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



Composer/Percussionist Arthur Jarvinen performing an excerpt from John Cage’s “Child Of Tree” in his

No stickings, please. I guarantee that I will change them—all of them. The situations in which stickings worked out by the composer constitute useful information for the player are so rare as to be nearly Utopian.

On the other hand, I appreciate seeing a set-up diagram. Not that I’ll set up that way; in fact, I can almost guarantee I will change that too. But if a set-up requires a lot of equipment and no diagram is given, that’s a sure sign that the composer didn’t compose with the logistics in mind, and that usually means trouble.

Oh yes, also please just forget about those goofy pictures of the instruments that show up in the “symbols” library of your notation software.

Oh, I almost forgot! Normal noteheads are good. X’s are good to indicate metal things, but most of those other shapes that come with computer “notation” software are only there to tell the soundcard which midi noise to make—they have nothing to do with percussion notation. Shape-notes are best left to Early-American hymnody.

As a composer myself, and also someone who has played an enormous amount of chamber music repertoire as a percussionist, I particularly appreciate an economic and thoughtful use of percussion resources. Just because Martino’s Notturno is exceptionally well-written and effective doesn’t mean that percussionists actually want to use that much stuff in every piece—or even every concert! I particularly enjoyed playing Morton Feldman’s “Why Patterns?”—a thirty minute trio for flute, piano, and glockenspiel—and Frederic Rzewski’s “Mary’s Dream”, also an intimate chamber work with extensive use of glockenspiel (plus a surdo). I like to see a percussion component that is carefully considered and worked into a piece on the same level of importance and meaning as the cello or clarinet. If it’s just splashes of color and rhythmic punctuation you want, at least don’t ask for six cymbals only because you’re a serialist and they make a “hexachord”!