27 March 2009

Spotlight on Steve Schick

Last summer, Douglas and I saw Steve Schick in concert with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. Steve's concert was amazing and inspiring-- So, I emailed him and asked if he would be willing to answer some questions- and he graciously agreed!

You have quite an array of percussion instruments that you laid out for your concert here in Pittsburgh, how large is your collection? What are the most unusual instruments in your collection and where did they come from?
I do have lots of instruments in my studio -- maybe there are 500 hundred of them if you include all of the little things . On the other hand I am not really an instrument collector. So many percussionists travel and bring back exotic instruments. My assortment is really very noisy, and 'impoverished.' I want people to listen to the music not the sounds.

It's very apparent that you have really honed your musicianship skills -working with various instruments, learning how to play various complex pieces, creating muscle memory, how much time do you devote to your practice and how do you practice?
I practice, under good circumstances, around 3-4 hours a day. I really prefer to practice in the morning.

I was totally amazed with the solo triangle piece-- can you talk about your experience performing it? learning to play it? the idea of making the triangle vibrate and thereby hearing the sound of the room reverberate-- it's a really beautiful and kind of zen concept!....
I wish I had something wise to say about the triangle piece. I agree, it's fascinating.You learn to play this piece simply by listening to the triangle and then going after the interesting sounds as they emerge one after the other.

What projects are you currently working on?
I am in New York now, conductng the ICE ensemble in rehearsals for an all-Xenakis concert we will present in Boston, Chicago and New York. I just finished an evening-length solo theatrical piece by Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert called "Schick Machine." In the next month I am premiering a piece by Roger Reynolds, Rand Steiger and conducting Mahler #2. It is an interesting time.

What musicians, teachers, mentors, books, (or other) have had the greatest impact on your career as a solo percussionist?
I had two great teachers Bernhard Wulff and Thomas L. Davis. My friend the pianist James Avery recently died as did Betty Freeman, another great friend. I think of them now as I answer your question.

What inspires you?
Walking with my wife. I mean both my wife and walking.

Can you talk about your sense of hearing..I think that you probably hear the world in a different way than the average person, do you hear silence? are you sensitive to sound when you are out and about- getting your morning coffee or walking in the park?
Two years ago I walked 700 miles from San Diego to San Francisco to listen to the sounds of the California coast. I started by wanting to observe the differences between music and the sounds of the outside world, and ended by seeing (hearing) the commonalities. It was a fabulous 5 1/2 week adventure!

You have carved out an interesting niche for yourself as a musician-- did you ever have a difficult time or obstacles in your career that you had to overcome?
I have alternated between periods of great specialization -- almost always on percussion -- and periods when I did many things. The latter includes writing, conducting, improvising, walking. I am in a diverse phase now, which sometimes leads to people not being able to categorize me. Mostly that's a good thing but then sometimes you want an uncluttered life.

What words or philosophy do you live by?
I love the Kurt Vonnegut quotation:

"We were put here on this earth to fart around. Don't let anyone tell you any different."

Steven Schick
was born in Iowa and raised in a farming family. For the past thirty years he has championed contemporary percussion music as a performer and teacher, by commissioning and premiering more than one hundred new works for percussion. Schick is Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego and a Consulting Artist in Percussion at the Manhattan School of Music. He was the percussionist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars of New York City from 1992-2002, and from 2000 to 2004 served as Artistic Director of the Centre International de Percussion de Genève in Geneva, Switzerland. Schick is founder and Artistic Director of the percussion group, "red fish blue fish," and in 2007 assumed the post of Music Director and conductor of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus.
Steven Schick recently released three important publications. His book on solo percussion music, "The Percussionist's Art: Same Bed, Different Dreams," was published by the University of Rochester Press; his recording of "The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies" by John Luther Adams was released by Cantaloupe Music; and, a 3 CD set of the complete percussion music of Iannis Xenakis, made in collaboration with red fish blue fish, was issued by Mode Records. For more info about Steve, click here.

Thanks Steve!!!!