How much detail do you expect, want, and ultimately get from composers in the percussion scores that you perform? Amy Lynn Barber



Amy Lynn Barber

I have worked with composers at both extremes of the spectrum: those who prefer to provide minute detail about every aspect of the score and its performance, and those who prefer to provide only the most general information and leave the realization of the score to the performer.

The ideal situation, of course, is having the opportunity to work personally with the composer and discuss these things as they arise. I have found that most composers are very open to suggestions regarding instrument and mallet choice, notation, and practical logistics unique to percussion set-ups. I have invited many composers to my studio over the years, and they seem to relish the chance to work directly with a percussionist, with a huge assortment of instruments available, and try out different options.

With percussion instruments, there are so many more variables in interpreting a piece that I do appreciate the composer’s guidance and suggestions in knowing what she/he has in mind. The choice of a certain drum or cymbal or mallet can make an enormous difference in the effect of the piece.

However, it can be a bit frustrating when composers get too detailed and specify the exact sizes of cymbals or gongs, or the manufacturer’s model number of sticks or mallets, etc. (Since no two 16′ cymbals are likely to sound alike, this degree of detail is not useful.) Every percussionist and ensemble has its own arsenal of instruments, and it’s most useful if the composer makes his goals clear without more detail than is necessary (i.e. three graduated cymbals: high, medium, and low). Similarly, I prefer not to have any stickings written by composers, but to work them out myself.

Even though percussion instruments and percussion repertoire have enjoyed an enormous explosion over the last 50 years, I find that percussion is still the area that most composers know the least about—the subtleties of instrument choice, what is technically realistic on each instrument and in a multiple-percussion set-up, and how to most clearly and easily notate unusual sounds and techniques.

I have really enjoyed my work with composers and look forward to continuing this musical collaboration.