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Thinking about percussion led me to a revolution.

I remember going to a football stadium for the first time when I was six years old to see a game at the Sport Lisboa and Benfica stadium. A large concrete stadium with a capacity of roughly 120.000 spectators. The score was 0-0 at halftime, and the fans were growing concerned. Then something happened that I had never experienced before. The concrete benches began to shake, a rumbling sound grew louder, and it felt like an earthquake. It was the supporters’ feet that stomped on the ground. Thousands of people making a rhythmic sound altogether. It was frightening, powerful and incredible. It was my first experience with live percussion. Benfica won by 3-0.

Beginning my music degree with a study of rhythm and percussion prompted me to look into the history of percussion instruments and their role in music. I ended up viewing Steven Schick’s presentation.

University of California Television (UCTV), 2013. On the Bridge: The Beginnings of Contemporary Percussion Music with Steven Schick — To Be Musical. Available at: <http://University of California Television (UCTV)> [Accessed 17 June 2021].

The presentation was entertaining and light while yet being instructive. One thing he said remained with me out of all the things he mentioned. His definition of percussion instruments.

“[Percussion instruments] are simple objects that make sound by striking them.”

University of California Television (UCTV), 2013. On the Bridge: The Beginnings of Contemporary Percussion Music with Steven Schick — To Be Musical. Available at: <http://University of California Television (UCTV)> [Accessed 17 June 2021].

It’s really that simple. It’s so simple that I believe anyone, regardless of musical knowledge, can play a percussion instrument. And I believe that is why percussion is at the very beginning of this course. It’s simple, doable and fun. And yet it’s so powerful.

Steven Schick also mentions a quote by John Cage.

“Percussion music is revolution.”

Cage, J., 1973. Silence. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, p.87.

John Cage, I believe, meant that percussion allowed musicians to break away from the constraints imposed by classical composers who used the same sounds. Percussion provided an opportunity for exploration. Anything that generated a sound when struck may be included in the music. And the terms “percussion” and “revolution” immediately brought José Afonso’s Grândola Vila Morena to mind. Since it was utilized as the start of the Portuguese revolution, this is one of the most emblematic Portuguese songs. Only voice and the sound of marching feet on gravel can be heard during the entire song. And it caused a revolution, politically and musically speaking. For me, that was because of percussion. Isn’t it percussion if you hit the gravel with your feet? It makes sound by striking them, right?

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