Percussionist Amy Garapic Talks Rhythm

Amy Garapic
John Luther Adams Concert

Over the past few years Amy Garapic has emerged as a leading percussionist. She has worked with Bard-based Sō Percussion, taught at Bard, Kent State, and other colleges. She will be producing John Luther Adams’ “Inniskuit” on September 12 for the Sharon Audubon Society. Thirty drummers will be drumming in an open clearing while the audience strolls about, surrounded by the ambient thunder of pounding percussion.

KM: When did you first meet John Luther Adams?

AG: In the summer of 2011 when I performed an Adams piece in Manhattan’s Morningside Park under the direction of Douglas Perkins.

KM: What was working with Perkins like?

AG: Fabulous. I had interned with Perkins in Enfield, New Hampshire, where every summer about 40 percussionists, mostly undergraduates and graduate students, participate in in this summer program festival, The Chosen Vale, held at an old Shaker museum. Perkins became my most important mentor. The program is a combination retreat/performance event. Perkins made me aware of how music performed in open spaces can bring music to larger communities than the usual concert going audience. Perkins had produced Adams in the Alaska tundra. “Strange and Sacred Noise” was performed in the Arctic Circle as far north as instruments could be transported. Although there was no audience for the concert, Perkins made a film documentary of it.

KM: You participated in the recording of Adams’ “Inniskuit.” What was that like?

AG: The recording was done with Grace Studios. Musicians were spread out in the woods with microphones. There were thirty musicians, thirty cables running to the recorder. Storm clouds glowered on the horizon when we began. The first take was washed out by a shower, but the second take turned out fine—that’s the take on the cd disc.

KM: The earliest civilized concerts were outdoors—I’m thinking of the classical Greek amphitheaters and the musical performances that were held on the first afternoon and evening of the Dionysia. What makes outdoor concerts so special?

AG: Percussion works so much better outdoors. There’s a strong communal aspect of music when it’s held outdoors. Think of famous rock concerts like Woodstock and its cousins. When music is outdoors it breaks down concert hall barriers. Indoors percussion can overwhelm a confined space, while outdoors there is a more emotionally accessible aspect for percussion, especially when percussion evokes the sounds of a forest, stream, landscape, even the sky with its thunder and lightning. An outdoor venue offers a distinct communal experience.

KM: Is there an ecological angle to outdoor performance?

AG: Yes, insofar as people create special memories associated with place, and especially when that shared space becomes communal memory. Also, in such outdoor concerts people become more attuned to the ecology of the place, the woods, trees, the sky above them. The same music, note by note, will sound slightly different in the context of different spaces, yet you might need to be a musician to tell the difference. Recently, I’ve performed in public spaces on Earth Day and that day becomes a wonderful opportunity to publicize the ecology of the earth.

KM: You’ve performed with Bard-based Sō Percussion.

AG: Yes, I was brought to Bard as a percussion solo tutor in 2011. I worked with Douglas Perkins, one of the original members of the group. There I worked on Harold Farberman’s 80th birthday concert and other projects. We did some John Cage performances.

KM: Yes, I see Cage as a paramount influence on Adams.

AG: Any percussionist can count John Cage as one of their top five influences. He wrote some of my favorite percussion pieces. He opened up percussion to explore the sounds of everyday objects: a chair, floor, various metal objects, anything that can produce sound. He allowed people to look at ordinary objects and evoke the music of the world all about them.

KM: Can you tell me about the Eric Satie event that you produced?

AG: Satie wrote this enormous epic for keyboard that goes on and on with some repetitions. It’s about 18 hours long. The idea for this project came from Alan Zimmerman. We decided to produce this work note for note on vibraphone. It went out livestream around the globe, hitting broadcasts in Netherlands, Greece, Mexico, Latin American cities, even Asian cities. We performed it down at Wall Street during the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Even though we were not part of the demonstration, some people confused us with the demonstrators.

KM: Percussion has traditionally been dominated by men. Did you find it difficult to succeed in this filed because you were female?

AG: No, I did not face that problem. I had a succession of tremendous teachers. As an undergraduate at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, I studied with Michael Burritt, a really respected music teacher. He’s At Western Case Reserve now. Burritt had a way of making learning quite personal: he taught each student differently, emphasizing who you were as a person and how you relate to music. Then in graduate school at Ohio State, I was lucky to study with Susan Cowell who is an inspiring performer with immense talent. It was very helpful to study percussion with a woman because female hands are shaped differently and it was wonderful to be able to discuss this problem with regard to technique and how to go about maximizing your resources.

KM: Tell me about your forthcoming recording disc.

AG: The album is called Peaks for the New Amsterdam label. It comes out this November. We are a Trio of musicians who know each other from both Eastman and Ohio State. The album contains original compositions by us. The influences are so varied from rock, to pop and global music, yet it all surges forth in a seamless, continuous arrangement.

KM: Thank you. And good luck with your coming concert for Sharon Audubon as well as your new album!