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The general musical reader may perhaps struggle the most to follow Schick into the more esoteric areas (his analysis of Varèse's Ionization, for example), but will be I think enthralled by the kind of approach Schick takes to music and will simply just learn from the historical and contextual discussion which surrounds the music itself. For Schick is not an ivory tower theorist, he sites the music in plenty of social, historical and cultural background (not too many books on percussion will bring in the Sorbonne riots or the AIDS epidemic!), which immediately serves to humanise music which can often seem like a detached academic exercise, or written to be played by machines.

Academic readers can have fun nitpicking Schick's analyses if they wish -- they are highly subjective, not musicological, but based in both the thought and experience of someone who has really, truly been there and done it all. Pedants would do better to just sit back and learn. Any contemporary composer who fancies they can write for percussion should be reading this book. Schick is unafraid to point up the limits and difficulties as well as the capabilities of solo (and group) percussion, and modern percussion writing generally would be the better for careful consideration of many of the points he raises.

Both categories of reader may struggle with the switches in language style which occur throughout -- Schick is at no pains to hide the fact that he is an Iowa farm boy who has ended up in the faculties of several Californian universities, and the mix of homespun philosophy beside often quite dense academicese could grate. Because my own path through percussion is roughly similar, I could ride along with it. My advice is stick with it, it's worth it.

Music teachers should be reading the sections on memory in music and the learning process -- they are simply not dealt with outside specialist journals enough. For percussionists themselves, there is also excellent material on kinetic memory, choreography and theatricality in percussion performance -- again, subjects which are usually underconsidered, especially in the teaching of percussion. My immediate response to Schick's writing on these areas was firstly, 'Thank God someone has finally written this all down' and secondly, 'Damn! Where was this when I was teaching? I needed it'. It is a much-needed exploration of these undervalued areas.

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Copyright © 13 December 2006 Paul Sarcich, London UK


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