MP3 Joseph Gramley - Global Percussion
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CLASSICAL: Contemporary, AVANT GARDE: Modern Composition
Show all album songs: Global Percussion Songs
Lauded by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as âa Heifetz of the marimba,â multi-percussionist Joseph Gramley grew up in Oregon and was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts as a high-school senior in 1988. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan and also attended the Interlochen Arts Academy, the Tanglewood Institute and Salzburg Mozarteum.
Gramley made his concerto debut with the Houston Symphony Orchestra after winning their National Soloist Competition, and made his solo debut at Carnegie Hallâs Weill Recital Hall in 1994. After graduate studies at the Juilliard School in New York, he performed with the Ethos Percussion Group throughout the U. S. and Europe.
An invitation from Yo-Yo Ma in 2000 led Gramley to join Mr. Maâs Silk Road Project. He has toured with Mr. Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble throughout North America, Europe and Asia, performing in the worldâs finest concert halls. Along the way, Gramley has studied percussion styles and instruments from around the globe, collaborating with internationally-renowned musicans from India, Iran, China, Japan, Korea and Central Asia.
Gramleyâs performances as a soloist have garnered critical acclaim and enthusiasm from emerging composers, percussion aficionados and first-time concert-goers alike. He is committed to bringing fresh and inventive compositions to a broad public, and each year he commissions and premieres a number of new works. His first solo recording, American Deconstruction, appeared in 2000.
Introduction from Joseph Gramley:
On my earlier CD, American Deconstruction (2000), I performed works written in this country since 1977, hoping to highlight the full range of instrumentation available to todayâs multi-percussionist.
With Global Percussion Iâd like to shift the listenerâs attention toward whatâs come to be known as âworld music.â I canât say I much like the phraseâitâs become a lazy marketing label for hard-to-classify stuff at Tower Recordsâbut Iâve been eager to put together a collection of percussion pieces that would reflect the ever-widening global influences on people writing music and on performers like myself. Composers have long looked outside their own borders for inspirationâthink of Ravel hearing Indonesian music at the 1889 Worldâs Fair, or Henry Cowellâs youthful exposure to Chinese opera in San Franciscoâbut todayâs imaginative cross-currents are more fluid than ever.
No music is more global than percussion; drums and blocks and bells seem to be ubiquitous. Fifty years ago last spring, a French ethnologist working in Vietnam discovered an enormous Stone Age marimba made of gray schist rock. One of its eleven plates weighed 25 pounds and was 40 inches long. Seven of them were pitched in a pentatonic scale, reflecting somebodyâs ancient drive to make complex music.
Itâs a mistake to think that drums donât generate a melody. All instruments do; one can phrase beautifully on every component of a multi-percussion setup. But itâs on the marimba that one attains an expressiveness unreachable with any other percussion instrument. The range of a marimbaâs dynamics (louds and softs) seems almost unreal to me at times. One of its notes can fill a room, and one technically demanding run up its keyboard can send the performerâand with any luck the audienceâover the edge.
The marimba is central to a number of pieces on this CD, but even so, itâs just one instrument in a multi-percussionistâs configuration. And each such configuration is sufficiently unique that no two percussionists can really end up with the same sound. Itâs easy, in fact, for the multi-percussionist to feel that the instruments heâs playing have a life of their own. Think about it for a moment: percussion instruments (other than hand drums) are some of the very few with which players have no direct physical contact. Almost every other kind of instrument is touched by the performer, but we percussionists typically have to use a conduitâour sticks and mallets. The armâs length at which we hold most of our instruments gives us, I think, a respectful sense of their autonomy--of their existence not as tools but as collaborators.
The other living element who joins the composer, the performer and the instruments is, of course, the listener. Iâm happy to welcome you to Global Percussion.
Notes on the Selections:
In concert, Gramley will often open his program with Ganda Yina, and he finds it a natural first track for Global Acoustic, too. âThis piece is a great introduction to the sonorous qualities of the marimba,â he explains. âIt draws the listener into the instrumentâs full potential through its rich tones and strong but mellow feeling.â
Gramley remembers first coming across Ganda Yina when he attended a Percussive Arts Society master class given by the great marimba soloist Valerie Naranjo: âValerie had heard the piece performed in Ghana by its composer, KAKRABA LOBI, and she obtained permission to publish the work here in the United States.â Lobi, who has taught for decades at the University of Ghana, is probably the greatest living master of the Ghanaian marimba, or gyil, and is known for influencing the improvisations of countless percussionists around the world.
