a Percussion Program. Part 1
a Percussion Program. Part 2
Ways to be a Bad Drummer
Six Ways to be a Bad Teacher
Drumming for Fun and Profit
Politics, New Technologies, and the Price of Mac & Cheese
to Pay for that Mac & Cheese
Teaching Lefty Drummers
Politics, and an Education in Havana
The Problem with Critics
Music and Change
Music in Another Place: Vizcaino in Mexico
ENA Update 2006
Mallet Heritage Archive:
Sound Made Visible
by Don Skoog
is proud to announce the opening of The Mallet Heritage Archive, a
1) preserving the legacy of America’s xylophone, marimba, and vibraphone
2) ascertaining the copyright status of these musical treasures, and
3) making them available to musicians and scholars when copyright allows.
Here’s how it came about:
Years ago, while nosing around in my teacher’s studio, I came across a
dusty file cabinet filled with old xylophone, vibes, and marimba works: ragtime
tunes, novelty pieces, opera overtures, and classical transcriptions––sheet
music by George Hamilton Green, Red Norvo, Harry Breuer, José Bethancourt,
and a dozen others only a history geek like me would recognize.
I felt like the guy who cracked open King Tut’s tomb. I felt like the guy
who walked up a jungle mountain and discovered Macchu Picchu hiding under the
vines. I had discovered the mallet-player equivalent of the lost treasure of
the Incas! In an old file cabinet, I had stumbled across our lost history––the
missing foundations of mallet civilization. You couldn’t buy this stuff
anywhere. Most of it was (and still is) gone, unknown.
Yes, I know that some of the Green and Breuer classics are in print, but they
are the proverbial tip of the historical iceberg. In that cabinet were handwritten
arrangements by Clair Omar Musser, transcriptions from Franks Drum Shop, and
other treasures which had never been published. While at the time I thought
I was a pioneer, I’ve since learned that others also collect this music.
But I also know that much of it has been lost.
I offered my teacher a deal: I would file and catalog all the music if he would
allow me to photocopy it. He laughed, telling me that if I wanted to waste
my time on music no one was interested in, go ahead. I don’t know where
the originals are now, but my copies are safely housed and protected by guard
(well, cats, actually).
While I was sorting through them the other day, I was thinking about all the
research being done on the history of language and the development of the alphabet,
and our growing understanding of how recording the world has shaped it. I was
struck by the realization that the system we use to transcribe sound into writing––the
notation itself––is a record of the evolution of the art, and the
key to understanding the music of western civilization. I hunted through my
grainy old photocopies again, painfully aware of what I was holding in my hands.
a little scared my students might never know that this legacy even existed,
so I began to wonder if there was something I could do to help.
Many musicians have a love/hate relationship with sheet music. On one hand,
written music allows us to access hundreds of thousands of pieces written over
period––far more than we could ever memorize or learn by ear. The
ability to write music allows us to record what we hear and share it with others.
Music notation extends our grasp far beyond what we could learn or create for
ourselves, and the notes left behind by others enable us to both share in their
legacy and add to it.
In short, our music has become what it is because we could save and build on
it through notation. Can you imagine a symphony orchestra where each musician
had to learn all the parts by rote and play everything from memory? It would
really limit their repertoire, not to mention that without the authority of
a written score the music would change and simplify over time. The orchestra
we know it would be unthinkable. However, today’s orchestra is sitting
on a mountain of paper. The thousands of method books, teaching pieces, chamber
music, and solo works for each instrument represent its specific history and
tradition, a story that is separate from the others, a legacy that each player
brings with him/her when he/she walks into rehearsal. This is way more information
than one person could retain. Notation makes our music possible.
On the other hand, it’s a bitch to learn.
Fact is, all those dots, and symbols, and weird Italian abbreviations are a
a tough one at that. And unlike Chinese, whose symbols are simplifying over time,
music notation is becoming more complex, more specialized. The act of writing
down music fundamentally changes it, defining it exactly by restricting the performer’s
choices. As the music itself becomes more complicated, composers strive to
control a growing web of variables: dynamics, tempo, meter, tone color, instrumentation,
rhythm, improvisation, special effects, and instrument-specific techniques,
to name a few. Not to mention the many standard vocabularies and instrumentations
whose combinations have come to represent various traditions and musical styles.
And western musical notation is only one system among many. And we are expanding
our notational conventions to include nonwestern music. Ethnomusicologists
create new symbols to record tonal languages, nonstandard scales, polyrhythmic
drumming, and improvisational structures, which are being adopted back into
western music as well.
Why is this important now?
Reason One. While music literacy is still very high among professionals, I’ve
been crossing paths with more and more young musicians who’ve decided to
bypass the whole notation thing and just play by ear. In an era when the well-written
word is becoming rare and true literacy is declining, it is not surprising that
written music––a much harder language––is less valued
by many musicians.
