RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • Rhythm! Discovery Center: New Primary Source Resources by Rob Funkhouser

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Feb 08, 2021

    One of the main projects that was undertaken by Rhythm! Discovery Center in 2020 was the completion of a project titled Notable 20th Century Percussion Composers Archives, which was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as part of their Inspire program. This project covered the processing of collections relating to six major figures in 20th-century percussion music: John Cage, Elliot Carter, Clair Omar Musser, William Kraft, Harry Partch, and Paul Price. This article will give an overview of the project, explain a bit about the processes and priorities of sorting through archives, and explain how you can now access the end results of this project.

    If you’ve played percussion (or had almost any hobby, for that matter) long enough, you know that things sometimes just seem to appear and accumulate like geological formations over the course of years. Whether you had to get a specific pair of mallets you used on a single performance, or you found a snare drum at a yard sale that you swore you’d restore one day, pretty much everything will have some sort of story attached to it, regardless of the strata it occupies on the shelves or in your memory. A major part of work within a museum or archive is managing this kind of accumulation and maintaining practices that shore up the knowledge of objects’ circumstances, their locations, and how they came to be there. Often times, the job of collection or archive management is more about building a framework to be able to find something the next time than it is about gathering more knowledge about what is immediately present, although that is certainly fun when required.

    In the case of this chunk of archives, there was an organized storage scheme, but the exact contents of some of the collections needed to be assessed, organized, and prioritized for digitization and publication. To accomplish this work, PAS hired a project archivist, Alysha Zemanek, under the auspices of the IMLS funding. Much of the first phase of Alysha’s work was focused on processing the archival materials covered in the project, which included going over each item in the archive, purging unnecessary duplicates, and rehousing many of the objects in archival-quality boxes and coverings. The final stage of this project included identifying records to be digitized and creating documents known as “finding aids.” Finding aids are narrative explanations of the contents of a given collection, as opposed to exhaustive inventories at the item level. Their purpose of these aids is to guide future inquiry and research.

    Among the six artists covered by this project, the sizes and contents are widely varied, with some containing a few important pieces and others containing many documents, the significance of which will be elucidated by the research they facilitate. On the larger end of things, the Clair Omar Musser and Paul Price collections include a number of documents related to their various projects. Musser’s materials, in particular, cover a wide array of documents related to many of the projects he undertook in his career, ranging from compositions to toy designs, while Price’s materials focus on programs and memorabilia from his career spanning the life of a few of his ensembles. On the smaller end is the John Cage collection, which includes a selection of his correspondence with B. Michael Williams. For most researchers, these collections will be just one stop of many in the course of a project, and are intended to provide materials that are not available anywhere else.

    The end result of this project is the publication of six finding aids, a large group of digital assets, the latter of which is stored in Rhythm! Discovery Center’s online collection, and an updated apparatus for future archives management at the museum. You can access these finding aids and the corresponding digital assets by visiting You can also learn more about a few of our recent projects, and follow a walkthrough of how to use the newly published resources by revisiting the R!DC session from PASIC 2020 at

  • Rhythm! Discovery Center: What We’re Up To Now by Rob Funkhouser

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 10, 2021

    If you’ve ever cracked open the back page of any issue of Percussive Notes, you are aware that PAS runs a museum, the Rhythm! Discovery Center, in downtown Indianapolis. R!DC houses the large collection of instruments that PAS has gathered over several decades and serves as the main arm for community outreach in the Indianapolis area. Over the last three years, museum operations have matured on most relevant fronts, with major support coming in for collections management, museum remodeling, and partnerships with arts organizations around Indianapolis. In 2019 especially, certain aspects of the museum were humming, having served over 20,000 visitors, including 5,000 students who were able to attend at no cost, and curating 29 performances both in the museum and in other public spaces. In this blog entry, the first in a series covering current activities at R!DC, I will give an overview of the last few years of growth, and recap the strange productive environment of 2020.