Ganda Yina, whose title translates into English as âThe Strong Man Is Out,â joyously celebrates the just-concluded life of a tribal elder. Throughout the piece, the performerâs left hand plays an ostinato--a single, persistent rhythmic pattern that takes its name from the Italian word for âobstinateâ or âstubborn.â If that pattern represents the unchanging eternity into which the strong man has now passed, then the pieceâs melody--leaping and singing and lunging under the performerâs right hand--can be seen as a recreation of the vibrant life the strong man lived. âI love to play Ganda Yina,â says Gramley. âItâs like nothing else. That it was improvised by Lobi only adds to the feeling of a vitality thatâs unstoppable.â
Gramley discovered many of the pieces on Global Percussion through teachers and older performers, but EUGENE NOVOTNEYâs snare-drum solo A Minute of News came to him through one of his own high-school students in the Juilliard Summer Percussion Seminar, which heâs directed since 2000. âItâs got an infectious groove and is full of really good hooks,â he says. âI knew immediately that Iâd like to perform this piece.â Most of it is composed in a rhythm found all over the world called clave, whose antecedent/consequent pattern can appear in two forms: rumba (2+3) and son (3+2).
Novotney, born in California in 1960, has often looked toward Latin America for inspiration as a composer, performer and teacher. Rock-and-roll and Motown have been influences, too, along with jazz and symphonic repertoire. A Minute of News, which has earned its place in a four-volume set of solos called The Noble Snare, leaves Gramley with his hands fullâand occasionally empty. It requires him to zig and zag over the drum with sticks, timpani mallets, wire brushes, stick clicks, rim shots, and sometimes just his fingers and palms. âThe combination of a heavy groove with light to heavy touches makes this piece a lot of fun to play.â
WILLIAM SUSMAN met Gramley a few years ago after a Silk Road concert in California. The composer remembers being âdeeply impressed with his musicianship, virtuosity, and world music backgroundââand Gramley was equally impressed with Susman, whom he describes as âa fabulous pianist who nonetheless really gets the marimbaâsomething not always true of composers who donât play the instrument themselves.â
Born in Chicago in 1960, Susman grew up learning jazz and classical piano before studying composition at the University of Illinois and Stanford. Perhaps his most important mentor was the composer Earle Brown, whose own âmobile formâ was influenced by Calderâs sculpture. In 1985, Brown selected Susman, only 25, to be the youngest recipient of Harvardâs Fromm Music Foundation Commission, which goes to pathbreaking classical composers.
Over the past decade, Susman has gained recognition for the scores heâs composed for documentary and independent films, including Oil on Ice (2004), but itâs his innovative classical work, widely performed in Europe and the U. S., that has won him the awards of organizations ranging from the Percussive Arts Society to ASCAP. Susmanâs classical pieces, however emotive, often derive their shapes from such intellectual sources as the laws of fluid mechanics or the composerâs longheld fascination with Fibonacciâs 13th-century numerical sequenceâ1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55âin which each number equals the sum of the two coming before it.
Marimba Montuño owes its harmony to the Fibonacci series and its pulse to Afro-Cuban rhythms, particularly the montuño, a particular ostinato (see Ganda Yina above) thatâs repeated continually in the same pitch and voice. âI compose in small sections or chunks and then organize the sound into a fixed order,â says Susman. The end result is rhythmically superchargedâa test of dexterity and speed for the marimbist.
Gramleyâs unflagging ability to play the rhythms simultaneously in both handsâa relatively new feature of 4-mallet marimba technique and compositionâled Susman to dedicate the finished Marimba Montuño to the performer. But even before that Gramley had made the work his own. âI usually know within the first page if something I want is a keeper. Marimba Montuño is that kind of piece.â
âI love to improvise,â says Gramley, whose musical niche offers frequent opportunities to do just that. âNone of the solo repertoire in classical percussion predates the twentieth century,â he points out, âand it gives the performer a chance to keep inventing within a compositional framework. Thatâs something that attracted me to the work of PHILIP GLASS.â Gramley overcame some initial resistance to the composerâwhoâs written only two works primarily for percussionâthrough the influence of a friend âwho would play the music of Philip Glass nonstop, 24/7.â Additional exposure turned indifference to intrigueâand finally to a keen interest, especially in 1+1, a work that Glass composed in 1968, at the age of 31, midway on his journey from serialism through Indian music and onward to such historic works as Einstein on the Beach.
