DJA on rhythm

In this performance review,Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society: Steve Reich @ The Whitney, 15 Oct 2006 (Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, etc), Darcy exhibits how deeply he gets it.

…at the time Reich first started presenting his music, few classically trained players were capable of dealing with its demands. It’s not that the music is flashy and virtuosic — just the opposite. But it requires (and I’m sorry to keep harping on this, but it’s important) rhythmic authority. Rhythmic authority isn’t just the ability to play rhythms precisely, although unfortunately, many classical players aren’t even equipped for that. Reich’s music is only playable if everyone has a rock-solid internal click track going, as well as the ability to both lock in with the ensemble and — when necessary — slip off the grid while still maintaining rigorous control over your own tempo. And that’s just to get through the music on a basic level. For the pieces to come alive, for the music to draw the listeners in instead of just sitting there, flat and sterile, you need to have an emotional connection to rhythm. You need to understand viscerally, in your gut, what a short note on the “and” of one means, and how it’s different from the same note in a different part of the bar. You need to have an intuitive sense of how tiny differences in emphasis and placement can drastically affect the character of a syncopated or repeated figure. In other words, you must be able to groove.

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4 thoughts on “DJA on rhythm

  1. Hey Jeff,

    Thanks for the linkage. I think many in the younger generation of classically trained musicians are starting to get it, as well.

    Here’s a quote from Steve Reich’s program notes for the Whitney hit:

    “These young musicians grew up listening to my works and to that of others of my generation. There’s very little I can tell them regarding how to play my music — they understand it in their very bones. I remember seeing So Percussion play works of mine like Sextet (1984) entirely from memory and being absolutely astounded. There are young ensembles like this around the world, playing my music as I could only dream of having it played. What was new and problematic to many musicians of my generation and older has become just another part of the musical repertoire for these younger players. I feel extremely fortunate.”

  2. I agree about younger cats getting it to some extent. I am lucky that the scene in New orleans is small enough that I get to do all sorts of stuff, ranging from total groove stuff like George Porter Jr. to free jazz, to subbing with the LPO or the Opera. I have to say when I go to play with the orchestra, the time concept is hard to handle for me sometimes. Your description in that post nailed it.

  3. Hey Jeff,

    I hear you on the swimmy orchestral time thing. There’s a reason Steve stopped writing for orchestras. But have you heard Atlanta play Gollijov’s Ainadamar? I’m sure it took some serious rehearsal for them to lock into all those flamenco rhythms, but when it came time to track, they pulled it off brilliantly.

  4. I haven’t heard that. I’ll check it out.

    Even down here, they can do it when they pay attention. If a conductor gets on them about it, then the time becomes pretty good. I think it is a matter of priority, and that “emotional connection to rhythm” isn’t at the top of the list for many orchestral players.

    When it does happen though, it is so moving. When that many people can really lock up a groove, there is nothing like it.

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