Unsnared Drum is a new project dedicated to pushing the limit of what is possible with the snare drum. Over the next year four of America’s most interesting composers—Nina C. Young, Hannah Lash, Tonia Ko, and Amy Beth Kirsten—will collaborate with me on new works for snare drum solo with or without electronics or video. These four composers will expand the expressive potential of this underutilized instrument through dramatic, sensitive, creative, and multi-media solos. In the process, we will change the way that people think about, listen to, perform, and practice the snare drum.
The snare drum is everywhere in Western musics: the de facto leader of drum set, time keeper for military ceremonies, and excitement bringer to the orchestral repertoire. Yet, the snare drum’s identity as a solo instrument is constrained by this history. Many of the extant solo pieces are military test pieces or pedagogical works designed to prepare percussionists for orchestral repertoire. Percussionists ignore its wonderful potential. I believe the snare drum is a vast horizon, both an unexplored taxonomy of sounds and a playground for percussionists’ most subtle and refined techniques. As a percussionist and teacher who loves the snare, I want to push myself and my instruments.
The centerpiece of Unsnared Drum is our collaborative work during the compositional process. In addition to remote work, some of the composers will spend time workshopping material with me at Avaloch Farm Music Institute. Along this way, the five of us will post video and audio of our explorations as well as written reflections of our work together. In addition to content here, I’ve partnered with Second Inversion to host reflections on some of our process and highlight the work of these four amazing composers.
Because Unsnared Drum seeks to highlight the dynamic dialogue between performer and composer within the collaborative process, I have chosen four composers whose music I love and whose friendship I value. I’ve premiered, commissioned, and performed new solo and chamber works from Hannah, Amy, Tonia, and Nina, and Unsnared Drum will be a fantastic opportunity to bring these dynamic relationships to an instrument that needs their unique voices and curiosity towards sound, theater and space. This collaborative project will highlight the idiomatic, historical, and timbral context for the instrument while incubating ideas over an extended time frame, resulting in a significant addition to the snare drum’s repertoire.
Thanks to Vic Firth, each of the composers will have an assortment of sticks, mallets, and other implements with which to experiment as they write. I’m also grateful for the support of Pearl Drums, whose drums the composers will be exploring over the next year.
These works will form the centerpiece of my first solo CD/DVD, which will highlight how close bonds between composers and performers can reimagine familiar instruments. Unsnared Drum is part of my larger mission to advocate for the efficacy of contemporary music in our society by performing, commissioning, and recording new, recent, and classic works for solo and chamber percussion.
After the premiere of her Heart.Throb in February in Lawrence, Nina Young and I sat down to discuss the origins of her piece, and how she approached writing for the instrument. Take a look, and keep watching this space for news about recording.