independence. After World War II percussion ensembles were formed and a repertoire was created for them.

In Canada percussion instruments were the first encountered by the European settlers, for the aboriginals possessed many of their own devising. During the 18th century the European drums in use belonged mainly to the settlers' militia. The organized military activities of the 19th century, however, brought regimental bands whose trained players, including the drummers, often assisted in civilian entertainments. The timpani needed for the major symphonic repertoire remained rare, however. In 1877, at its first concert, the Montreal Philharmonic Society presented Messiah, and the timpanist was imported from Boston, 'since this instrument was unknown in Montreal' (Musical Red Book). The Couture MSO and the later Goulet MSO did boast timpanists: documents specify a member of the Schepens family in 1894 and R. McKeown and A. Talbot 1905-6. At that same period, the young Wilfrid Pelletier was the drummer in a temperance band. Louis Decair became the timpanist in the Montreal Orchestra in 1930 and the CSM orchestra in 1935. He taught at McGill University and the CMM, and his pupils included Michel Perrault and Louis Charbonneau. The US timpanist Saul Goodman joined the teaching staff at the CMM in the 1940s and taught Charbonneau and Guy Lachapelle. Charbonneau succeeded Goodman in 1950 and trained a generation of young percussionists, including Pierre Béluse (founder of the McGill Percussion Ensemble), Ian Bernard (timpanist with the NACO), and Vincent Dionne. Lachapelle taught Marie-Josée Simard, the first woman student at the CMM to obtain a premier prix in percussion. She made her debut with the SMCQ in 1980 performing Archipel 5E by Boucourechliev. In Montreal orchestras the names of Thomas Cavanagh, Vincent Dhavernas, André Gosselin, Julien Grégoire, Jacques Lavallée, Gregory C. Law (at first active in Ottawa), Robert Leroux,and Jean-Guy Plante deserve mention. Leroux has distinguished himself in concerts of the SMCQ, participating in many premieres of contemporary works. Of note also, is the ensemble Répercussion (1978-), made up of four percussionists which has played as much in Canada and in the USA as in Europe.

In Quebec City, Roger Juneau, Serge Laflamme, André Morin, and Georges Turgeon were active in 1990. In Toronto a C. Riddy taught percussion at the Toronto College of Music around 1889. Programs from 1923 of the New Symphony Orchestra (see TS) mention Harry Nicholson, timpanist, assisted by E.C. Whitney and Thomas J. Burry, percussionists. When Stravinsky conducted the TSO in The Firebird and Petrushka in Massey Hall in 1937, Burry was the timpanist, and Ernest Ainley, Archie Cooper, and Harold Slater were the percussionists. John Wyre, who succeeded Burry as the TSO timpanist in 1966, assumed an important role as percussion teacher at the University of Toronto, as founder of Nexus (with Robert Becker, William Cahn, Michael Craden, Robin Engelman, and Russell Hartenberger) and as a regular performer with the NMC. Wyre remained the TS timpanist until 1981, when David Kent succeeded him, Donald Kuehn staying principal percussionist. Kent and Allen Beard became the percussionist-members of ARRAY. Beverley Johnston, Muriel Kilby, and Marie-Josée Simard are among the rare marimba virtuosos in Canada. Francine Martel remains one of the rare female performers of African percussion: she founded the group Takadja.

Harold Hunter became a percussion player in Winnipeg in the 1930s and a member of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, first as timpanist beginning in 1949, then as a member of the percussion section until the late 1970s. Frédérick Liessens held that position during the 1980s. Others active in Winnipeg have included Al Doe, William Mulhearn, Greg Hodgson (timpani), and Claude Lemieux.

A certain Mr Burns is listed as the 'drummer' in the 1897 Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Among the percussionists associated with the orchestra in the 1970s have been Don Adams, William Good, Paul Grant, B.C. Manning, and John Rudolph.

Among other percussionists active since the 1970s have been Thomas Miller and Tim Rawlings in Calgary, Brian Jones and Barry Nemish in Edmonton, Max Ball and James Faraday in Halifax, Don Wherry (see Sound Symposium) in Newfoundland, Lanny Levine, and Lisa Simmermon in Ottawa, and Scott Eddlemon and Dale Bassett Price in Victoria.

