The Kutztown University Percussion Ensemble was formed in the fall of 1986. Since that time, over 150 students have participated in making music on percussion instruments. The ensemble began performing literature of a concert style; in other words, literature that uses orchestral percussion instruments, which perform music arranged or composed expressly for concert performance. Because this was the first percussion ensemble experience for most of the original members, the chosen repertoire consisted of music composed on an intermediate difficulty level. Under the direction of Dr. Will Rapp, the performance level was quickly raised and the ensemble began to experience performing on the artistic levels characteristic of university percussion ensembles across the country.
The Pennsylvania Chapter of the Percussive Arts Society's Day of Percussion was hosted at Kutztown University in the Spring of 1987. As part of this event, the legendary Fred Hinger, Julie Spencer, and Keith Copeland, performed and presented workshops for the students of Kutztown University and the state members of the Percussive Arts Society. This event was again hosted at KU in April 2000, and the Spoken Hand Percussion Ensemble highlighted the event as Grammy winner drum set artist Paul Wertico, Rudimental percussionist John Rozum, former NY Philharmonic principal Walter Rosenberger, and Michael Burrit presented workshops and concerts.
In 1989, the ensemble began its interest in performing world music. After acquiring a set of steel drums, the ensemble set off on its study and performance of the Calypso music developed on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. This ensemble began to perform regionally, and inspired individual students to study the steel drum further and to develop professional performance opportunities. This is an area in which former students currently continue to perform professionally. As the ensemble continued to develop its concert repertoire, the interest in world music sparked by the Steel Drum Band would spread into other areas of percussion. Students who had their own collections of hand drums began to compose and arrange works for hand drum ensemble. This ensemble performed on conga drums (Latin America), djembes (Africa), ashikos (Africa), doumbeks (Middle East), and various shakers and rattles. Formally organized as the KU World Percussion Ensemble in 1997, the ensemble has studied and performed music and collected instruments from Brazil, West Africa, Ghana, the Middle East, and Latin America.
In 1998, the first of the Artist-In-Residence programs took place over May 6-9 as Chalo Eduardo brought Brazilian Samba to Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Since this first residency, the ensemble has hosted African Percussionist Leon Mobley (1999), Marimbist Michael Burritt (2000), Brazilian Composer Ney Rosauro (2001), Recording Artist/Composer/Arranger Dick Schory (2002). The year 2002 also began a Fall Artist-in-Residence program as marimbist Rebecca Kite performed with the ensemble. The featured Artist-in-Residence for Spring 2003 was latin percussionist Ruben Alvarez. Other performing artists that have performed or taught the students of the KU percussion program include Tony Vacca, John Riley, Steve Fidyk, Mat Britain, Dan Moore, Paulo Mattioli, Glen Velez, Paul Evans, Jeff Thomas, and William Moersch.
The year 1999 brought athletes and spectators from all over the world to the United States for the FIFA Women's World Cup game held at locations all around the country. The Kutztown University World Percussion Ensemble was invited to participate in the Fan Fest events on opening day for the FIFA games at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey for a truly international event. At these events, the ensemble performed to over 160,000 soccer fans and had the honor of being joined by New Jersey Governor Christy Whitman.
The KU Percussion Program is also active in the commissioning of new works. At the 2002 Fall Festival of the Arts, the ensemble premiered two new works by composer David Himes, "Elements" for percussion ensemble and "Requiem and Prayer" for choir and percussion ensemble. In 2003, KU Percussion was part of a consortium that commissioned composer David Gillingham, to compose a new Concerto for Piano and Percussion Ensemble. This work was premiered during the 2003-2004 academic year.
Over the years, the KU Percussion Program has provided performance and educational opportunities for students of Kutztown University. In accordance with the original constitution of the KU Percussion Ensemble, students of any experience level are welcomed to join. The membership of the ensemble has included students from Africa, Japan, and the United States. The ensemble provides an opportunity for students of diverse backgrounds to work together and experience, educate, and appreciate the unique elements of cultures of the world. As we look forward to our future, we plan to continue performing music of traditional and concert styles. We have already accepted an invitation to perform at a celebration commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the city of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Whatever our course is, one thing will be certain. It will be dictated by the needs and desires established by the students within the ensemble. Be sure to join us as we grow and explore the world of music and percussion.
Watch Youtube videos of KU Percussion here!
Dr. Frank Kumor