Fri, May 23, 2008 - Page 13 News List

Go knock on wood

Percussion music has come into its own over the last few decades. Next week, it will show off some of its new moves


The Taipei International Percussion Convention (台北國際打擊樂節) takes place once every three years. It was first organized by Ju Percussion Group (朱宗慶打擊樂團) in 1993 and has gradually grown in importance as a major event for percussion musicians. This year, a number of the form’s seminal figures have been invited to perform at the convention, which will include performances from Sunday until June 1 in Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung, as well as forums by visiting maestros on various aspects of percussion performance.

The convention will open Sunday with Ju Percussion Group performing a program of recently commissioned works including Zhong Kui Marrying His Sister Off (媚影), by Taiwanese composer Liu Yu-yun (劉昱昀), which premiered at the group’s 2008 new season concert Percussion and Friends (打擊樂與他的好朋友們). Although Ju generally operates within a Western classical music tradition, this new work includes not just traditional Chinese percussion instruments, but also stringed instruments that are played as percussion instruments by tapping or slapping. Group founder Ju Tzong-Ching (朱宗慶) said that while the phrase “combining East and West, modern and traditional” are now very much in vogue, Ju Percussion Group was already trying to realize these ideals when it was first founded 26 years ago. Another work, Celebration With Drums and Cymbals (鑼鼓慶) features a lion dance theme, and group members are expected to get involved in the theatrical aspects of the show.

The presence of such groups as Les Percussions de Strasbourg, the first all-percussion orchestra, and Keiko Abe, the first person to play the marimba using six mallets, give the show historical perspective. Other groups are relative unknowns, which is not surprising, given the rapid development of percussion music over the past half-century.

Performance schedule

Sunday, 2:30pm: Ju Percussion Group (Taiwan)

Sunday, 8pm: The Next Step Percussion Group (Austria)

Monday, 7:30pm: Tambuco Percussion Ensemble (Mexico)

Tuesday, 7:30pm: Percossa (The Netherlands)

Wednesday, 7:30pm: Red Fish Blue Fish (US)

Thursday, 7:30pm: Les Percussions de Strasbourg (France)

May 30, 7pm: Odaiko Percussion Group (Spain)

May 30, 9pm: PercaDu (Israel)

May 31, 2:30pm: Keiko Abe and Marimba Ensemble Japan

May 31, 7:30pm: Amadinda Percussion Group (Hungary)

The above performances are at the National Theater, Taipei City. Tickets are NT$400 to NT$1,500. Some groups will also perform in Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung. For more information, go to

“These days, a new group or style can emerge overnight by featuring in some competition. In the past, to gain that kind of exposure took decades,” Ju said. “Most of these groups are not known to Taiwan audiences, because the change has been too rapid.”

The cross-cultural and trans-disciplinary currents that Ju praises are in full evidence at the convention. There is Odaiko Percussion Group from Spain, which takes its name from a Japanese drumming tradition and mixes it with jazz, flamenco and Indian tribal music; Percossa from the Netherlands, which brings a wealth of street performance experience to its dynamic show, a mix of percussion and physical theater; and the academically rooted experimental music from Steven Schick, the leader of Red Fish Blue Fish, who work closely with contemporary classical composers. For a full rundown of all the performers, see the festival’s Web site at

Taipei Times staff reporter Ian Bartholomew spoke with Ju Tzong-Ching (朱宗慶), founder of the Ju Percussion Group (朱宗慶打擊樂團), earlier this week.

Taipei Times: How is it that percussion music has developed from an auxiliary role to a main role in musical performance?

Ju Tzong-Ching : Any orchestra, when it has achieved a certain level, needs to develop in specific disciplines, whether it is strings, wind, keyboard or what have you. In 1931, the first composition specifically for percussion appeared ... . In the past, percussion had always played a supporting role [in classical music]. At that time, people began to realize that percussion had enormous potential and other works for percussion began to appear. Forty-six years ago, Les Percussions de Strasbourg was formed — they were the first percussion orchestra.

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