âIn western music,â Glass himself has observed, âharmony and melody are the dominant elements and rhythm tags along; it doesnât really create a structure. In most nonwestern music, rhythmic structure is in fact the structure of the music.â Through this realization, the composer saw âthe beginning of a new musical languageâ for himself. One of his early utterances in it was 1+1, a composition that was really, heâs explained, âmore of a process than a piece of music. It described a way of notating music through what I began to call âadditive processââtaking a measure of music and adding one note to it and repeating it and then adding another note or subtracting a note.â The results, full of improvisational room for a performer like Gramley, can be captured in their entirety in just a few pages of notation.
Gramleyâs biggest challenge in playing 1+1 is to draw the listener in with a composition whose rhythmic melody is discernible through just two âcellsâ (Glassâs term). For his rendition of the work, Gramley decided to use two separate wooden tables as a kind of play on the title 1+1. He then attached an acoustic guitarâs contact microphone and ran it through an amp. He plays the entire piece with just the palms and fingertips of his own handsâas well as a steady stream of imagination. âThereâs nothing limiting about the score,â he marvels. âIn fact, it makes you really open up your brain to the possibilities inherent in just two rhythmsâa kind of minimalism that you take to the max.â
âIâm always on the lookout for new compositions that inspire me and that I can bring to a larger audience,â says Gramley. He found one in Danza del Fuego, originally written for classical guitar by JOHN LA BARBERA, who began his career during the 1970s, performing both solo and chamber music in Italy. The exposure to Mediterranean music that LaBarbera gained would influence the style he went on to develop as a U. S. studio musician working with an array of international artists. He has composed music for several Off-Broadway productions and folk operas, and is musical director of the Italian music-and-dance group âI Giullari di Piazza.â La Barberaâs composing credits for film include Children of Fate (1993) and Cutting Loose (1996)âeach a prizewinner at the Sundance Film Festival.
âGuitar music tends to lend itself well to the marimba,â explains Gramley. âThe ranges are similar, and so are the physical abilities of the guitarist and marimbist to play about the same number of notes at a time. By contrast, when piano music is transcribed for the instrument, the larger chordal writing has usually got to be edited down.â Gramley, whoâs joined on this piece by Yousif Sheronick playing the doumbek, realized that his own transcription of Danza del Fuego would give him a chance to include a second work with a Spanish flavor on this globally-focused album, as well as the opportunity âto couple John La Barberaâs modern take on the guitar with Fernando Sorâs classical use of the instrument.â
In the more than thirty works that sheâs composed for the marimba, KEIKO ABE has vastly expanded the instrumentâs literature, transforming what was once considered a primitive âfolk instrumentâ into a full-fledged concert one.
Gramley first met Abe when he was a freshman at the University of Michigan in 1989. His professor Michael Udow had invited the composer to give a series of concerts throughout the state, and Gramley was excited to hear Abe perform her percussion-quintet piece âConversation in the Forestââone of the early incarnations of Prism, which hadnât been published at the time: âKeiko gave me a copy of her manuscript,â he recalls, âand I ran to the practice room to begin learning the piece.â
Prism quickly became one of Gramleyâs favorite marimba solos. Over the years Abe has arranged the work for marimba duet, marimba and percussion ensemble, and marimba with orchestra, but it was born as a two-mallet marimba solo that, like many of Abeâs compositions, sprang from improvisation. Gramley tries to keep this spontaneous quality in evidence when he performs the work himself. âThe shifts and bends in the development of the melody reflect what happens to a ray of light as it meets a prism,â he explains. âKeikoâs fast, slicing melodic lines mimic the geometric figureâs refraction and dispersal of light, and her piece ends up achieving the same symmetry that the prism itself has. The work lies beautifully on the marimba. Itâs a great piece of idiomatic writing that really speaks to me.â
Gramley has performed with Abe off and on for more than a decade, most recently at the 2001 Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Nashville. âKeiko is a tiny woman,â he notes, âwith a small sweet voice and mellow demeanor. That is, of course, until she starts to play. The sound really does come from deep inside her. I striveâon Prism and other piecesâto attain her raw power and emotional commitment to the sound of the marimba.â
During Gramleyâs days with Ethos, the group performed two of CHARLES GRIFFINâs percussion quartets, one of them a commission (âThe Persistence of Past Chemistriesâ). In 2001, with the aid of a Meet-the-Composer grant from New Music Marimba, Gramley got ready to begin collaborating with Griffin on a solo piece using multi-keyboard composition. Their first brainstorming session, destined to be rescheduled, was set for the morning of September 11 at Gramleyâs studio in Manhattan.