Among the best-known drummers in the jazz field, are Archie Alleyne, Terry Clarke, Jerry Fuller, Pete Magadini, Guy Nadon, Claude Ranger, Norman Marshall Villeneuve, and Blaine Wikjord. Those who have specialized in rock include Matt Frenette, Graham Lear, Duris Maxwell, Jerry Mercer, Neil Peart and Skip Prokop. Jim Blackley is an recognized teacher; Magadini, Nadon, Ranger, Chris McCann and others also have taught privately or in institutions. Richard Provençal has been active in Montreal studios. During the 1980s, many young performers attracted attention, notably Barry Elmes, Graeme Kirkland, Owen Howard, Michel Lambert, Michel Ratté and Stan Taylor. A number have taken up fusion which combines jazz and rock elements, including Paul Bruchu (UZEB), Ian Froman, Kat Hendrikse (Skywalk), Mathieu Léger (Orchestre sympathique) and Vito Rezza. Among the jazz vibraphonists are Peter Appleyard, Warren Chiasson, Martin Franklyn, Hagood Hardy, Yvan Landry, Émile Normand, Don (W.) Thompson and Frank Wright. Others, such as Memo Acevedo, Michael Craden, Salvador Ferreras, Rick Lazar, Brian Leonard, Jim McGillivary, Assar Santana, Dick 'Syncona' Smith and Matt Zimbel, have mastered various percussions instruments (conga drums, etc) used in pop, jazz or South-American arrangements.

Several Canadians have composed concert works for percussion, among them Gilles Bellemare (Stridulation), Walter Boudreau (Les Sept Jours), Vincent Dionne (En mouvement), Paul Duplessis (Hip and Straight), John Fodi (Tettares), Serge Garant (Circuits I), Sydney Hodkinson (Imagind Quarter), Talivaldis Kenins (Concerto for five percussionists and orchestra), Lothar Klein (Design for Percussion and Orchestra), Alfred Kunz (Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra), Alcides Lanza (Sensors I), Bruce Mather (Clos de Vougeot), Roger Matton (Concerto for two pianos and percussion), William McCauley (Five Miniatures for Six Percussion), Pierre Mercure (Structures métalliques I and II), François Morel (Étude en forme de toccate and Rythmologue), Clermont Pépin (Interactions), Allan Rae (Ode to a Pumpkin), Micheline Saint-Marcoux (Trakadie, with magnetic tape), Thomas Schudel (Trio for Percussion), Morris Surdin (Eine Kleine Hammer-Klapper Musik), Gilles Tremblay (... le sifflement des vents porteurs de l'amour... with flute), Barry Truax (Nautilus), Claude Vivier (Pulau Dewata and Cinq Chansons), and John Weinzweig (Around the Stage in 25 Minutes during which a Variety of Instruments are Struck). (See also Chamber music.) The composers Michael Colgrass and Pierre Trochu, themselves percussionists, have also composed for various percussion groups. John Wyre's Bells was commissioned for the contemporary music festival held during Expo 70in Osaka, Japan. His Utau Kane NoWa was commissioned in 1973 for the Festival Singers and Nexus, and his Connexus for percussion and orchestra was premiered by the TS and Nexus in 1978. For Expo 86, Wyre composed the work World Drums for the 250 percussionists who had gathered for the occasion. Rhombus Media released a film of this in 1987. Composers whose use of percussion within the context of large orchestral works has been particularly resourceful include Mather, Pépin, Schafer, and Tremblay.

Several companies in Canada have manufactured drums or cymbals; a subsidiary of Avedis Zildjian, established in Meductic, NB 1968-82, was replaced in 1982 by Sabian Ltd; Ayotte Drum Co, founded by Ray Ayotte in Vancouver in 1972; Milestone Percussion Ltd founded by Michael Clapham in Toronto and active from 1973 until the mid-1980s; and Canwood Percussion, begun by Fred Pepper in Lloydminster, Sask in 1983.

See also; Bells; Chimes; Electronic instruments; Jazz; Native North Americans in Canada; Rock.

Further Reading