By Michael Boo
This year’s National Percussion Festival was held in the new Clowes Auditorium at the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library. One of the groups participating in the festival was the Mt. Lebanon HS Percussion Ensemble from Pittsburgh, PA, under the direction of Richard Minnotte, with assistance from Thomas Earley and Subha Das. Richard Minnotte agreed to take time after the group’s performance to discuss how the ensemble approaches what it does.
“One of the useful tools employed by the ensemble is the talk-through rehearsal. For percussionists on the go, it’s hard to set up a rehearsal, to bring in equipment and unpack it. It could take an hour just to set up and tear down the instruments just for one hour of practice. We talk through our entire rehearsal. The members stand where they will stand in the performance and we listen to a CD audio recording.
“We play the piece, I conduct as I will in performance and they make the motions while reading the music. It gets the brain into the sync of playing. We want to get the neurons and brain making the connections, getting everyone focused again. There’s no setup or teardown time. Once a group tries it this way, they realize the potential. We’ve even done it on a bus. They feel it as they move the arms, but they’re not hitting a drum.
“The idea of ‘Samba Reggae from Bahia’ was to expose our kids to non-traditional ways of making music through world percussion, taking us back to our roots. Our Brazilian ensemble is one of our world ensembles. We also have an African ensemble.
“Part of both ensembles is learning to sing and dance the music. They have to learn the dance and how to move around for the piece. Brazilian music is mostly played in the street, so we have t-shirts to give them the authentic look. Our African costumes go right over our formal wear. The kids love the world music because they’re not stuck there just having to read music. The music is taught by rote as it was in the early music. It’s taught in the same way, but it’s a whole different kind of learning experience for the kids.
“This is our second time here at the National Percussion Festival. We’ve played many conventions, but those events are designed for professional music educators and not for the kids. We show up, set up, play a concert, tear down and go home. Here, from the moment we walk into the opening ceremony it’s all about the kids. Perhaps the best thing about this is the chance for kids to listen to other groups of kids just like themselves. They’re passionate about it as they’re playing for other students who know what they do and know how hard it is. This is the most unique experience to which I’ve ever taken my kids.”