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SOU presents all-percussion concert

Performers in an all-percussion concert on Friday night will mix art with music. The Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensemble had artistic musical scores manufactured onto their drum heads for the concert, titled "Contact!"

Cameras will catch the action and project it before the audience as the performers use the artwork to pound and tap out music.

A row of dots, for example, that grows from small to large could be interpreted by a performer as inspiration to beat out a crescendo, says Terry Longshore, director of the ensemble and an SOU faculty member.

Typical musical scores give performers relatively precise instructions on how to play music, although there's always room for interpretation. The artistic scores used by the ensemble leave much more room for improvisation, Longshore says.

"The scores are graphic pieces of art," he says. "The performers will use them as inspiration to interpret the music in creative ways."

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, off South Mountain Avenue, Ashland. Tickets cost $10, $5 for seniors, and can be purchased at the box office in the music hall between noon and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday or two hours before the performance. Tickets also can be purchased online at sou.edu/performingarts or by calling 541-552-6348. Full-time students get in free. Discounts will be offered to SOU alumni, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute participants and SNAP and Oregon Trail card holders.

With so much improvisation going on in the SOU Percussion Ensemble concert, Longshore said order is maintained by having one person lead at a time, with performers taking turns in the leadership role.

The concert features music from around the globe.

"Music for the percussion instruments comes from all over the world. There are Asian, African, pop, rock and classical influences," Longshore says. "The pop and rock will be integrated throughout the concert. Many of us come from that background."

While most people think of drums when they hear the word percussion, a wide variety of instruments will be showcased, including concert marimbas, which are related to xylophones.

"We'll have an arsenal of instruments on stage. Each person will be playing three to 20 instruments during the concert," Longshore says of the 18-person SOU Percussion Ensemble. "The logistics of handling the instruments is an art form in itself."

The concert strategy is to minimize any downtime when instruments have to be moved around, thus ensuring the continuity and flow of the event, he says.

Longshore says variety is part of what draws students to percussion.

"They have the chance to play a lot of different instruments. There's also the inherent physicality of percussion. If you think of how people's attention is drawn to drums, you see it's a naturally dramatic instrument to play," he says.

Longshore says the concert will give people the opportunity to hear local musicians play many pieces written by local composers.

"Percussion performers have a brotherhood with composers. There's a long tradition in the percussion world of being willing to take on new challenges," he says. "I like to encourage that by giving it a venue."

The concert will feature "The Rebel Frog Wassails" and "Contactual Constellations" by SOU adjunct instructor and SOU music program alumnus Bryan Jeffs.

Longshore characterizes "The Rebel Frog Wassails" as "Frank Zappa meets Christmas music."

Traditional holiday classics given a new spin at the concert will include "Jingle Bells," "Oh, Holy Night" and — of course — "Little Drummer Boy."

Longshore says the variety of instruments, projections of the artistic scores and mix of musical styles will create a dynamic, innovative experience.

"It's something anyone can enjoy — whether they are a musician or not," he says.

Southern Oregon University's Percussion Ensemble, directed by Terry Longshore, third from the left, will present improvisational rhythms played on drumheads printed with artistic musical scores. Photo courtesy of Terry Longshore