Buyan - Solo Timpani and Digital Audio (2017)
Form Diana Loomer - commissioner of the work;
The first encounter that I had with John’s music was in 2010, when I auditioned to be the timpanist for the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps. The required excerpt was from his timpani concerto, Planet Damnation. As much of a challenge as it was, I became intrigued by this powerful, yet melodic usage of timpani. It was exhilarating, and I craved more of it. Once the summer was over, I immediately began learning the original concerto. I realized that John had a great understanding of how to make timpani sing. He built a rhythmic structure that supported the melodic lines, but never got in the way of them. The pedaling was extremely challenging, and I loved that. But after I performed it and started to look for new pieces to play, I realized that the repertoire for timpani with advanced pedaling was quite limited.
This experience is actually what eventually led to my Melodic Timpani Project. I wanted the world’s perception of timpani to change, both from the composers’ and performers’ perspectives. There is a huge melodic potential for the instrument, and we haven’t even come close to reaching it yet. I started asking composers to explore these boundaries to see what was possible. My request was: “Do not write a timpani solo. Write a piece of music as you would for any other instrument, and my challenge is to figure out how to play it on timpani”. Being the instigator of the whole idea, John was of course the first person I asked to compose for the project.
If you have ever played any of John’s music, you know that he doesn’t take it easy on the performer. In one of the early drafts of Buyan, I actually asked him to add more pedaling. Knowing his own reputation for writing extremely challenging music, he was both stunned and amused, saying I was “the first person to ever ask him to make a piece more difficult”. In hindsight, I realize that it was probably a dangerous request, because the difficulty level skyrocketed. It is a beast of a piece, and I am beyond thrilled with the outcome.
A bit of advice to the performer: Be mentally engaged the whole time. Don’t depend solely on muscle memory, because there is no time to react and recover. The pedal motions should be quick and precise, and the physical movement around the drums should never distract from the music. Constantly work toward releasing any unnecessary tension, because it will slow you down. Performing Buyan is invigorating from start to finish. Enjoy the journey, and don’t forget to breathe.
Buyan is very representative of the potential of timpani in a melodic context. I am honored to have a part in this, knowing how much of an impact this piece will have on the future of melodic timpani. Thank you, John.
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