When asked to describe himself — as a composer, an educator, or a performer — Ney Rosauro immediately responds, “I am a musician. There is music wherever I go. I play all genres of music, from classical to popular. Everything that is music brings me joy.” Even his words are melodic, in the distinctive Brazilian accent of his native Portuguese, as he speaks English, one of five languages in which he is fluent.
Jeffrey Moore, Professor of Music (Percussion) and Dean at the University of Central Florida, says Rosauro “embodies the composer, artist, and educator with such grace and passion. It has followed him throughout the world of percussion and orchestral music, positively impacting everyone he has met.”
Rosauro has created over 100 compositions for the percussion repertoire, written ten method books for percussion, and performed as a soloist with orchestras in 44 countries. He is considered by many to be one of the most important and prolific percussion composers of the past half-century. Rosauro’s unique writing style combines charming melodies with catchy rhythms, utilizing the rich elements of Brazilian folk music.
BRAZIL, GERMANY, AND THE UNITED STATES
Ney Gabriel Rosauro was born on October 24, 1952 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Raised in Porto Alegre, Ney graduated from Colegio Anchieta High School in 1970. He moved to Brasilia, playing guitar, mandolin, and electric bass in nightclubs around the capital city while teaching lessons in primary schools.
In 1972, Rosauro enrolled in the Universidade de Brasilia where he studied composition and conducting, and learned to play piano, violin, oboe, flute, and double bass. He received his first Bachelor of Music degree, in Composition and Conducting, in 1977. But Ney did not begin to study percussion until his final year, when, at age 25, he met Luiz Anunciação of the Orquestra Sinfonica Brasileira.
For the next two years, Rosauro made the 22-hour bus ride to Rio de Janeiro once a month to study with Anunciação. “I not only learned basic percussion techniques,” Rosauro remembers, “but how to treat percussion instruments in a sensitive way. Percussion is not just drumming; it’s an entire world of the highest musical expression with harmonies, melodies, and colors. Luiz wanted us to have good technique and a good sound. He taught me to listen to what I’m playing and get the most out of percussion.”
In 1980, Rosauro received a scholarship to attend Hochschule fur Musik (University of Music) in Würzburg, Germany, where he studied with Professor Siegfried Fink and received a second undergraduate degree, in Percussion and Pedagogy, in 1982. “A complete new percussion world opened up to me in Germany,” Rosauro recalls, “and I was surrounded by great percussionists, like Peter Sadlo and Mark Glentworth.”
It was during this time, when he started to play with four mallets, that Rosauro began writing his first marimba pieces. “It was a way to develop my technique and create a repertoire of Brazilian music,” he explains. Some of his early compositions included “Suite Popular Brasileira,” to improve his one-handed rolls and octaves in his right hand, and “Sonata for Vibes and Marimba,” to improve his left-hand technique. “We always had to play one marimba piece and one vibes piece,” Rosauro remembers from his lessons with Fink, who emphasized both keyboard instruments equally.
Ney came home to Brazil to join the Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Nacional in Brasilia as a percussionist (1983–84), while he also taught at the Escola de Musica de Brasilia. In 1985, Rosauro returned to Würzburg, completing his master’s degree in 1987.
During the summer of 1986, he wrote his seminal piece, “Concerto No. 1 for Marimba” (Opus 12), which he performed for his master’s recital, and then debuted the original arrangement with the Manitowoc (Wisconsin) Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Manuel Prestamo, in November 1986. (More information about this concerto can be found in the August 2016 issue of Percussive Notes.)
Back in Brazil, Rosauro resumed teaching as well as playing with the Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Nacional in Brasilia, this time as the timpanist. In 1987, Ney moved to Santa Maria, where he taught percussion at the Universidade Federal de Santa Maria until 2000. “UFSM became one of the two most important centers for classical percussion in Brazil,” explains Rosauro, “and students from all over the country moved there to study with me.”
During these years, Rosauro took a sabbatical to travel to the United States, where he attended the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, earning his Doctor of Musical Arts degree, in Performance and Composition, in 1992. “Fred Wickstrom was another one of my mentors,” says Rosauro, “and when he retired, I took over his position.” Ney taught at UM from 2000–09 before he resigned to focus on performing and composing.
