Many years ago, the legendary W. Francis McBeth wrote an article entitled, “It’s A Hard Life” that sticks (pun intended, as you’ll see!) with me every time I rehearse an ensemble. The essence of this article was his opinion that all too often percussionists are told by their conductors to “switch to a harder mallet” to make what they were playing louder. Dr. McBeth went on to clarify that the hardness of the mallet or mallets chosen for a passage dictates the sound, articulation, and texture of what is being played, the clarity or lack thereof, not the volume. He lamented that the common practice of switching to a harder mallet can make a passage sound louder, but that it would be at the expense of the articulation. If we think about it (and get our percussionists to think about it) as if playing the trumpet in a band, it seems so logical. We can play the trumpet with a harder articulation, say a marcato accent to be heard more, but if the passage is marked “molto legato” it would certainly ruin the playing of the composition. In that case, a louder volume, while maintaining that legato articulation would make for a much more pleasing performance. Remembering that simple, though incredibly important distinction can make all the difference in the world.
Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education
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