My planning for a Yakima Symphony Orchestra show starts about six weeks before we ever meet on stage, when YSO librarian Amanda Simmons hands me, as principal percussionist, all the percussion music for the given show.
My first step is to check the updated roster to see who is playing. Our regular section consists of me, Ric Pilgrim and Aaron Julyan. If any of us are not available, or if we need more than three players, the YSO hires substitute musicians.
Subs are highly qualified regional musicians, including full- or part-time freelancers and regular members of other orchestras around the Pacific Northwest. We are constantly rearranging and adding to our sub list as we are introduced to an ever-broadening circle of great musicians in the Northwest.
The next step is listening to and looking through all the music to determine what the most difficult or exposed percussion parts are. I generally assign those to myself and then systematically go through each part and try to match parts with people who will most successfully execute them. And if possible, I try to consider what the players in the section enjoy playing.
For example, Aaron really likes loud, bombastic bass drum, and Ric enjoys playing sweet melodies on bells. The more I get to know the players, the better I am able to assign parts that match their technical strengths and ignite their passions.
About four weeks before any of us step on stage, the librarian sends all music, assignments, notes and rehearsal information to the other musicians, and I communicate with YSO and Capitol Theatre staff to ensure that all the necessary instruments are available and ready to go when we show up. A percussion section relies heavily on the grace of others in its community: Schools let us borrow exotic instruments and Capitol Theatre stagehands are immeasurably helpful in setup. We also are lucky to work with musicians who have trained at elite universities and conservatories.
At the first rehearsal, if everything goes according to plan, we need only make small adjustments to our instrument setups. The stage is intentionally set up in such a way that every player can easily play all their assigned parts. This generally involves creating small pathways between instruments. A keen observer may notice that we often have four or five triangles on stage, or perhaps three tambourines — this is to minimize frantic (sometimes noisy) hand-offs.
I thought it might be interesting to share what goes into pulling off a YSO show, and I’d like to say thank you to all the people who make it possible. Cheers!
• Josh Gianola is principal percussionist for the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.