The problem is that by choosing to be illiterate they are cutting themselves
off from the richest source of information available to any musician, and by
doing so they are dooming themselves to be less than they could have been.
Fact is, reading music makes you smarter. Musicians who read well learn faster,
and stand a better chance of surviving in the business. On the flipside, musicians
who can’t access this amazing resource are handicapping their future
in an already brutal industry.
Reason Two. I can’t speak for other countries but The United States is
developing Musical Amnesia. A few companies dominate our recording and broadcasting
industries. They blanket the media with an homogenized pop product that smothers
everything else. If they can’t make a lot of money on it, it never reaches
the media. Consequently, there’s no room left for independent creativity
or for the preservation of our musical legacies. It’s a Starbucks, flavor-of-the-day,
culture. There’s no room for heirlooms. The result is that our kids have
very little idea of, or interest in, anything that went on before what the gatekeepers
call “Classic Rock.”
As a teacher I’ve noticed this change over the past decade. It’s
getting harder to convince my students to listen to Jazz, to read about music,
or to try anything new. In their tumbleweed mindset they bounce rootlessly from
MP3 to MP3 with no understanding who recorded it, why, or if it’s of value.
The internet is killing recorded music’s monetary worth and consequently
we have a generation of kids who think music should be free. Why? Because to
them it has no value. And no history.
I just attended the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC)
in Columbus, Ohio. There were herds of high-school and college kids running
around the exhibition hall, banging on everything in sight. I wondered if any
knew that it was the drummer boys from the Civil War who taught the first generation
of Jazz drummers, or that it was the xylophonists who became the first vibists,
or that the marimba came from Central America. I doubted it. Kids, it seems,
are not good guardians of history because they don’t have any yet. So it’s
up to us to guard it for them until they are ready to value it for themselves.
Here’s the idea:
For the last thirty years I’ve been adding to The Mallet Heritage Archive,
caring for it because it gives me a sense of connectedness to the tradition.
Now, I want to make sure others will be able to access this heritage when I’m
not around to protect it anymore (although I’m not planning on going
anywhere soon). My goal is to convert them all into PDF files (Adobe Acrobat
that if the originals are lost we will still have the music.
Here’s the tricky part. Because of the ongoing weakening of our copyright
laws, it has become expensive and in some cases impossible to determine if a
work is under copyright or in the public domain. While there is a war raging
over digital downloads, internet access, and copyright reform, the question of
sheet music has been completely ignored. Why? Because there’s no money
in it. This leaves the Mallet Heritage Archive in a legal backwater, so it would
be risky for me to post these PDFs on my web site without knowing their copyright
status. Some were unpublished or released without a copyright notice. These I
will assume are in public domain. The others I intend to preserve anyway simply
because it’s the one way I can guarantee their survival, but I can’t
make them available on the internet without opening myself up to lawsuits.
So here’s what I need from you:
1) If you are the copyright holder to any of the works listed here, please let
me know. My goal is not to circumvent your rights, but only to establish the
status of each work. If you wish to make the work available to others, please
let me know and I will post on the site so that people can download it legally.
2) If you know the copyright status of any of the works listed in the archive,
please let me know or direct me to the internet source that would indicate its
3) If you have old sheet music laying around and wish to contribute it to the
project I will happily accept it. I will convert it to PDF, making sure that
both the digital copies and the originals are transferred to the Percussive
Arts Society when I am no longer able to care for them (but like I said before,
hold your breath). I can also return the originals and a disk of PDFs to you
if you wish.
4) Some of the works are damaged or have missing parts. These are listed in the
archive. If you have clean copies please help me complete the collection.
5) If you need access to a specific work for your research, please contact
me and I’ll make it available to you, especially if you have other heritage
works to trade for it.
Remember, my goal is not to circumvent copyright law or make money on someone
else’s intellectual property, but to make available those pieces that
are in the public domain (or that having willing copyright holders) so that
heritage will not be lost. If you know of someone who is in a position to contribute
either music or copyright expertise please make them aware of the Archive.
As a demonstration, I’m posting one piece to the web site. Clair
Omar Musser used to write arrangements for his students and give them as gifts. Here is a
facsimile and a clean transcription of Musser’s arrangement of Estrellita by Manuel Ponce.
While several arrangements of this music are under copyright, it
appears that the original is not (this is difficult to verify)
so I’m going to post
it up and see what happens. Again, my goal is to make this little piece of
marimba history available to those who are interested, not to make
So check out the archive. Very few pieces have been converted to PDF, yet.
Some are obviously under copyright. Others are so blurry it would be a waste
But many, many other fine works are waiting here for someone to release them
so a new generation of percussionists can come to love them as I have. I hope
you’ll help me make this come true.
Go to Mallet Heritage Archive
to Choosing a Perc Program
by Matt Meyer
Life as a Musical Dog
by Bill Molenhof