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Tiny Dancer

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Solo
2021
8 min.

Unpitched Percussion

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Program Notes
When Emily Salgado asked me to join her consortium Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, I was thrilled. Her ambitions to highlight the talents of female percussionists and broaden the existing canon are overdue. The roster of composers I got to join is an honor and a joy. Then I was informed that I would be writing in honor of the legendary Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Glennie is best known as a powerhouse performer, but she is also an esteemed speaker and writer. Her “Hearing Essay” was critical in realizing my piece. She wrote it to correct the constant critical mischaracterizations as a profoundly deaf performer. It is a revelatory work, and I eagerly recommend it. In it, Glennie offers a definition of hearing that goes beyond a rigid aural perception to an embodied faculty that overlaps with haptic and visual sensations. She states that “Hearing is basically a specialized form of touch. Sound is simply vibrating air which the ear picks up and converts to electrical signals, which are then interpreted by the brain. The sense of hearing is not the only sense that can do this, touch can do this too. If you are standing by the road and a large truck goes by, do you hear or feel the vibration? The answer is both.” Her essay reminded me of the concept of whole-body listening, in that we don’t merely use our ears to hear. Instead, our whole bodies feel and move—this helps us listen wholistically. This essay is a beautiful and personal description of hearing, and while reading it, I was given clarity to one of my earliest musical memories. In the early 1990s, my parents took me downtown to the LA Convention Center for a Korean culture festival. There were various performances of traditional Korean music, and I remembered there was a lot of drumming. I was introduced to the traditional dance called samgomu, or three-drum dance. I was transfixed by their bright costumes and graceful coordinated movements. But most of all, I was enthralled by the booms emanating from the trio of membranophones and the clacking of the wooden beaters. Because of this, I initially believed samgomu was a musical work, not a dance. However, it is a dance. I remembered vividly how samgomu brought together the visual and the auditory in a manner I could never fully articulate. The performer's body made a sound, then danced in response to that sound which led to the next strike of the drum. As the piece progressed, I began to anticipate sounds not yet made simply by following the performer's movements. Tiny Dancer adapts aspects of samgomu with the aim of exploring Glennie’s embodied hearing. I use many different types of membranophones and increasingly dynamic and complex rhythms to build excitement and indirectly create a dance for the percussionist. The performer is a percussionist and not a dancer; however, the ambition is to see her body as an element of the broader auditory experience.
Recording Notes
Clay Hoffner