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Sō Percussion: Passing on philosophy of education and exceptional music

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Sam Haefner (‘18) observes a member of Sō Percussion in the masterclass.

Sam Haefner (‘18) observes a member of Sō Percussion in the masterclass.

Lily Kime (‘19) | Chips

Lily Kime (‘19) | Chips

Sam Haefner (‘18) observes a member of Sō Percussion in the masterclass.

Kristen Wuerl, Staff Writer

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Sō Percussion, translating in Japanese as “to offer sound,” performed in the Center for Faith and Life (CFL) on Feb. 18. Sō Percussion is professional, nonprofit percussion quartet and chamber music group

Sō Percussion played five pieces, each by a different composer. They played original commissioned music compositions, as well as compositions written by ensemble members.

“When you commission a new piece, even though it’s written by somebody else, you’re very involved in making it happen,” Sō Percussion member Adam Sliwinski said. “You’re the one who realizes the piece and brings it into the world.”

Sō Percussion does not use conventional percussion instruments. A large part of the group’s repertoire features pieces played with flowerpots, wine bottles, tin cans, rattles, conch shell, and invovles audience participation.

“Part of the interpretation of percussion music is in choosing instruments,” Sliwinski said. “With percussion, you never really know what instruments you’ll be playing [for each piece].”

One instrument the group played was the chord stick, an instrument invented for the piece “Music for Wood and Strings” by Bryce Dessner.

“What’s so cool about this instrument is that  the composer designed an instrument that’s like a guitar, except there aren’t any frets,” Sliwinksi said. “You lay it flat and play it like a percussion instrument. It sounds like a lot like an electric guitar with a big sound. It’s a lot of fun.”

According to Performing Arts Committee (PAC) Co-Vice President Grant Holsinger (‘18), Center Stage Series likes to bring acts to campus that will work clinics with students on campus or in town. In addition to their performance, Sō Percussion held a masterclass in the CFL with student composers.

The group members sight-read percussion compositions by Hunter Prueger (‘18), Pablo Gomez Estevez (‘17), and Mitch Stevens (‘17). Sō Percussion offered feedback to the three composers during and after playing their music.

Sliwinski said that their goal for the workshop was to give student composers an idea of how their music sounds in a short amount of time. According to Prueger, he gathered his inspiration for his piece “Amateur Madman” from the challenging and unique instruments Sō Percussion plays.

“The group sent us their instrumentation list months [ago],” Prueger said. “It was based off of the Paul Lansky piece ‘Springs’ that the group played in their concert. It includes some unconventional percussion instruments such as tin cans, glass bottles, and pieces of metal.”

According to Sliwinksi, Sō Percussion enjoys mixing performances and educational activities while on tour, especially at universities. They currently serve as the ensemble in residence for the music department at Princeton University.

“We have a pretty strong academic core to our activities,” Sliwinski said. “That’s why we play at a lot of universities. That tie to universities and academia is very strong.”

Sō Percussion will host a percussion festival this summer at Princeton University July 16-30.

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