As the new year is upon us, many of us are in search of new repertoire. One of my favorite things is finding music to program. I love listening to the musicianship, compositional ideas, musical development, and interesting sounds of various works for percussion as well as watching the incredible technique and artistry of performers. This includes any of my research for solo works, chamber pieces to perform with colleagues, or pieces to program with my percussion ensemble, steel band, or concert band.
Recently, I had the monumental task of choosing repertoire for the Northwestern State University Percussion Ensemble to present on the PASIC 2021 New Literature Showcase Concert. This 90-minute session highlighted percussion ensemble works published within the past five years. I gathered a list of more than 100 pieces that included different instrumentation, ensemble size, difficulty, publishers, style/genre, and diverse composers. After reviewing and combing through the plethora of pieces, the final program included 16 pieces. In this article I will share different ways I explored and found pieces to program for this concert and many others.
The easiest and most common way to find music is to search online, especially using platforms such as YouTube. There is an endless supply of content on YouTube, with an average of 300 videos uploaded every minute. With a recent rise of affordable technology, DIY recording projects have exploded in number in recent years. Typing in a particular search such as “marimba solo” may unlock an endless list of videos, including recommendations on what to watch next, related videos, and what others have watched.
If you find a content creator you enjoy, you can subscribe to their channel to stay up to date with their content and also find creators who may be similar. You can see who they are subscribed to, what playlists they may have created, or which videos they have liked. Another tip that often gets overlooked is the use search filters. For example, you can sort by the most recent or the most viewed recordings. In addition to YouTube, try searching on audio streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music and listen to percussion-related podcasts such as the @percussion podcast, where the hosts or guests may mention repertoire you may not yet be aware of.
The next tip is to visit online music stores and check out their music catalogs. Like YouTube, you can search and filter by popularity to see what pieces are trending right now. You can also visit various music publisher websites. Publishers are a hub of numerous composers who may share a common interest, whether that may be ensemble genre or style. A great advantage of publisher sites is that they often provide recordings and score samples of the pieces they are selling. I also recommend perusing the different publisher booths at PASIC where you can browse the bins and towers of sheet music, talk to the representatives, or even snap a picture with your favorite composer. Be aware that some composers self-publish, so remember to visit their personal websites as well.
In addition to the music publishers, PAS has a vast database of compositions. A dedicated section of Percussive Notes features reviews of sheet music, books, and recordings. On the PAS website you can search submitted programs to view what others have performed at their concerts. Lastly, one of the most important percussion research sources of all time, the Siwe Guide to Solo and Ensemble Percussion Literature, is also available at pas.org. This guide includes information and annotations to thousands of percussion works.
I strongly encourage hearing music live. When you are enjoying a live performance, you avoid interruptions and distractions like YouTube advertisements or the urge to click “watch next” for another video. There is something special about being in the hall, hearing the sound reverberate around the room, and feeling the intensity of the performance. Attending an evening of music may also enable you to hear a wide array different works. A highlight of mine each year is attending the amazing live concerts at PASIC. You can also get your fill of live music at a local percussion festival, new music concerts, student or faculty recitals, nearby school performances, and other venues within your area.
Expand your composer list by being aware of instrumentation, style, and genre. A composer of your favorite ensemble piece may also have a work for percussion. John Mackey, known for his band compositions, has written a percussion ensemble for nine players. Conversely, your favorite marimba solo may be a written by a composer who has written several works for percussion ensemble or band. David Maslanka composed “Variations on a Lost Love” for solo marimba, “Crown of Thorns” for percussion ensemble, and several symphonies for concert band.
Also be aware of the composer family tree. A composer you are fond of was influenced by or even studied with another composer. Composer Joe W. Moore III was a student of composer Brett Dietz and also is heavily influenced by his affinity to hip-hop and rap music. Additionally, composer contemporaries may open a network of other works and genres. Composers have a circle of friends who support one another and perform each other’s works. Andrea Venet and Ivan Treviño share similar styles, coming from similar backgrounds studying at Eastman.
COMPOSE OR COMMISSION
If you are looking for something specific due to playing ability, personnel, or instrumentation, consider moving the percussion artform forward by composing your own work or commissioning composers. Composing gives you the freedom to share your thoughts with the world musically. If you have friends who are composers or if your school has composition lessons or classes, the opportunity to create new music is at your fingertips. This may allow for more collaboration and performances of the work.
As part of our PASIC Showcase Concert, NSU commissioned and premiered four new works for percussion ensemble. Furthermore, within the last decade there has been a significant increase in commissioning consortiums where anyone can join. These consortiums usually allow for a window of exclusivity where the members may perform the piece before it is released to the general public.
Lastly, get recommendations from others; the knowledge of the collective hivemind is greater than you can imagine. You can get ideas for repertoire by asking your teacher, colleagues, friends, or on various online forums such as Facebook groups, blogs, or magazines. Use social media to your advantage by following and subscribing to different percussion accounts. Find out what others are playing by viewing their recital programs or watching performances on social media. There seems to be a database or an expert in any genre or style of music out there. Seek them out and find more music to play!
Dr. Oliver Molina is an Associate Professor of Music and Assistant Director of Bands at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. As an active percussion performer, educator, arranger, adjudicator, and clinician, Dr. Molina has presented and performed at various state Day of Percussion events, PASIC, NCPP, and other music conferences and festivals. He earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Percussion Performance and Pedagogy at the University of Iowa under Dr. Dan Moore. Additionally, he has is a founding member of the Omojo Percussion Duo and the Ninkasi Percussion Group. Dr. Molina serves as Chair for PAS Education Committee and as Vice President of the Louisiana PAS Chapter.