    In terms of the last few years of growth, R!DC received support from local and national foundations including the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, the Grammy Foundation, the Eli Lilly Foundation, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. This support has led to projects including cataloging the Gerhardt Collection of 78s, revamping and improving the collection storage capability and conditions in the museum, and redesigning much of the interactive media throughout exhibits in the museum. All of these projects will be covered in greater depth in future entries in Rhythm! Scene

    Working in a museum, especially a small specialized one like R!DC, is a balancing act between day-to-day operations and long-term projects, as everyone tends to wear a lot of proverbial hats in the course of work. There are always lists of things to do at any given time, and navigating priorities is part of the normal course of each day. During a typical year, slow movement on long-term projects is complemented by the flurry of activity of daily operations. In terms of the museum, this typical way of working was turned inside out in 2020, with progress on long-term projects becomming the occupation of daily work, as operational duties were lightened by the museum being closed to the public. 

    When staff was able to access the museum, we turned the whole place into our work area, spreading out projects over a large part of the space that is usually part of the exhibits. (See the accompanying pictures to get an idea of a bit of that madness.) In spreading out, the staff was able to process a large number of objects from being stored loose on shelves to being boxed, placed on more protective shelving, and entered into the collection database. To accomplish this, an assembly line was set up to pull an object from its resting place, make sure it was properly numbered and tagged, photograph it, update the description and metadata, box it (often in custom built boxes), and find a new place for it in collection storage. The staff accomplished what would normally be a few years’ worth of work based on normal time constraints in just a few months. 

    Museum Images

    All told, over 800 objects were processed and are now living in new, better protected homes in the collections storage area, as shown in the accompanying photo. Following this push, staff followed up with research to bolster the data already in the collections database and continued cleaning the information for inclusion in the newly available online collection. As of now, most of these freshly processed objects are available to view at I would encourage anyone who is interested to check out that site, and click around some random object records to get a feel for how the digital collection is taking shape, and to get some insight into what is held at the museum.

    Collection Storage Shelf

    Collection Storage Shelf

    In a series of R!S Blog posts this year, I will be detailing some of the other projects from the last few years that have helped shape Rhythm! Discovery Center into a more capable and agile branch of PAS, as well as detailing how things develop throughout the year. Be sure to also look for articles in Percussive Notes that will detail some of the archives projects that have been happening this past year. 

  • Small Timpani

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Dec 14, 2020

    Small Timpani

    Donated by Jerome and Lisa Deupree, 2010-04-01

    Timpani, or pitched drums, have existed in various sizes for hundreds of years. As technological advances oc- curred, whether it was in the types of materials available for construction or in newly designed methods of tuning the pitch of the heads, the instrument also evolved.

    An intriguing set of four small timpani, all identical in size with a unique tuning system, are included in the PAS mu- seum collection. These drums, each of which is 51⁄2 inches in depth by 9 inches in diameter, are constructed with a double-bowl design from molded fiberglass. Each drum consists of an outside bowl, an inside bowl, a drumhead of either plastic or calfskin mounted on a hoop, a metal counterhoop, and a screw mechanism located at the base with which to adjust the pitch of the drum. The metal counterhoops are firmly attached to the outside bowl with eight nuts and bolts that hold the head firmly in place against the outside bowl. The inside bowl is raised to provide tension against the head by turning a metal wingnut screw located at the base of the outside bowl. As the inside bowl is raised or lowered, the change in tension adjusts the pitch of the head.

    The inside bowls are roughly finished on their outside surface, visibly showing their fiberglass composition and smoothly finished on the inside to provide appropriate resonance for the head. The outside bowls are roughly finished on their inside surface and smoothly finished on the outside for appropriate appearance. All bowls have a single vent hole that allows air to escape when struck, and the outside bowls are attached to a flat metal bar with four nuts and bolts on a reinforcement plate through which the tuning screw is mounted.

    The drums are mounted in pairs on a flat, metal crossbar through which the tuning screw protrudes, and both of the crossbars are attached to a central wooden brace. This arrangement results in a square of four drums, all mounted on a stand that rises to a maximum height of 441⁄2 inches. There are no identifiable markings on the drums that positively identify the manufacturer, but as the use of fi- berglass for commercial purposes generally began after World War II, these drums likely date from the post-war period. 

    For more information on these instruments, visit the PAS Online Collection.

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