RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • R!Solo: Heraldic Moments for Timpani by Jeff Calissi

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Oct 15, 2022

    Beginning in the 15th century timpani were employed to capture an audience’s attention. Whether for an announcement, event, or concert, paired with brass instruments in a fanfare or in an orchestral setting as a solo, the combination of rhythm and pitch at the heart of the instruments have been a useful tool for composers throughout music history. Incorporated in this solo are excerpted portions of the following pieces that are well known for using the timpani as a vehicle for heraldic moments in the music:

    • “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss
    • Symphony No. 9 (mvmt. II) by Ludwig van Beethoven
    • “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland
    • “Bugler’s Dream” by Leo Arnaud
    • “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” by John Williams
    • “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah by George Frideric Handel

    The performer is encouraged to study recordings of the above works, observe the approach in which the timpani parts are orchestrated and performed, and apply as much of that traditional heraldic characteristic as possible into the performance of this solo.

    Heraldic Moments

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    Jeff CalissiDr. Jeff Calissi
    is an associate professor of music at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he directs the Eastern Percussion Studio, teaches courses in music theory, ear-training, and sight-singing, and performs in the faculty percussion duo Confluence. He has performed and presented at the conferences of the College Music Society, the Percussive Arts Society, the Eastern Trombone Workshop, the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference, the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy, and at the Center for Mallet Percussion Research. His compositions and arrangements are available from C. Alan Publications and Garden State Publications, and his writings and research can be found in Percussive Notes and Rhythm! Scene. Jeff received a Bachelor of Music in Music Education degree from Radford University and both Master of Music and a Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in Performance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was inducted into Pi Kappa Lambda national music honor society. For more information, visit

  • R!Solo: Marching Down the Street for Rudimental Snare Drum by Michael Varner

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Aug 13, 2022

    Drum and Bugle Corps have changed a lot since the traditional Corps of the 1950 and ‘60s. Before DCI and WGI, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the American Legion sponsored Drum and Bugle Corps. Current DCI performers will be jealous to know that, in those days, there was a Veterans “Post” in every town and neighborhood so, instead of driving miles to corps rehearsal, back then, you might be literally able to walk to the Veterans Post rehearsal on your street corner! Many Posts had a Senior Corps, made up of World War II Veterans and often a Junior Corps for Sons (and Daughters) 21 and below. The first corps I ever marched with was literally called “the Sons of the Demons.” The Maumee (Ohio) Demons were the Post’s Seniors named from World War II exploits and the “Sons” eventually became the DCI Toledo Glassmen.

    The Veterans would congregate every Friday night at the post to reminisce, listen to music, and socialize. Our Junior Corps would rehearse those nights and between drumming we would cook food for the veterans. My usual assignment was a Maumee delicacy: frogs’ legs. When I dropped the legs into the boiling pot of water they would wiggle and “swim” as if they didn’t know they had already been separated from the rest of the frog!

    None of the young players (or even the instructors) knew how to read music, so the drum parts would be taught by first using “onomatopoeic” syllables to represent the rudiments and rhythms. The instructor would first rhythmically “say” the syllables and each youngster would repeat it until they got it right. Then the instructor would drum each phrase and each player would be expected to listen and repeat it. Everything had to be quickly memorized. On a Friday night this became a fun game when the young players would tease and gibe anyone who messed up memory or saying/playing the tongue-twisting syllables. For example, the rudiment “flamacue” was “mar-CHING down the street” (try saying it with the emphasis and you will “hear” a flamacue)! I remember a particular rhythm my corps used lots was “watermelon” because its rhythm came from the popular song “Watermelon Man.” Entire drum parts were endlessly “chanted” while riding the bus to competitions. Our young players rarely won first place in contests, but we loved sharing the comradery of drumming and representing our neighborhood “Post.”

    My R!Solo is based on the rudimental drumming of those times. It contains the original 26 rudiments, which were the standard before the current PAS 40 rudiments, notated pretty much exactly as they would have been. Listen to how I say the first phrase on the video until you can repeat it exactly. Then say it while you are playing it to get the phrasing perfect. Try to identify each of the 26 rudiments (they are all there). Think about which rudiments have been added to make the current 40 and where they might come from.

    After you have learned “Marching Down the Street,” you and your teacher should search and find out more about the many drum composers over the years who wrote pieces to showcase these original 26 rudiments, including Charley Wilcoxon, William Schinstine, Fred Hoey, and John S. Pratt. Explore their solos and see how they chose to combine traditional rudimental rhythms, and make sure to investigate what “NARD” is. I hope you enjoy!

    videography by Jesus Martinez
    R!Solo Marching Down The Street by Michael Varner


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    Michael VarnerDr. Michael Varner
    recently retired after 36 years as Director of Percussion at the University of Texas at Arlington. Previously he was Director of Percussion at Western Michigan University. He holds a degree in Music Education from Bowling Green State University, a Master’s in Performance degree from the University of Michigan, and a Doctorate in Performance from the University of North Texas. With a long history as a performer, he presents new and time-honored repertoire to the highest standards, having presented percussion clinics in every state, Europe, and Japan. He has written for nationally recognized DCI and WGI marching groups including the Chicago Cavaliers and the Toledo Glassmen. Under his leadership the University of Texas at Arlington Drumline performed with consistently top rankings at many PAS events. His interest in world music led to research in Nigeria and Ghana. His article “Skin That Speaks” was published in Percussive Notes. His interest in composing has led to many commissions with over 20 published works, and he is a member of the PAS Composition Committee. For more information visit

  • R!Solo: Journey to the Source for Drum Set by Christopher Butler

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jun 11, 2022

    This short solo is inspired by the grooves of New Orleans and the drummers who inspire me including Stanton Moore, Herlin Riley, Zigaboo Modeliste, and countless others. Besides accurately playing the notes, please listen to some of the legends and aim to capture the feel of “playing between the cracks.” Feel free to change any sticking or add any additional ornaments (buzzes, drags, etc.) to make this more authentic. Please note that all notated rimshots are typically ping shots, playing closer to the bead of the stick.

    Journey to the Source 1

    Journey to the Source 2
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    Dr. Christopher ButlerDr. Christopher Butler is a percussion educator, artist, conductor, author, and composer with experience in all facets of percussion. He is an Associate Professor of Practice and Director of Percussion Activities at Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, Ill.). He has presented and performed at a multitude of international conferences and contemporary music festivals including PASIC and the Outside the Box New Music Festival. His compositions and methods for percussion are published through Tapspace Publications, Blueshift Music, and Meredith Music. He also serves as the president of the Illinois PAS chapter.

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