The Calypso Party Returns

The Humboldt State University Department of Music and percussion directors Eugene Novotney and Howard Kaufman present the HSU Percussion Ensemble, World Percussion Group & Calypso Band in concert on Saturday, December 7 at 8 p.m. in the Van Duzer Theater.

Presenting contemporary and experimental music for Percussion Ensemble, the pulsating sounds of the Brazilian Samba, and the high-energy dance music of the Humboldt State Calypso Band, this is a show that is guaranteed to entertain.

As the centerpiece of this concert, the Humboldt State Percussion Ensemble will be performing a revolutionary work by Edgard Varese entitled “Ionization.” Written in 1931, “Ionisation” is widely considered to be the most important composition in the history of the percussion ensemble repertoire. Featuring 13 performers playing over 47 different instruments, the sound mass and texture fields heard in the piece are both extremely colorful and highly unusual. All of the standard instruments of the percussion family are featured in the work, but the piece also is scored for Afro-Cuban instruments such as maracas, guiros, cowbells, and bongos, and instruments such as Indonesian and Chinese gongs, Spanish castagnetts, a vintage German glockenspiel, traditional European sleigh bells, a hand-made lions roar, two traditional anvils, and, perhaps the most unique of all, two hand crank warning sirens.

The low-pitched siren used by the Humboldt State Percussion Ensemble is the exact Sterling type II hand crank fire siren that Varese specified in his 1931 score. The high-pitched siren is an authentic combat field siren issued by the US military and made by the Federal Electric Company in Chicago, Illinois. Often considered a radical futurist, Varese claims that he was interested in sound for sound’s sake alone, and for that reason, considered all sounds as valid.

As early as the 1930s, Varese heard the sound of the siren as a result of the modern world, and as such, he used it as a musical instrument in his composition. Many scholars have noted that Varese’s ideas and experiments with sound, which predated the invention of the first synthesizer by almost 40 years, had an extensive effect on the development of electronic music.

The HSU Percussion Ensemble will also be featuring one of John Cage’s most famous and innovative works from the 1940s entitled, “Second Construction for Percussion.” This highly experimental work calls for percussionists playing traditional Western percussion instruments combined with instruments from around the world, including Thai Gongs, Swiss Almglocken, African Pod-Rattles, and Chinese Temple Bells.

One of the more unusual instruments employed in the work is Cage’s infamous “water gong,” where the percussionist submerges a Chinese Feng gong in water to alter and manipulate its pitch. Also featured in this work is Cage’s legendary “Prepared-Piano,” an instrument created by taking a classical grand piano and adding nuts, bolts, washers, rubber, paper, and other objects to the piano strings and sound-board. The effect creates an instrument that sounds more like an electronic synthesizer than an acoustic piano, and the effect is both stunning and surprising.

The program will also feature the North Coast premiere of an exciting and highly rhythmic work by Brett Dietz entitled “The Sharpened Stick.” “The Sharpened Stick is a Native American” war song and dance that is in the “fish-step” style. It is said that the popular 1920’s dance craze the “Charleston” was derived from this dance. At certain points of the composition, the performers shout the vocal phrase “Yo-Ho”, as a signal that the music is moving from section to section. In traditional Native American music, this vocal phrase is historically sounded by the head singer and signifies a change of direction in the music as well as a change in the direction of the dance.

Finally, the Percussion Ensemble will present a large percussion orchestra composition entitled “Connected Forces,” by Lynn Glassock, which features marimbas, vibraphones, chimes, orchestra bells, and piano as the lead melodic instruments, accompanied by timpani, bongos, snare drum, tom-toms, bass drum, and cymbals, in both supporting and soloistic roles. The piece is a true masterpiece of percussion orchestration, and is expansive and dynamic in its scope.

The first half of the concert will conclude with a special presentation by the HSU World Percussion Group, directed by Professor Howard Kaufman. The group will present an authentic arrangement of Samba Reggae from the folkloric traditions of Salvador, Brazil. This arrangement is as good as it gets, and will feature a 20-piece samba band playing authentic instruments from Brazil filling the room with pulsating sound!

The second half of the show will feature the festive dance music of one of Humboldt County’s favorite ensembles, the Humboldt State Calypso Band. The Calypso Band will feature several high-energy dance compositions from the Caribbean in their set, as well as a Panorama-style arrangement of the Len “Boogsie” Sharpe steelband classic, “Birthday Party.”

The Humboldt State Calypso Band prides itself in maintaining an accurate and authentic connection to the roots of the steel band movement and the innovative musicians of Trinidad, the island on which this unique percussion phenomenon was born. The band is dedicated to the performance of traditional and contemporary music from the Caribbean, Africa, Brazil, and the United States.

In addition to its regular performances at Humboldt State and throughout Northern California, the band has undertaken tours to San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno, Oakland, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Eugene, and Seattle. Founded in 1986 by the band’s director, Eugene Novotney, the Calypso Band is celebrating its 34th anniversary year at Humboldt State this fall, and holds the distinction of being the first ensemble of its kind in the entire California State University System.

The performances take place Saturday, December 7th at 8 p.m. in the Van Duzer Theater. $10 General, $5 Child, $5 HSU students with ID.