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Topic: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

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  1. #1

    Question So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    Hi all,

    Just wondering if 5 percussionists (one playing vib.) is too many for a full orchestral work?
    Obviously more expensive, but is that unheard of...?

    Thanks...

    M
    "...Wiktor's a Jekyll-Hyde personality..." - Lycos Music
    http://www.miserymadebeautiful.com

  2. #2

    Re: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    do you really require all five playing at once?
    is there any way of having fewer, with a few doubling simultaneously on some instruments?

    five percussionists isn't unheard of, but it IS a large section. it all depends on the size of the rest of the ensemble.

    I notice you mention "one playing vibe", but normally, most percussionists should be changing instruments regularly (ie: if the guy playing vibes for the first 40 measures has nothing to play again until measure 90, well, he should be playing one of the other instruments).

    It also isn't unheard of to have, for example, player 1 play the vibes for the first section, switch to another instrument, then have percussionist 3, for example, play the subsequent vibe part while percussionist 1 is busy with other instruments.

    I hope this makes sense. Writing out and planning an orchestral percussion part is very much like a massive puzzle.

    Player 1 might have the tam-tam, while the bass drum which he also plays might be between him and player 2, who will share bass drum duties. Meanwhile, players 2 and 3 might share the glock and vibes. All three percussionists might have triangles on their tables, two might have tambourines.

    The important thing is to not necessarily lock yourself into "player 1 plays this instrument. period".

  3. #3

    Re: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael A. Wiktor View Post
    Hi all,

    Just wondering if 5 percussionists (one playing vib.) is too many for a full orchestral work?
    Obviously more expensive, but is that unheard of...?

    Thanks...

    M
    I hold up Gustav Holst's The Planets as an excellent example of "everything but the kitchen sink" orchestration. Here's his percussion:

    6 timpani (2 players, 3 drums each except in "Uranus" having 4 drums for 1st and 2 drums for 2nd), a bass drum, a snare drum, cymbals, a triangle, a tam-tam, a tambourine, a glockenspiel, a xylophone, and tubular bells.

    My guess is that the two timp players are dedicated on their instruments, which means one or two players for the others. However, I haven't hear The Planets in a long time, so perhaps the timp players are doubling on other percussion instruments. You may want to listen to a recording and make some notes on how many of the percussion instruments are playing at the same time in any given passage. That should give you an idea of how many percussion players were used for the performance.

    Michel's advice is spot on. The only reason I'm citing the Holst example is because it provides an excellent illustration of how a large percussion battery can be handled economically without using more players than absolutely needed. Percussionists tend to be quite versatile in the number of different instruments they can play, so if you follow Michel's recommendation, I think you would find that 2-3 would do the job for you.

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  4. #4

    Re: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    Thank you both Michel and Steve.

    I absolutely agree w/ having some of the players double on instruments. I would have to say that for most of the work that is possible but there is one area when I need (or would like to have) all percussionists to play their individual instrument at once - sort of like a drum set w/ timpani.

    I guess I have to ask myself if I really need that or can I be more conservative with the writing...

    M
    "...Wiktor's a Jekyll-Hyde personality..." - Lycos Music
    http://www.miserymadebeautiful.com

  5. #5

    Re: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    So something like timpani, snare, bass drum, tom-tom and cymbals? How about bringing in an actual drumset?

  6. #6

    Re: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    Henry,

    It would be Timpani, snare, cymbals, bass drum,... wait a min., I might be able to use the vib. player on the snare drum...

    I thought about using a drum set but would make no sense for the majority of the work.

    I just have to work this out... and understand I can't have everything I want.

    Thanks for the input though!

    M
    "...Wiktor's a Jekyll-Hyde personality..." - Lycos Music
    http://www.miserymadebeautiful.com

  7. #7

    Re: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    Michael!
    A word of warning: timpanists do NOT play other percussion instruments.

    They are able to, however, are generally contracted to perform ONLY on timpani.

    It is unwise to write for an orchestral timpanist and include other percussion instruments.

    It brings extra costs for the orchestra, as doubling (which is what performing on both timpani AND another percussion instrument) would also double the salary required for the timpanist.

    Think of timpanists as specialists. They are not counted amongst "percussionists".

    Which is why when you look at the orchestration details for various orchestral works, you will see listed "1 timpanist, 3 percussionists".

  8. #8

    Re: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    OK, understood. The timpani player will only play timpani.

    I am hoping to only add 3 other percussionists: bass drum, cymbals, vib.. Then vib. player taking over for snare drum toward the end of the work.

    Does that sound OK?

    Going to work on this more in the morning...

    Thanks for the help.

    M
    "...Wiktor's a Jekyll-Hyde personality..." - Lycos Music
    http://www.miserymadebeautiful.com

  9. #9

    Re: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    Michael!
    A word of warning: timpanists do NOT play other percussion instruments.

    They are able to, however, are generally contracted to perform ONLY on timpani.

    It is unwise to write for an orchestral timpanist and include other percussion instruments.

    It brings extra costs for the orchestra, as doubling (which is what performing on both timpani AND another percussion instrument) would also double the salary required for the timpanist.

    Think of timpanists as specialists. They are not counted amongst "percussionists".

    Which is why when you look at the orchestration details for various orchestral works, you will see listed "1 timpanist, 3 percussionists".
    I stand corrected about the possibility that timpanists can double on other percussion instruments, and what you say makes total sense.

    Also, I was going to post a comment similar to what you said about the cost of hiring extra players. This applies especially to community orchestras, as many have little to no funding for such things. Unless composers have the financial wherewithall to pay for it themselves, then more additional players = less likelihood of getting your piece performed. The only other possibility might be with a college orchestra, but that depends on A. if you have a college or university in your state with a significant music program (such as USC here in Los Angeles), and B. if they accept submissions for public performance consideration outside of their students, faculty and/or alumni.

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  10. #10

    Re: So, how many percussionists does it take to...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael A. Wiktor View Post
    Henry,

    It would be Timpani, snare, cymbals, bass drum,... wait a min., I might be able to use the vib. player on the snare drum...

    I thought about using a drum set but would make no sense for the majority of the work.
    Is it an issue of aesthetics? I ask because when I directed a student orchestra for Sweeney Todd, we brought in the percussionist's own drum kit despite there being no drum kit music. It was simply the most convenient and compact way to get cymbals, snares and bass drum. Of course, percussionists will tell you that the orchestral counterparts of drum kit instruments are very different. It depends how particular you are. However, given that you are actually trying to emulate a drum kit using orchestral percussion... why not bring in the real thing? Or, if the budget will allow, use both a drum kit and orchestral percussion. You may actually save money because you will have to hire less players.

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