Heritage and Innovation

While on a recent road trip through Massachusetts, my wife and I had the opportunity to do a bit of site seeing though this gorgeous area of our country. I'm always struck by the beauty of the foliage and the wildlife that we get to see as we go since there is really not that many trees or wild animals where I grew up in Southern California.

 Massachusetts Countryside  Picture via Pixabay.com

Massachusetts Countryside

Picture via Pixabay.com

 Southern California Desert  Picture via Pixabay.com

Southern California Desert

Picture via Pixabay.com

We luckily got to meet one of the local farmers who runs Diemand Farms while we had stopped for some lunch. He was so excited to tell us about his family farm and how it was started by his Grandfather back in the 1930's and has been family run ever since. He also wanted to share all of the new things that he was trying to do in order to expand his business while still keeping the tradition of what his Grandfather and Father did before him.

 Christoph Caskel Performing "Zyklus" by Karlheinz Stockhausen

Christoph Caskel Performing "Zyklus" by Karlheinz Stockhausen

 Jan Williams rehearsing Morton Feldman's "For Philip Guston" at the Berlinische Galerie 1996 - 2001. (picture from the Jan Williams collection of images at SUNY Buffalo)

Jan Williams rehearsing Morton Feldman's "For Philip Guston" at the Berlinische Galerie 1996 - 2001. (picture from the Jan Williams collection of images at SUNY Buffalo)

The history of percussion as a solo instrument is not much older than the history of this particular farmer. Each one of us is responsible for understanding and appreciating the art form we have inherited from our forebears like Jan Williams, Ray Deroche, William Cahn and Christoph Caskel. When they were developing percussion in solo performances, there was no one who came before them, therefore they could do with it what they wanted. But, like all great innovators, they were also aware of the responsibility they had to the art form.

With the advent of social media and digital archiving, we now have have the tools to see and hear the musical choices of sound, instrument choice, and timbre that other great percussionists have achieved through their work. We do not get to hear them explain their decision making process or what led them to make their artistic choices. We must be cautious not to blindly follow the musical choices of others and remain connected to our own musicality so that we are able to back up our artistic choices based on our own experiences.

Like the Farmer who was building and expanding upon his heritage, we need to continue to be adventurous with our musical experimentations because we will never know when your experimentations will lead to something exciting. While it may be ultimately easier to use an instrument or technique that you saw another artist utilize, you may never know if it is the best solution unless you have tried them all.

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