To begin designing the set-up, one obviously has to know which specific instruments will be required. This sounds simple enough – you’ll often get a list from the contractor who hired you for the job, or it will be listed in the front of the percussion book.
But a word of warning here – these lists can sometimes be wildly inaccurate! Don’t just blindly rely on the list you’re given as the final word. Save yourself some headache and potential embarassment by doing a little bit of independent research before rehearsal begins. Talk to friends and colleagues who have performed the work before. Listen to a cast recording if one is available. These days it’s easy to consult the website of the company that grants the performing rights license – they’ll often have the instrument breakdown listed online. Check more than one source whenever you can.
I haven’t yet met the MD who enjoys hearing, “I wasn’t told I’d need that!”. It may in fact be true, and while you obviously can’t anticipate every scenario, do whatever you can to avoid putting yourself in the position of appearing to be unprepared. In this business, appearance IS reality!
In the case of this production of Camelot, the score has been altered significantly from the original, and hasn’t yet been performed, so it’s best to treat it as a brand-new work. Even though I was given an instrument list, I’m going to play it safe by going through the book, number by number, song by song, and compiling the list for myself.
Here’s my instrument list for the Camelot National Tour 2014-2015:
- Tom-toms (2)
- Gran Cassa
- Bass Drum
- Tambourine / Riq / Pandeiro
- Bodhran / Frame Drum / Tar
- Snare Drum
- Field Drum
- Timpani (2)
- Woodblock (2)
- Triangle (2)
- Finger Cymbals
- Suspended Cymbal (3)
- Glass Wind Chimes, Key Chimes, Mark Tree
- Bell Tree
- Chau Gong
I know this list will change somewhat once rehearsal begins – it always does! Only time will tell – I’m really not going to know the final line-up until the rehearsal process is complete. You’ll notice that I’ve listed several variations of tambourines/frame drums. Since I’m not yet certain what textures will be sound best in context, I like to be prepared to offer a variety of sounds within a given instrument group. It’s nice to have options, and a musical director who values your creative input will appreciate it!
So, how does this all fit together?
There are infinite possibilities, but I think one concept has to be stressed above all others. Physical efficiency and conservation of motion are important aspects of any percussion performance, and in multi-percussion set-ups, they’re crucial. As you begin to design your set-up, examine the score, making note of which instruments are played in combination with each other, as well as places where you’ll need to move from one instrument to another very quickly. Visualize and experiment! Group instruments that are played simultaneously or in quick succession closely together. Makes sense, right? Get creative and improvise ways to mount instruments when necessary. Think vertically as well as horizontally in order to create a smaller set-up that conserves movement. Perhaps you’ll need to incorporate a duplicate cymbal, drum, triangle, woodblock (or whatever!) in a more convenient location in order to make it possible to reach that instrument in time. You’re only limited by your imagination and the instruments available to you!
Next up: Building my Camelot set-up.