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Steven Schick's 'The Percussionist's Art',
reviewed by PAUL SARCICH


To UK musicgoers at any rate, the words 'solo percussionist' would probably bring the name Evelyn Glennie to mind. Steven Schick is an American percussionist who has specialised in hardcore modernist repertoire, and therefore sits further out of the general public gaze than the more populist Glennie. He would not be unfamiliar to New Music afficionados, but anyone approaching this book needs not to be put off in the first instance by the type of music he tackles -- his featured composers include Varèse, Stockhausen, Ferneyhough, Cage, Xenakis and Globokar among others. And of course, it's all about percussion -- that noisy stuff, where flower pots, metal sheets, plumbing pipes and dustbins are counted as musical instruments.

All that being said, this is not a difficult book about difficult music. Schick makes it clear from the outset that he is not writing a cookbook for the tyro percussionist, so nowhere does it bog down in technical matters of stickings, mallets, this drum or that. These things are mentioned of course, but in a much larger context than mere drummer's geekery.

For what Schick is engaged on is no less than an exploration of percussion playing as a metaphor for the living of life. Lest that be considered a ridiculous notion, let me say straight away that he pulls it off, and in a fashion that may startle many. The 'Art' in the title is a massive understatement, it should ideally be 'The Percussionist's Philosophy, Psychology, Physiology, Theatricality, Choreography, Memory, Learning Process and Freedom of Choice' were it not so hideously unwieldy. If the reader is already rolling their eyes, I repeat, this is not a 'difficult' book.

'The Percussionist's Art - Same Bed, Different Dreams' by Steven Schick. © 2006 University of Rochester Press
'The Percussionist's Art - Same Bed, Different Dreams' by Steven Schick. © 2006 University of Rochester Press

There is, quite literally, something in this book for anyone who has an intelligent interest in serious music, not necessarily just hardcore modernist, and not necessarily just percussion. Schick is a highly intelligent, thinking and feeling man who is giving us his life in hard covers -- he just happens to hit stuff for a living.

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Copyright © 13 December 2006 Paul Sarcich, London UK


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