Type of Document Treatise Author Parker, Wesley Brant URN etd-05092010-210501 Title The History and Development of the Percussion Orchestra Degree Doctor of Musical Arts Department Music, College of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title John Parks Committee Chair John Drew Committee Member Patrick Dunnigan Committee Member Seth Beckman University Representative Keywords
- History and Development
- Percussion Orchestra
Date of Defense 2010-04-22 Availability unrestricted AbstractThe modern percussion ensemble has emerged as a vital medium of music performance and education, and continues to receive more recognition as a viable artistic medium. Perhaps less well-known is a type of percussion ensemble (abbreviated PE for the duration of this study) which concentrates on large, tonal, keyboard percussion-oriented works: the Percussion Orchestra (abbreviated PO for this study). This treatise focuses on the history and development of the PO, specifically noting the origins, important figures, and performing ensembles within the genre.
The evolution of the PE begins with the futurist ideas of F.T. Marinetti and Luigi Russolo and continues with the first work composed exclusively for percussion instruments, Edgar Varese’s Ionisation in 1931. Throughout the 1930s a notable amount of material (although some unpublished) was written for the PE, which appealed to composers mainly because of the textures and sounds not previously heard in a Western concert setting. During World War II, composers took a hiatus from composing for the PE as the interest shifted to the rudimental or military style drum ensemble (which would evolve into the modern drum line and drum corps).
Beginning in 1950, the PE was incorporated into the college curriculum at the University of Illinois by Paul Price. This sparked great interest from other percussion pedagogues, and more universities began to explore a PE class at their schools. Additionally, percussion students began to form professional PEs with their college or university as the “home base.” Ensembles such as the Blackearth Percussion Group and the Eastman Marimba Masters would stem from these universities. In addition to performances, these groups pioneered PE recordings, commissioned new works for PE, and established residencies at many universities where they taught and shared their passion for percussion and the PE.
The concept of a PO began with Dr. Richard Gipson, who launched the OU Percussion Press and a subsequent commissioning series for PE composition at the University of Oklahoma. The compositions were expansive, often employing eight to twelve (sometimes more) percussionists, and focused primarily on an extensive number of keyboard percussion instruments in addition to a varying combination of pitched and unpitched percussion instruments, many of which are common symphonic percussion instruments.
The development of percussion and the PE may be traced through a variety of courses ranging from the futurist manifestos of F.T. Marinetti and Luigi Russolo to scholarly literature written concerning the “noise music” of the early Twentieth Century. There are two standard sources used for referencing the history of percussion, John Beck’s Encyclopedia of Percussion and James Blades Percussion Instruments and Their History. However, there are currently no definitive sources that provide a historical or pedagogical perspective on the subject of the PO or even attempt to define it as an entity separate from the PE. This lack of scholarly writing on the subject provides an exceptional opportunity to contribute to the development of documentation, which will focus upon the aforementioned literature as well as scholarly articles from music education journals and percussion journals such as Percussive Notes (a magazine begun in 1973 dedicated exclusively to scholarly writings about percussion). In addition to this, most other references to a PO are found within the professional titles of performing ensembles or compositions.
An integral part of the research process involved interviews with percussion teachers who have significant experience in the development of the PO. These include Richard Gipson of Texas Christian University (formerly Director of the Oklahoma University Percussion Orchestra), John Parks of Florida State University, Blake Tyson of the University of Central Arkansas, Brian West of Texas Christian University, and James Campbell of the University of Kentucky, all of whom have performed with, administered, and/or directed award-winning Percussion Orchestras. They have thus become resources of valuable information that has gone largely undocumented beyond available audio recordings of their specific performing groups. The interviews shed light on the development of the PO and provide insight not only about the current trends and significant leaders of this genre, but also about the direction that the PO might take in the future.
Each interview consisted of a predetermined set of questions that encouraged each respondent to define and elaborate on the concept of the PO. This method facilitated comparisons among responses, while giving freedom for elaboration on issues pertinent to the study. Because each pedagogue’s viewpoint is unique, additional responses are also noted within the study.
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