Mallet Heaven

LEXINGTON – Wow: never have I gotten a welcome like the one the University of Kentucky music department gave me. I was brought here on two pretexts, to give the Rey M. Longyear Musicology Lecture (which I’ll post shortly), and to have my new vibraphone piece premiered by Andy Bliss. And it turns out that UK is one of the country’s leading, if not the leading, percussion schools, due to the presence of percussion guru James Campbell. Who knew? They’ve got 30 percussion majors here, 24 undergrad and 6 grad, and four of the sophomores (Michael Hardin, David Hutter, Andrew Jarvis, Logan Wells) nailed my percussion quartet Snake Dance No. 2, as well as it’s ever been played. So I’ve been hanging out all week and learning percussion tricks I didn’t know about, from Andy and percussionist-composer Brian Nozny (whose music I’ll add to Postclassic Radio soon), and others. Among other performances, student Ryan Nestor gave a dynamite performance (memorized, which blew my mind) of Michael Gordon’s XY for five drums, with which I hadn’t been familiar. Great piece, a 15-minute totalist polyrhythm fest that transcends the style. For his upcoming recital, Andy’s group is working on David Lang’s Cheating, Lying, Stealing, so these students are more up to date in American music than any I’ve seen in ages. And with the extremely gracious musicology faculty I’ve been discussing Cavalli operas, Nono’s politics, Anthony Philip Heinrich (“the Beethoven of Kentucky”), and astrology.

That’s my life: fly all over the country learning technical stuff from young people, and getting paid to do so. Who knew there was such a job description?