Charles Griffin, a native New Yorker whose choral and instrumental works have been performed throughout the U. S. and Europe, remembers how the 9/11 attacks âcolored our moods and thoughtsâ every time he and Gramley met in the months that followed. During an early work session, while improvising with Gramleyâs mallets on the marimba, the composer came up with an opening whose âmood reminded [him] a little of Randall Thompsonâs choral work Alleluia,â a reverent request for peace written during the Second World War.
Much of what Griffin wrote next would be marked by fragmentation and violence, but he remembers how, around January of 2002, the first snowfall of the season created one of those cityscapes that make New York âbeautiful in a way it isnât at any other time.â Some of the anger about September 11 was beginning to leave him, and the coda to his new composition came back around to the prayerful opening section in a way that may suggest conciliation to a listener.
Visitations would not be fully finished until early 2004, shortly before Gramley recorded it.
Griffin explains that when a composer assembles a unique combination of musical instruments for a single percussionist, âitâs as if heâs creating a brand new instrument.â In the complex Visitations, Griffin wrote for three keyboards: concert marimba, vibraphone and crotalesâsmall, chromatic, antique Turkish bells. At the pieceâs climax, a bass drum, cymbals and gongs are also heard. Griffin knew he had âthis really amazing, just monster, playerâ in Joe Gramley, but he also knew, during their months of collaboration, that he was pushing the performer towardâand sometimes even beyondâhis limits.
Gramley remembers his own approach to the work becoming much more serious and deeply focused in the post-9/11 atmosphere, but he describes the mental and physical challenges with a kind of athletic relish. While pointing out how the keyboards require three different types of mallets (switched by the performer âwhen either hand has a moment offâ), he also catalogs the different sorts of strokes heâs got to keep alternating: âvery hard downstroke; quick upstroke; smooth, full downstroke. And donât forget the pedal in the vibraphone! Visitations is such a balancing act that in order to perform it, Iâve got to take off my shoes. Otherwise Iâll slip off the pedal.â Memorization of Griffinâs music also proved a must: âThere is no physical way for me to look at four different performance environmentsâand sheet music to boot.â
And yet, what pleases Gramley mostâthe surest indicator of his successful collaboration with Griffinâis how the emotional beauty of the piece never gets lost in the performing tour de force it requires.
Gramley has yet to turn 35, but heâs seen a vast change in the available solo percussion repertoire between his earliest playing days and the present. As a boy learning the marimba and xylophone, he typically played music that had been transcribedânot written originallyâfor his instruments. These compositions--first intended for piano, violin and guitar¬--came to him as adaptations, but ones that carried their own opportunities for growth. âI learned to phrase in the manner of the original instrument,â he recalls with pleasure, âand to wonder why the guitar transferred especially well. Maybe itâs as simple as four mallets being not so different from five fingers.â
He first began playing the D-major Estudio (No. 6) when he was a fifteen-year-old student at Interlochen. âThe piece is so plainly beautiful and lyrical that it has stuck with me to this day.â The composer, FERNANDO SOR (1778-1839), thrived as both a performer and a composer after leaving his native Spain for political exile. His guitar works, full of challenging key signatures, also came to include Estudio No. 17, which Gramley performs here along with No. 6. âThese two âestudiosâ are just thatâstudies,â he explains. âEach sets out to achieve a technical goal on the guitar. And yet they can stand, stylishly, on their own musical merits.â
With the work of Fernando Sor, Gramley and this CD come full circleâhome to the performerâs earliest days and to some of the music that started him on his global-percussive journey.
1. Ganda Yina, trad., Karkraba Lobi, arr. Kakraba Lobi and Valerie Narango 6:02
2. A Minute of News, by Eugene Novotney 3:03
© Sonic Art Editions (BMI). Used by permission of Smith
Publications, 2617 Gwyndale Ave., Baltimore, MD 21207 USA
3. Marimba Montuño by William Susman 8:55
4. 1+1 (take 220), by Philip Glass. ©Dunvagen Music Publishers, Inc. 3:20
5. Danza del Fuego, by John LaBarbera 4:45
6. Prism (for Marimba), by Keiko Abe 4:49
7. 1+1 (take 218), by Philip Glass. ©Dunvagen Music Publishers, Inc. 3:20
8. Visitations, by Charles B. Griffin. Coriolis Press (ASCAP). 14:55
For further information see www.charlesgriffin.net.
9. Estudio No. 6, by Fernando Sor 1:30
10. Estudio No. 17, by Fernando Sor 3:45
TOTAL RUNNING TIME: 62:44
Recorded March 4-6, 2004, St. Paulâs Church, Brooklyn, NY
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