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Contemporary percussion of Latin America

Salsa, merengue, cha-cha — we know the dances. And we recognize the unmistakable sounds of the driving percussion section of the bands who play for the dancers. But the range of percussion available in Latin America today may not be so familiar to listeners here in the U.S. The Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensemble, under the direction of Terry Longshore, will help remedy that situation when it presents "Mano a Mano: Contemporary Percussion Music of Latin America." The performance will take place at 8 p.m. Monday, March 12, in the SOU Music Recital Hall at Southern Oregon University, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland.

The program will begin with Cuban composer Amadeo Roldán's "Ritmica No. 5" and "Ritmica No. 6." Roldán is regarded as one of the founders of the modern school of Cuban music. Most of his music was inspired by Afro-Cuban folklore. He was extremely interested in the use of indigenous instruments, both melodic and percussive, and was among the first to use Cuban percussion instruments extensively in orchestral works.

However, he believed that they should not be used in order to obtain local color, but for the purpose of widening their significance beyond the national boundaries. The two Ritmicas, composed in 1930, are considered the first two compositions written for the concert percussion ensemble.

Paul Bissell's "The Alabados Song" (2003), for solo marimba and percussion ensemble, is inspired by the "Book of the Alabados," used in Hispanic/Catholic communities in the southwest United States in place of a formal church or clergy.

The "Book of the Alabados" is an ancient text with Spanish origins once used to deliver news to remote villages. The book's prose was an odd mix of Catholic imagery, violent war stories and political gossip. The town elders would improvise melodies in a chanting manner over the bedside of the dying, using the book's text in place of a formal last rites ceremony.

The performance will feature senior music performance student and Evans Family Scholarship winner Joseph Perez as marimba soloist.

Encouraged by the American mavericks John Cage and Lou Harrison, Mexican composer Carlos Chávez gladly accepted their offer to compose an important piece for a group of six percussionists.

His piece "Toccata" proved too complex for the Cage-Harrison group. They were not accustomed to some of the techniques and lacked the ability to perform, in particular, the many demanding drum rolls that dominate the first movement. Composed in 1942, the "Toccata" had its world premiere in 1947. It has become one of the landmarks of 20th century music and has been instrumental in integrating percussion into Western music.

The title work for the concert, "Mano a Mano," is a percussion duet by Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra. In this demanding work, performed by senior music performance students Joseph Perez and Jacob Phelps-Ransom, Sierra explores the many rhythmic possibilities of percussion. The work starts with the sounds of the maracas and gradually moves to the bongos and congas.

Finally, the concert includes two works by Brazilian composer/percussionist Ney Rosauro. The first, "Concerto for Vibraphone and Percussion Ensemble," will feature senior music student Kevin Conness as vibraphone soloist. The program concludes with Rosauro's "Valencia," for 12 percussionists.

The composer calls this work "a piece in the Spanish-Flamenco mood "¦ that reflects my impression from Spain and in particular the state of Valencia that I have visited several times." It will feature senior music performance student and music scholarship winner Chris Matthews as marimba soloist.

Tickets $8 for general admission, $6 for seniors, and free for students. See www.sou.edu/music or call 552-6101.

The Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensemble will present an evening of percussion music by Latin American composers. - SOU