Bonnie Whiting performs new experimental music, seeking out projects that involve the speaking percussionist, improvisation, and non-traditional notation. Recent work includes performances at the John Cage Centennial Festival in Washington D.C., solo appearances with the National Orchestra of Turkmenistan, performances on the original Harry Partch instrumentarium, and as a Mellon Creative Fellow on projects involving the speaking percussionist, IoT technologies, and Artificial Intelligence. Her debut album, featuring a solo-simultaneous realization of John Cage's “45´ for a speaker” and "27´10.554´´ for a percussionist” was released on the Mode Records label in 2017. Whiting has performed with some of the country’s leading new-music groups, including Ensemble Dal Niente, the International Contemporary Ensemble, and red fish blue fish percussion group. She is Chair of Percussion Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Washington.
Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a university percussion professor, what career could you see yourself having pursued?
Bonnie Whiting: I love being outdoors and doing wilderness camping, hiking, and distance running. I could see myself as a park ranger, or working in a field related to climate justice or preservation.
R!S: What's one thing in your institution or city/town (other than your school of music or music department) that you are proud to tell people about?
BW: Seattle is a thriving, world-class city in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The wilderness is at our doorstep, so it’s quite feasible to enjoy a very remote day outside and then a night on the town, featuring incredible music, food, and nightlife. Furthermore, the University of Washington is one of the nation’s top research universities. It’s inspiring to work on a campus every day with truly engaged students and faculty who are working to make our world a better place.
R!S: What's one thing about you that your students would unanimously proclaim?
BW: I think the students would agree that, for me, sound and touch are the most important elements of our art form. If it doesn’t sound good—if you don’t play with beautiful tone—we’ll interrogate it and work until it does. On a lighter note, last Halloween, the studio came up with a spot-on group costume, dressing as me! Black pants or leggings plus colorful scarves. They nailed it.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
BW: I have a pretty incredible collection of found-object instruments, and in some ways my bins of old, resonant, pot lids are more valuable to me than my marimba. I love building setups from various materials and engaging in the problem-solving process of multi-percussion playing.
R!S: Where did you grow up and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?
BW: I grew up in Ortonville, Michigan, and my mother says that I did sit on the floor and bang on pots and pans as a kid. I started my artistic life as a dancer, and have always found ways to integrate movement and the body into my work as a musician.