COMPOSER AND PUBLISHER
“Ney’s compositional style is greatly influenced by all things Brazilian,” explains vibraphonist, composer, and educator Arthur Lipner. “Villa-Lobos, instruments and sounds of the Amazon, bossa nova, samba, and many other elements are part of his musical sensibilities. His orchestrations and compositional techniques are lessons in writing and arranging for percussion. Rosauro’s music has such strong melodies that they are often remembered by performers and audiences long after the concerts are over. This sought-after quality of a successful composer comes naturally to Ney.”
Rosauro has written 30 works for solo percussion (11 for marimba, 13 for vibraphone, and six for multi-percussion); 20 pieces for small percussion ensembles (duos, trios, and quartets); 15 pieces for large percussion ensembles; 15 percussion concertos; five chamber pieces for other instruments; six compositions for full orchestra or wind ensemble; and ten method books. Although primarily known for his keyboard percussion compositions, he also has written concertos for multiple percussion and timpani. In addition to his “classical” compositions, Ney has written many songs, sambas, and rock ballads. His latest work is a samba-enredo for Miamibloco, a samba/batucada group from South Florida.
Could Rosauro pick a favorite composition? “That would be like asking me to pick my favorite child!” he says with a laugh. “But there are several pieces that most represent my style. ‘Three Preludes’ is one of the first pieces I wrote, and it expresses all the features that would become my signature: beautiful melodies; tonal, modal harmonies; and challenging rhythms.” These preludes are also among Rosauro’s most popular compositions, streamed nearly a third-of-a-million times, according to Spotify.
Rosauro also considers his first and second marimba concertos, his first vibraphone concerto, and his timpani concerto excellent examples of his signature sound. “But if I had to pick,” he admits with a grin, “my two favorite compositions would be ‘Brazilian Landscape’ from ‘Two Reflections for Solo Vibraphone,’ and ‘Reflections and Dreams,’ the second movement from my second marimba concerto.
“‘Mitos Brasileiros (Brazilian Myths)’ is probably the ensemble piece that best represents my style,” Rosauro continues. Written in Würzburg, Germany for the Percussion Art Quartet, the five movements depict different mythological beings from Brazilian folklore. “It’s full of humorous surprises and is an audience favorite.”
Although the “Concerto No. 1 for Marimba” was performed for the very first time with piano accompaniment, it was written for marimba and string orchestra. After being rejected by several major publishing companies, Rosauro decided to self-publish his concerto through his own company, Pró Percussão Brasil, a practice not as common in the 1980s as it is today.
Rosauro was also a pioneer in the practice of creating multiple arrangements for different ensembles using the same solo part, which was quite innovative at that time. “If a concerto is just written for strings,” he explains, “a student may never have the chance to play with an orchestra, but they might have an opportunity to play with a piano, percussion ensemble, or even a wind ensemble.” Rosauro also created a concerto suite for solo marimba, making it easier for marimbists to find numerous performance options in the real world.
Pró Percussão Brasil publishes all of Rosauro’s extensive library; however, MalletWorks Music is the worldwide distributor of Rosauro’s sheet music. Instead of the traditional print rental of accompanying parts, all of his concertos, along with several other pieces, are now available as PDFs on his website, www.neyrosauro.com. Based on recent rental figures for the arrangements, the orchestral version of Ney’s first marimba concerto has been performed almost 4,000 times in the past 37 years, making this piece arguably the most popular marimba concerto ever written.
PERFORMER AND EDUCATOR
World-renowned solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, one of the first to record Rosauro’s original marimba concerto, calls him “an individual who simply excites all those who come into contact with him. Thanks to his knowledge, constant curiosity, and dedication to all he does and everyone he meets, you are a better person having been in his presence.”
Along with Dame Evelyn’s recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, more than 100 musicians or ensembles have recorded his concerti and other percussion works, including Katarzyna “Kaśka” Myćka, who premiered his “Marimba Concerto No. 2” with the Lodz (Poland) Philharmonic Orchestra. Rosauro’s complete discography can be found at www.neyrosauro.com/discography/ or on Spotify and other music platforms.
Ney himself has recorded 11 albums and CDs of his original music. “I think the best representation of my music is found on my own recordings,” he explains. “If people want to understand my style, and the way I phrase, which is very Brazilian, they should listen to me. When you have other artists playing my music, they are playing their version.”
Rosauro has performed his “Marimba Concerto No. 1” over 100 times in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. His favorite performance turned out to be the “official” recording. “I very much like the concerts we did with the Orquestra Unisinos, directed by José Pedro Boéssio, in Porto Alegre, Brazil.” The 1998 recording can be heard on Ney Rosauro in Concert. “That CD is one of the best representations of my music,” he says. In addition to the marimba concerto, that recording features “Three Preludes for Marimba” and “Concerto for Vibraphone and Orchestra,” with the composer playing all the solo parts.
