A Question on Solo Percussion

‪Recently, I opened up the idea of questions to answer on my Facebook page. Today's blog takes a look at one of those questions.

Brian Tairaku Ritchie:‬ Do you think the field of solo percussion is expanding, and if so, why?

MB: This is just from my perspective, but I've both played and followed solo percussion for a while. I'm also an avid collector of recordings and have amassed a lot of different solo percussion recordings from around the world. First, I think we need to define things. 

Solo percussion in the States/Europe/Japan is a very different thing than most of the rest of the world (there are traditions of solo percussion in India, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, etc that are mainly based around frame/hand drumming). Other than the few brave jazz drummers who sometimes present solo concerts/recordings on the drum set, solo percussion basically resides in the halls of academia, played on all manner of percussion instruments. Often the only place you can hear someone playing solo percussion is at their University recital. And beyond aspiring students, some of the main proponents of solo percussion are the professors teaching it. So even when someone like Steven Schick, who is brilliant BTW, puts on a solo concert, it’s usually connected to some sort of University.

Steven Schick explains solo percussion—well worth 90 minutes of your time.

But I am encouraged that in the 14 years I’ve been doing this, I have discovered many others not tied into academia also performing solo percussion concerts. People like Le Quan Ninh, Glenn Kotche, Steve Hubback, Tatsuya Nakatani, Terge Isungset, Paal Nelson-Love, Aiyun Huang, Koniko Kato, Z’EV, Jon Mueller, and others.  These are in addition to people that I discovered 25-40 years ago, like Pierre Favre, Andrea Centazzo, Frank Perry, Fritz Hauser, Alex Cline, Fredy Studer, Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer, Eddie Prévost, Paul Lytton, Robyn Schulkowsky, Terry Bozzio, Detlef Schoenberg, Andrew Cyrille, Roland Auzet, Max Neuhaus, Michael Jüllich, Stomu Yamash'ta, Sumire Yoshihara, and others.

So to answer your question, yes, I do think it’s expanding, even if it’s at a very slow rate. I’m also very encouraged by the rise of a lot of great percussion groups, like Third Coast Percussion, SO Percussion, Red Fish/Blue Fish, Meehan/Perkins Duo, Tigue, LA Percussion Quartet, and others who are commissioning a lot of new percussion repertoire and playing it for the public. Many of the group members also play solo concerts, so there is a general raising of awareness that percussion can be its own music, and not just accompaniment for other instruments.

~ MB

Addendum: Here is a great interview from 1960, with the late Max Neuhaus, where he talks about solo percussion and the (then) new composition he was learning, Zyklus by Stockhausen: Max Neuhaus Interview


  1. I hope not to go off topic but there's same problem, maybe with less emphasis, for percussion ensembles. Maybe in the States is different, but here in Europe, and especially in Italy, percussion ensemble concerts are very rare outside Universities and Music Academies.

    It's also for this reason that classic percussion instruments aren't so popular as, for example, drums.

  2. Paolo, so nice to hear from you. Yes, I agree. With a few exceptions, percussion ensembles are stuck in the Universities. But I am encouraged by some of the newer ensembles here in America, like Third Coast Percussion, SO Percussion, Tigue, TORQ (in Canada), etc. who are bringing great percussion music to the general public.

    BTW, Paolo has an excellent percussion blog of his own. Please check it out: http://paoloparolini.com/percussionblog/

  3. Thank you Michael.

    I listen on youtube and spotify all the groups you've mentioned. I'm also playing with a percussion quartet (Oxygen Percussion Quartet), but the main problem for us is combining our daily job as performers/teachers/students with our passion for the percussion ensemble repertoire.

    Logistical problem is another big dilemma... With so many instruments it's very hard to find a room where we can practice together.

    But we're so enthusiastic about the group! Bye!


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