Wednesday, April 9, 2008

And also, I know "Paiste" is pronounced "PIE-stee"

I love Slate when they're not talking about YA literature. (When they are talking about YA literature, I'm sure people in California can hear me swearing.) Today they ran this: Death by oboe: How acoustic instruments torment their players.

That was me for twelve years.

No, I never played the oboe outside of woodwind techniques classes, but I do know that percussionists, which I was, can be every bit as obsessive as oboe players. In order to get an evenly weighted pair of sticks, you might have to go through fifty sticks at the local drum shop. Those Zildjian cymbals mentioned in the article come in different weights and brightnesses and sizes. You sure as hell can't use those lightweight 16" cymbals to play the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, let me tell you. Everyone has a favorite brand of marimba mallets (mine is Encore). Everyone has a favorite brand of marimba (mine is the Marimba One). The life of a percussionist is held together with duct tape and fishing line. We're obsessed with the tension on the heads of our drums, with finding the perfect way to tune timpani. And DO NOT EVER get a percussionist started on the glockenspiel part from the Act I finale of The Magic Flute. You will be sorry.

There's a note in the article about the physical traumas suffered by those who choose to play various instruments. The design of a flute is hell on the hands and shoulders. Violinists have violin hickey and callused fingertips. The Slate article would almost have one believing that percussionists only suffer mentally, and that's true to a great extent, but any percussionist worth the box of band-aids in her stickbag will tell you that one does not learn to play Michi without physical injury. You want pain? Play the marimba using Musser-Stevens grip, in which the player grips two marimba mallets and holds them parallel in his hand, one mallet in the thumb, index, and middle finger and the other in the ring and pinky fingers. For years I wore rings on a chain around my neck because you can't wear rings and play Musser-Stevens. I know this is something I did to myself, technically, but Musser-Stevens always felt really natural to me and I will never, never understand how Keiko Abe can play traditional cross. (One of the guys in my studio at college played Burton cross and our professor could never figure out how he did it.) Musser-Stevens, when it's done ripping the sides of your fingers to shreds, will build huge muscles on your palms. You can't play Musser-Stevens without these weird muscles and I scared the heck out of some of my classmates in high school the day I came to class with masking tape all over my fingers. No, I'm fine, I'm just learning to play Musser-Stevens.

More and more, I miss those days. I live in an apartment too small for any percussion equipment short of a practice pad. I haven't been able to play since college but I did once impress the heck out of my husband when I picked up a pair of drumsticks in a shop in Disney World and started playing on the testing surface. Someday, when I have space, I will have percussion again.

(Why yes, I did write a completely insufferable letter to Jordan Sonnenblick after I read Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie talking to him about geeky percussion things. He was very nice about it.)

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