Percussion Instruments: Flavor and Color

Feb 8, 2021

Credit Mary Noble Ours

In some ways composers are like chefs – they’re always looking for interesting or even exotic flavors.  Or like painters, experimenting with compelling colors and color combinations.  And percussion instruments, whether alone or in combination, have always been very useful ingredients for adding flavor and color to orchestral compositions. Contemporary composers have been especially enthusiastic in their use of percussion instruments, sometimes calling for whole stages full of instruments that are struck, scraped, or tinkled, not to mention instruments that only exist as computer programs and electronic circuits. But again, the basic idea isn’t new. For centuries, for example, composers have used big drums to evoke the sounds of battles and storms, and by the end of the nineteenth century, concert audiences had gotten to know the sounds of triangles, cymbals, chimes, gongs, xylophones, celestas, tambourines, and glass armonicas, not to mention crotales, anvils, and chains.  

This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.