Third Coast Percussion performs again with Present Music
The fantastic quartet returns to Milwaukee this Saturday at Vogel Hall, after tremendous success performing in Present Music's season opener, "Inuksuit." Member David Skidmore speaks to Sahan Jayasuriya about their unique and transfixing style.
Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion ensemble (of no relation to TCD) aims to expand the boundaries of classical music, bridging the gap between classical and pop music forms. Founded in 2005, the group has grown to a full time gig for its four members, having performed hundreds of concerts across the country. Third Coast Percussion member David Skidmore talked with Sahan Jayasuriya about the group’s formation, influences, and their upcoming performance this weekend, a wonderful collaboration with Present Music.
Sahan Jayasuriya: When people hear the word percussion, they generally tend to think of drums and other “drum-like” instruments, which is a rather limited definition of the word. Can I assume that Third Coast Percussion goes beyond that basic definition?
David Skidmore: Absolutely. In many ways we’re like a string quartet, but instead of playing string instruments we play percussion instruments. We’re a classical music ensemble and we read notated music, and we have at our disposal the entire world to make noise with. We use instruments that people would expect to see like drums, marimba, vibraphone, that sort of thing. But then we also play on instruments from all over the world. For instance, we’ll be playing a piece that was written for us for over 300 bells from all over the world. We play on Japanese prayer bowls, gongs from Thailand, all kinds of things. We also play on objects that are part of our everyday lives, like tin cans, spaghetti strainers from Ikea, just household objects. We travel with hundreds of instruments in our van at any given time.
SJ: With that many instruments to use in a live performance, setting everything up must be pretty daunting.
DS: That’s like every day of my life (laughs). Our van is packed to the ceiling with bells and drums and two vibraphones. But we’ve become experts in that. We can put a marimba together in under five minutes. We can set all this stuff up in under an hour and play a show. Its taken a while but we’re able to do it.
DS: There are some pieces that we play where we have pre recorded electronics that we play along with, but for the most part it’s entirely acoustic and entirely live. In the case of the concert, we’re going to be collaborating with Present Music, so it’s not just us four.
SJ: Is this the first time that you’re collaborating with Present Music?
DS: We actually collaborated with them a few weeks ago for this piece for 99 percussionists. We did it at the Lynden Sculpture Garden and we were all spread out across the garden, and it was fun. The one on Saturday is a bit more traditional collaboration, but they’re a great group. I’m excited to collaborating with them again.
SJ: So aside from yourself, who are the other members of the group?
DS: Shaun Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin. We all met while studying percussion at Northwestern University in Chicago.
SJ: So do you all come from classically trained backgrounds then?
DS: We all have formal training in percussion from different schools, but we do all also enjoy a lot of other music and participate in different sorts of music making. We all have pretty wide musical interests, and I think that comes with the territory when you’re a percussionist.
SJ: Forming in college is pretty common for a lot of bands. Everyone from Queen to REM came together during their college years. While those bands joined together and bonded over their love of rock music, what you guys ended up doing was a little bit different. What made you want to take the route that you did?
DS: We were fortunate that at Northwestern there was a really great percussion chamber music program. Part of our degree was to play in the percussion ensemble, and it was done at a really high level. Essentially we started wondering why that music wasn’t played outside of that setting. It’s really amazing music and it’s exciting. We try to make the concerts a fun cross between classical music and rock music.
SJ: A question I like to ask any musician: what are your influences? As a band, who are some performers that you all agree on?
DS: That’s a really good question. The first thing that comes to mind is Kronos Quartet [playing tonight, Fri. Oct. 11, at The Wilson Center]. They’re a prime example of a group that we really look up to and are inspired by. They’ve really redefined what it means to be a “classical music” group. They’re a string quartet, but they’ve really expanded the boundaries of what that means. We also really like John Cage and play his music all the time. He wrote a lot of music that make it possible for groups like ours to exist. Steve Reich, too. We’re playing some of his pieces on Saturday. He exists in the classical music world, but he’s been such an influence to a lot of musicians in general.
SJ: What have you guys been listening to in the van?
DS: Nothing too crazy. Radiohead, Wilco, Bon Iver, the Arcade Fire. There’s this great group we saw in South Bend called Rabbit Rabbit that we’ve been listening to.
SJ: The first thing I thought of when I saw that you guys are from Chicago was Tortoise.
DS: Oh yeah, they’re great.
SJ: Let’s talk a bit about that actually. Do you think geography affects your music?
DS: Very much so. [Chicago’s] a great city to be in as a musician or artist. It’s a big city but it’s not oppressive the way New York is. I just think its got more to offer and has a lot more available, and that’s a big part of why we’re there.
SJ: This weekend you’ll be playing with Present Music. Any details on what to expect?
DS: We’ll be playing three pieces- “Third Construction” by John Cage, “Resounding Earth” by Augusta Read-Thomas and Steve Reich’s “Daniel Variations.” The first two we’re doing by ourselves and the last one will be a collaboration with Present Music.
Third Coast Percussion will be performing with Present Music this Saturday, October 12, at 7:30 pm at the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall. Tickets ($15, $25 and $35) are still available and can be purchased online or at the door.