When the Fort Lewis College Percussion Ensemble takes the stage Thursday night, the drums of spring will sound.
Bateria" is the title of the ensemble's fourth major concert since Jonathan Latta took charge of percussion studies at
FLC a year and a half ago. The concert includes East Indian and Brazilian music, a seminal American work, unusual
arrangements of a traditional Flemish folk tune and - surprise of surprises - part of a Mozart string quartet, played
on marimbas. The concert will close with the piece that has given the concert its title.
We're concluding with Bateria," Latta said in an interview last week during a break in a rehearsal. Bateria
translates to 'drum kit,' from the Portuguese, but it also is the name of the percussion section in a Brazilian samba
And so the FLC percussionists will enter as samba musicians, one by one, like a parade. Pretty soon, they'll turn the
concert hall into a Brazilian street corner with their rendition of Batucada," a rousing street song meant for
dancing. It's a samba, after all.
For this style of music, Latta said, there's no written music. Everyone has to learn the piece the way the Brazilians
do - by rote, by repetition, by listening - and what looks like unavoidable dancing.
It's pretty free form, and it will have the quality of improvisation," Latta said. That means the guy with the
whistle is the leader and calls the players to respond and change - any rhythm, call-and-response sections, or to
But that's the finale, folks, and the concert has plenty to offer leading up the Batucada. The concert will open with
Piru Bole," an East Indian work for four drummers. Like an overture, Piru Bole" will wake up the audience and prepare
everyone for more. Impetus," composed by David Long, will follow. It's a standard quintet piece with layers of
patterns and complex response-and-call sections, Latta said.
When the FLC Mallet Keyboard Ensemble enters, the marimba players will perform two traditional" pieces that will be
anything but traditional. Imagine Mozart on marimba - on the andante from the Quartet in C. Then the marimbas will take
a turn with an old carillon tune: The Bells of Dunkirk."
When Latta's full percussion battalion returns, a septet will play a modern piece titled Teamwork," by Lynn Glassock.
Veronica Velasquez will be the marimba soloist.
The major work of the evening, the main dish," as Latta said about the centerpiece of the program, is Three
Brothers," by Michael Colgrass. It's only five minutes long, but it's a taut, high-energy work for percussion ensemble
- and it has a history.
Composed in the early '50s when Colgrass was a student at the University of Illinois, Brothers" has achieved the
status of a masterwork in the percussion world.
It's a historically important piece," Latta said. By writing this, Colgrass gave new life to the whole genre," and
Three Brothers" still holds a seminal place in contemporary music.
Latta said he met the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer in Toronto, where Colgrass has lived since 1974.
I walked half the city to meet him," Latta added.
For those who haven't heard of Colgrass, and I'm one of them, he's had a remarkable career since his early
achievements. Born in 1932, he graduated from Illinois already performing and composing. He went to New York and, among
other things, played in pit bands for ground-breaking Broadway musicals like the original West Side Story."
At critical junctures in his career he met famous composers and other musicians who became mentors - John Cage, among
others. Colgrass won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for Déjà Vu," commissioned by the New York Philharmonic no less. He
won a 1982 Emmy for Soundings," a documentary about his work.
When Cage first heard Three Brothers," he apparently asked Colgrass if it was inspired by the idea of brotherhood.
According to Colgrass' autobiography, it wasn't, no matter how good a story that might have been. He said he was
inspired by Woody Herman's Four Brothers."
When you see the FLC Percussion Ensemble on stage, you'll see three drummers in front: Michael Morris (bongos), Neil
Hemphill (snare), and Richard Guzman (timpani). They're the soloists who dominate the work. But the other six players
in the ensemble do diligence on maracas, tambourine, cymbal, tom-tom, cow bell and a second timpani - all in support of
a high-energy, musically complex work.
And for a finale, or dessert," as Latta likes to say, a bit of Brazil - the Batucada.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.