Review: Third Coast Percussion Premieres New Work With Joy, Magic and Mischief

If you have not listened to any Third Coast Percussion music, I highly recommend that you set aside a couple of hours and get on it. This quartet has expanded on percussion as a means of creating music for reflection, and meditation, and in the words of ensemble member Robert Dillon, sometimes it's "just bananas!"

The first time I saw them at the Field Museum they were accompanying a slide show of flora and fauna in the Amazon basin. It was then that my eyes opened to how every sound is percussion, whether it is a piano, xylophone, or actual drum, to the fact that sound is reflected off of a drum in our heads. That was expanded on December 7th at the Holtschneider Performance Center at DePaul University.

Third Coast Percussion is a quartet of classically trained percussionists who have elevated the art of music in a novel way. Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and David Skidmore poured joy, magic, and a bit of mischief into the music they played. The first piece -Triple Point was composed by Chicagoan Ayanna Woods. Her work explores the relationship between music improvisation and mathematics. Triple Point is based on how a substance can be transformed into gas, liquid, or solid simultaneously. It is a trippy and gorgeous piece of music that is perfect for this quartet.

Photo by Marc Perlish.

The second piece, In Practice, was composed by Third Coast Percussion and inspired by the concept of ritual and ceremony in society. It is filled with echoes, reverberation, and a sense of spatial lingering. There was the sound of crashing waves, layers of silence, and the sudden sound of what I thought was a rattlesnake tail. Listening to In Practice, I felt transported to different terrain beyond the beautiful concert hall.

After a brief intermission, three 8 ft. tables were put on the stage and filled with a buffet of do-dads, oven mitts, a cake pan, penny whistles, and other improbable instruments. It was aptly titled Gauntlet composed by Mark Applebaum. This is the composition that was given the "bananas" seal of approval by the group. I would love to see the score for Gauntlet which possibly resembles a spirograph rendering and is just as much fun. They were having a great time with the array of items transformed into instruments through order and timing.

The final piece was composed by Missy Mazzoli who does work for opera houses and symphonies all over the world. Her five-part composition is titled Millennium Canticles and she imagined it as the story of the last people on Earth and the rituals they create to survive. The subtitles such as Famous Disaster Psalm and Choir of the Holy Locusts give the listener a tour of Mazzoli's brilliant melding of spirituality and apocalyptic vision. Third Coast Percussion is a part performance art in addition to the music and it was evident in the solemnity of how they approached Millennium Canticles.

Third Coast Percussion. Photo Marc Perlish.

Mazzoli was on hand to introduce her composition and it was pointed out that the only survivors of an apocalypse would be four percussionists. It got a well-deserved laugh but it gave me insight into how their sound is primordial and percussion was probably the first sound made intended to be music.

Third Coast Percussion considers Chicago its hometown and I believe that the city has provided plenty of inspiration for their playing and composition. They will be making other appearances in Chicago so check their website to get in on the beauty and joy of their performances. I highly recommend it.

Third Coast Percussion played on December 7, 2022, at the Holtschneider Performance Center, 2330 N. Halsted on the DePaul University Lincoln Park Campus. More information can be found on the website

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.