Monday, February 27, 2012

PAS/KoSa Day of Percussion

My family had planned a visit to Boston from Scotland the weekend before Valentine's Day, and I'd booked my Megabus tickets down from Vermont.

Then, a couple of weeks before the trip, I heard about the PAS/KoSA Day of Percussion at NYU. As part of a weekend of percussion clinics, workshops and presentations, there would be a marimba competition without an upper age limit. I've been playing marimba 11 and a half years now, but was a late starter in terms of age.

Thanks to Expedia, my Boston trip could be triangulated to include New York for only $50. I drove to Burlington airport in the early-morning dark and snow, with a minimal number of mallets in my hand-luggage and six copies of the score for Ludwig Albert's 'Marimba Moods II' for the judges.

On the Air Train into town from JFK I practised the solo in my head, twice. I've usually been very dependent on physical practice, but recently have developed the ability to practise certain pieces in my head by visualising a marimba keyboard with the notes lighting up as I imagine playing them. Working through a memorised eight-mallet solo mentally involved a lot of imaginary lights and doubtless the kind of facial expression that kept other subway passengers at a distance.

I got out of the subway in lower Manhattan, and walked to NYU past Washington Square park. It snowed a bit. I trundled to a grocery store and bought banana, diet Coke and cashews. The banana is for potassium, which I find calms the nerves if I eat it 30 minutes before a performance. In the few marimba competitions I've previously competed in, nerves and stage fright have usually pretty much destroyed my performance.

I found the percussion floor at NYU, changed and read through my score a few times. Went down to the designated warmup room an hour before my performance time, only to find the marimba dismantled and being removed. Normally the lack of warm-up would make me worried, but instead I told myself I knew the piece well enough a warm-up shouldn't matter.

Once I got on stage, the judges were very close and the marimba was unevenly adjusted, so the corner of the lower manual was significantly higher in the bass than the treble. Having already locked in my 8-mallet grip, there wasn't too much I could do about this, so I just got on with it. I hadn't played the piano-type Yamaha 6000 in several years, and its note spacing is a little weird, but this instrument had a big full sound over the inevitable frame rattle.

I placed 2nd in the 18+ division, winning a gorgeous Zildjian suspended cymbal, mallets, sticks, drumheads and other assorted percussive swag. Wai Chi Tang was first-prize winner with a fantastic performance of 'Ripple' by Akira Miyoshi. Apparently we were within one point of each other in the overall scoring.

Here's the winners' lineup with the competition judges: