WOODWORK for percussion quartet
Program notes by the composer 3/4/04
Woodwork was written and premiered in the spring of 1970, at the request of Thomas Siwe, then director of Percussion Studies at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, for the last in a Krannert Hall series of concerts celebrating landmark percussion works and newly-written works of the 20th Century. I named the piece "Woodwork" because it used only wooden instruments of the percussion family, including slit drums, marimbas, a xylophone, bamboo wind chimes, and other instruments made of wood. I dedicated the work not only to Tom, but also to my father, who was not only owner of a lumberyard and later the chief carpenter for the Beer Nuts corporation, but because he himself created the notched sticks called for in the score by turning them on his own lathe.
The deep stage of the Krannert’s Great Hall, where the work was scheduled to be played, inspired me to try a configuration of the percussion quartet that could rarely be tried elsewhere: that of having the four players and their mallet instruments positioned behind each other, so that first percussionist Michael Udow would appear to have a flurry of eight arms, resembling the Indian God Shiva when all four players were actively performing. The canonic opening of the work was an intentional means of "choreographing" the players' motions so that Mike's initial gestures would then spread to the second player, the third player, and the fourth. The result was a work as interesting for the physical movement of its players as for the unusual onstage instruments.
In overall texture, the work proceeds from strictly notated pitches of the mallet instruments to eventual noise (by way of the slit drums) produced by the players beating on the fiberboard sides of their instruments (rarely achieved today since the redesigning of the Musser instruments ). Each percussionist has a wide array of sticks and mallets in addition to the instruments under the control of each.
The work was rescheduled a month after its intended premiere, which had been intended for the weekend of the disastrous Kent State massacre in the spring of 1969. It was only after the work had been written and performed that I learned Tom Siwe's last name meant "Shiva" in Polish. A very strange coincidence.