Rosauro continues, “The other CD that is important to understand my musical style is a double album, Ney Rosauro Landscapes.” The first disc has solo pieces, including “Two Reflections,” “Toccata and Divertimento,” “Brazilian Fantasy,” “Serenata for Marimba, Vibraphone, and Piano,” and “Canção da Despedida (My Dear Friend),” while the second disc features Rosauro as the soloist in his “Concerto No. 2 for Marimba,” “Concerto No. 1 for Vibraphone,” and “Rhapsody for Solo Percussion,” all with orchestra.
In addition to his recordings, Rosauro travels around the world, presenting clinics, workshops, and concerts. Sharing his music has always been important to Ney. As early as the 1990s, he would tour the U.S. for several weeks at a time, teaching and playing at colleges and universities.
Rosauro also shares his unique four-mallet grip. Developed during his performing career, Ney’s “extended cross grip” combines the advantages of the Burton grip (power, speed, and ease of learning) with the Musser/Stevens grip (independence, flexibility, and wide interval range). He created a series of 16 videos for the mallet company he endorses, Vic Firth, explaining his technique, which can be viewed at www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC7C7007B7C7BCA90.
When he returned to Brazil in 1987 to teach, Rosauro realized there was no pedagogical material for percussion available at that time, so he decided to start writing his snare drum method book, followed by studies for mallets, multiple percussion, timpani, and Brazilian percussion. “I realized that Brazilian and Latin students didn’t have access to all the English-language method books. These materials became my main tools for teaching,” he explains.
Four years ago, when Rosauro returned to live in Brasilia, he established the Ney Rosauro Percussion School, which provides free online lessons. “The first few videos were in Portuguese,” he says, “but now many of them are in English, too.” There are currently 32 videos in the series with over 50,000 views, covering topics from technique to tips on how to play his musical compositions. There are also free downloads available for students around the world at www.youtube.com/@NeyRosauroPercussionSchool.
Another aspect of Ney’s performing is on the lighter side. “I’m a huge Beatles fan,” he confides, “and I have a cover band called the BRATles. Since I am the bass player, they call me MackartiNEY!” When he performs popular sambas and in rodas de choro in Brazil, he is known as “Ney do Cavaco.”
“This [Hall of Fame] recognition from PAS means a lot to me,” Rosauro admits. “PAS was definitely the organization that most influenced my whole career. Since attending my first PASIC in 1985, I started building a network of friends who have put me in contact with percussionists all over the world.” Rosauro has performed at seven PASICs, from his “Brazilian Music for Solo Percussion” concert in 1994, to a performance with the University of Miami Percussion Ensemble in 2002, to the Showcase concert 20 years later celebrating his 70th birthday and 50 years of percussion compositions. He also served as Brazil Chapter President (1993–99) and on the PAS Board of Directors (2000–05), the first person from South America to do so. In 2022, Yamaha presented Ney with their Legacy Award “in gratitude for his endless commitment to music education.”
Rosauro is also very involved in volunteer social work. For the past two decades, he has performed in hospitals, nursing homes, and at the Camillus House, a homeless shelter in Miami, where he plays guitar and sings to entertain the residents. He has continued this project back in Brasilia, too. “I love to do this work,” Ney says, “because this is music that comes from my heart and touches other people’s hearts. Residents in these facilities are often lonely, and they love to listen to music and sing along. I always try to express some kind of beauty and joy that can enhance one’s life quality. I wish that every musician would devote some time to this type of volunteer work.”
What does Rosauro think his musical legacy will be? “I would like to be remembered as a Brazilian composer who was a pioneer in writing percussion music, both important pieces for the repertoire and method books. The best part of my life is expressed in my music.”
Jeff Moore sums up this Brazilian musician. “The pedagogical, commercial, and artistic impact that Ney Rosauro’s compositions have had for nearly four decades is virtually without peer. The number and quality of his performances, both solo and with orchestra, has increased the general public’s awareness worldwide of percussion, and the marimba in particular, as a legitimate solo concert instrument. He is also an inspirational teacher who has a tremendous influence on countless students all over the world.”
Rosauro adds the perfect coda: “I am blessed to have music in my life, and through music and love, we can make this world a better place.”