Bringing the beat: Jackson Percussion Ensemble's performance set for tonight

Monday, April 6, 2009
Jackson student Tori Hosler works with props while Christopher Bonner practices his drum solo Thursday for the Jackson Night of Percussion, opening tonight in the Jackson auditorium. (Elizabeth Dodd)

Typical of the past month's Thursday afternoons, after most students and faculty have gone home for the day, eight Jackson high school percussionists tighten down their choreographed movements like a row of pistons. The students' glow-in-the-dark drumsticks twirl and skip in their hands over snare drums in preparation for tonight's performance.

The Jackson Percussion Ensemble is presenting "A Night of Percussion" at 7 p.m. today in the Jackson High School auditorium featuring percussion students in grades seven to 12.

Music to be performed includes pieces by Mozart, Shostakovich, Grieg, Bach, and the Edgar Winter Group's 1973 hit, "Frankenstein." Admission to the concert is free.

"A Night of Percussion" will be performed just as titled: There are no brass, wind or string instruments that are typical of a full orchestra.

"An arranger revoices the piece to match the notes of the original instrument," said Jackson percussion director Chris Crawford. "The song keeps the same melodies and chords."

Percussion students show off their instruments' capabilities, building the song with the sounds of marimbas, kettle drums, snare drums and xylophones.

"We're fortunate to have lots of nice equipment," Crawford said. With the variety of percussion instruments, "we can be our own orchestra," he said.

Some of the performances will feature black lights, choreography and props to create variety for the audience.

Southeast Missouri State University percussion professor Dr. Shane Mizicko will perform a duet with Crawford. Crawford has performed with Mizicko in Southeast faculty recitals, and the pair has a history of musically sharpening one another's students.

"We get the [high school] kids to see SEMO music, and the SEMO education students help our kids," Crawford said of his musical relationship with Mizicko. "It's neat to compare the other group's work."

Jackson students work under black lights Thursday during rehearsal for the Jackson Night of Percussion, opening tonight in the Jackson auditorium. (Elizabeth Dodd)

Around 55 Jackson percussion students have been preparing during and after school since mid-January for the performance. The final practices include the logistics of setting up and moving around the stage, as well as polishing the music itself. Some of the upper-class students will perform songs rated at an advanced level -- music played at a college-level performance.

"We've tried to find something to challenge the kids, something they and the audience will enjoy," Crawford said. The work put into this performance is part of the music department's overall priority on their students' proficiency of playing.

"We stress to the students that they are musicians first, then percussionists," Crawford said. "Every instrument is played musically. You can play a triangle just as musically as you can a trumpet."

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