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SOU Percussion Ensembles Spring Concert: Lou Harrison Celebration

Audience in Music Hall Seating

The Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University Music Program proudly presents the spring concert by SOU Percussion Ensembles, directed by Terry Longshore.  The Lou Harrison Centennial Celebration concert, which will be performed on Thursday, May 18 at 7:30 PM in the SOU Music Recital Hall, is a tribute to Lou Harrison (1917-2003) on his 100th birthday. One of percussion music’s pioneers, Harrison composed some of our most compelling early works.

A student of Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg, Lou Harrison was influenced by the music of Indonesia, Japan, and Korea and was very interested in tuning systems. He composed many works for Javanese gamelan, as well as for his own homemade and found instruments. He was also a prolific poet, artist, and music critic.  In the late 1930s and early 1940s, along with John Cage, Harrison composed numerous important works for percussion ensemble, especially quartets. Unlike a string quartet in which every piece is for the same instruments, percussion quartets can vary widely from piece to piece and include dozens of instruments.

For the Lou Harrison Centennial Celebration, three of Harrison’s percussion quartets will be performed, all composed in 1941. All of the quartets combine instruments from around the world with found sounds from junkyards, antique shops, and kitchens. Harrison and Cage were true curators of sound, choosing instruments based on their sonic qualities, not their ethnic identities or price tags.  I am particularly excited that Harrison’s poetry will be read by members of the ensemble between the musical works,” states Terry Longshore, SOU Percussion Ensembles Director and Professor of Music.

The concert will open with “Double Music”, co-composed with John Cage. It features water buffalo bells (here played on large Swiss cowbells), automobile brake drums, water gong, thunder sheet, elephant bells, cowbells, Chinese gongs, and temple bowl gongs. Following that will be “Simfony #13”, a work that utilizes one of Harrison’s favorite compositional devices, the canon. Families of instruments (brake drums, wood blocks, cowbells, drums, water buffalo bells, etc.) play melodies in various canonic and unison relationships throughout the work. The final quartet, “Fugue”, also combines some beautiful sounds – clock coil gongs, resonant brake drums (here played on cast iron Bundt cake pans), tuned pipes, musical saw, wash tub, etc. – in the form of a fugue, but substituting rhythmic relationships for the typical harmonic ones. “Fugue” was so difficult that it was not performed for 20 years after its composition. It will be performed by Left Edge Percussion.

Also featured will be “Threnody for Carlos Chavez” for gamelan and solo viola, featuring Kimberly Fitch. A beautifully haunting melody played on the viola is accompanied by the shimmering, resonant sounds of Sundanese gamelan degung, here performed by Left Edge Percussion.  Harrison’s “May Rain” for soprano, prepared piano, and tam-tam gong will be performed by Jennifer Longshore and Terry Longshore. An invention of Cage’s, the prepared piano uses screws, bolts, rubber, etc. placed between the strings of the piano to emulate the sound of a percussion orchestra.

Tickets for this performance are $10 for regular admission, $5 for seniors, and free for students. All tickets are general admission. The OCA box office is located in the SOU Music Building, off South Mountain Avenue. The box office hours are noon to 600 PM. Monday through Friday, and two hours prior to performances. Tickets can be purchased with a credit card over the phone by calling (541) 552-6348 or online at oca.sou.edu/box-office. Please contact the box office for discounts offered to SOU alumni, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute participants, and SNAP/Oregon Trail cardholders.

The SOU Percussion Ensembles are comprised of undergraduate and graduate students, who perform alongside faculty members Dr. Terry Longshore and Bryan Jeffs. The ensembles are dedicated to the performance of contemporary percussion repertoire and providing the members with a variety of percussive experiences. The ensembles frequently collaborate with notable composers on premieres of new works, and repertoire ranges from contemporary music to world traditions to jazz- and rock-inspired compositions. The ensembles give several concerts every year at the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, as well as many performances throughout the Southern Oregon community and the Pacific Northwest, and were invited to perform at the 2013 and 2014 Percussive Arts Society International Conventions (PASIC). The ensembles have self-released two CDs, “La Alma del Árbol – The Soul of the Tree”, and “Electric Rebel Poetry”. In 2015, the SOU Percussion Ensembles recorded the CD, “30”, by Stanford University composer Mark Applebaum, released internationally on the Innova Recordings label. The SOU Percussion Ensembles endorse Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets.