Monday, 24 February 2020

Building a Renaissance drum ("long drum").

I have been wanting a large drum, like the one my friend and colleage Manolo Durán has, for a long time.


© David Valdés

His drum has been used by the Oviedo Opera Foundation, by the OSPA in some baroque programs... I wanted one like his, but building brands do not offer such large sizes so I could make one myself, and buying one wasn´t an option, as they are ridiculously expensive. When I saw a couple of floor toms stored in my workshop, the gears inside my head started working...

This project starts with two 16"x16" floor toms I had lying around. One of them was a Sonor from a vintage "Swinger" kit, and the other was of unknown brand and procedence. Of course (as you already should know) I couldn´t care less for the woods of these two drums 😉.

Here you have both toms:


© David Valdés


Bare in mind that the height of these two drums together was 32", something not very practical, so I decided to slightly cut one of them so, once together, its height was more convenient: 29".


© David Valdés


The next thing I did was covering all the holes, a process that, should you have read previous articles, I´m already an expert at 😄. Here you can see the glued inserted dowels and how I cut them. You can also see how bad the interior was, but not anymore... I worked on it during the building process.


© David Valdés


In order to join both shells together, I vertically inserted loads of wooden dowels into the now flat edges. The holes in both shells are coincident, so I only had to join the shells inserting the common dowel in the corresponding holes in both drums.


© David Valdés


I must say this process was quite complicated, as the shells are quite thin, and drilling them and inserting the dowels was quite hard. If I´m not wrong, I think I used more than 20 dowels to ensure the correct joining of the two shells. Once everything was glued together, this is how it looked from the inside (still not sanded or oiled):


© David Valdés


This is how the seam looked from the outside:


© David Valdés


Next thing I did was sanding both the inside and the outside untill they were perfectly smooth, as if the shell was just one instead of two joined together. I also applied some tung oil to the interior.

I got another problem when I tried to cover the outside: the drum is so large that no vinyl cover exists or is commercially available. To solve this, I decided to go with a striped design. I used "Fablon" vinyl to cover the large bands (mahogany) and thinner strips of beech on the centre. This is how it looks once applied.


© David Valdés
  

As you can see, the final result is very nice.

The counterhoops are made of beech and I got them from Manuel Almeida de Ocampo. They are a single steam bent piece. Here you can see how I marked them to for drilling (in a 20º angle, so the rope "descends" through them).


© David Valdés


Once drilled, I applied some tung oil. Here you can see a raw one and an oiled one.


© David Valdés


This photo shows both counterhoops finished and the holes free from shavings. Have a look at the lower left corner: there´s the jig I used to drill the holes to a 20º angle.


© David Valdés


I got the goat heads at Baena Sonido, mounted on wooden hoops. The batter head is slighter thicker than the thinner resonant head.


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


I used natural rope and also made some leather ears:


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


Done. Time to put everything together:


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


As a final detail, I added a carry hook so the drum can be hung from a sling.


© David Valdés


Mi Renaissance drum is finished... If you take Manolo´s as a reference (first photo), you have to know mine is a little bit larger (his is about 70 cm. high, mine is 29"), so you now have a rough idea of its size. I can tell you this drum sounds like a thunder, and is great for playing early music or things like the long drum in Aaron Copland´s  "Appalachian Spring".


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés

Monday, 25 November 2019

Premier 632 strainer and other relatives.

I bet many of you, like me, own Premier snare drums featuring the classic #632 snare strainer.


©Musikk-miljo.no


There are also other brands featuring this kind of holed plate (like Ludwig), and I can see why you may end up hating this piece of gear, as attaching modern snares to it can be a pain in the you know where... Why this design? Because these strainers were built with gut snares in mind.




Although some of us still use gut snares on certain drums, that´s not the norm nowadays, so drummers using snappy wires with these strainers may end up getting to not very elegant solutions...






To solve this issue, I came up with a very easy, inexpensive, handy and practical idea. Go and get an electrical connection strip (in whatever colour you like. I chose black because I find it more elegant). They are dirty cheap.


  

Cut two individual pieces.


©David Valdés


Get rid of all the leftovers (just for aesthetics. It´s nice to do things well 😉).


©David Valdés


Now we can attach our snares... I have used leather cord with a circular section, very rigid and strong.


©David Valdés


Pass the cord from behind trough a hole. Try to make it run parallel to the snares in order to avoid torsion, thus buzz (no pun intended).


©David Valdés

The holes you passed the cord through may not be at the same height. That´s ok as long as the tension in both ends is the same. Now pass the two pieces we cut before.


©David Valdés


Put them touching the plate, adjust the cord to the desired tension and tighten the screws.


©David Valdés


Do the same on the other end.


©David Valdés

©David Valdés
  

©David Valdés


©David Valdés


©David Valdés


©David Valdés


A very effective, secure and elegant solution to attach modern snares to old school strainers. Show me your Premier drums and how you solved this problem!


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés

Thursday, 6 June 2019

More on Russian cymbal notation.

Last week I wrote THIS article. While investigating other issue which keeps me bussy, I found more music that proves what I wrote there: that "+" means suspended cymbal with a soft mallet and "o" means crashed cymbals.

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote an opera titled "Mlada", and he selected some music from the third act, which became a symphonic poem titled "Night on Mount Triglav". I found the score at that gold mine named Petrucci Music Library. We can find this in the performance notes:





Observation I. Le signe |-| dans la partie des Piatti indique un coup avec une baguette molle (Colla bacchetta da Timpano); le signe o un coup sur les cymbales.

"Observation I. The symbol |-| in the cymbal part indicates a stroke with a soft mallet (Colla bacchetta da Timpano); the symbol o a strike of cymbals".




This opera was composed between 1889 and 1990, exactly the same time frame as Glazunov´s "La Mer" (1889).

There´s a small graphical difference between "|-|" and "+", but that´s something I attribute to Rimsky and Glazunov being published by different editors. In both cases "o" means crashed cymbals.









So, we now have even more clues proving the Russian notation explained in my previous article. For two geniuses like Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov, both professors at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, having influenced the next generations of Russian students and composers and transmited them their cymbal notation, can be considered nothing but the normal thing.

No more worries when playing Russian repertory! 😉


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés

Friday, 31 May 2019

Russian cymbal notation.

Russian cymbal notation (late 19th-century and 20th-century works) has been driving percussionists mad for quite a long time now... Cymbal parts feature a couple of funny symbols ("+" and "o") no one knows for sure what they mean. These examples are taken from Glazunov´s "La Mer":






Suspended, crashed, holding a cymbal with one hand and sticks with the other, very little time (or none at all!) to switch between instruments... Doubts, doubts, doubts because the meaning of those symbols is explained nowhere, and even Russian conductors and percussionists don´t agree on this matter. 

Why? This is a constant through Music History... Most of the times, composers themselves conduct their own works, are present during rehearsals and work hand to hand with the musicians who are going to play and premiere their works. So, there´s a direct communication between composers and musicians that, most of the time, is not kept on written records, thus, it gets lost as time passes and the work gets "mature and independent" from its own composer. This notation was clear for the percussionists who played these works at that time and, because it was clear and was directly communicated to them by the composer himself, there was no need for it to be written. As time passed and the works began to "expand geographically", the meaning of this notation became more and more obscure, as percussionists did not have that first hand information. There are also temporary trends, local traditions... Is there a solution? Can we know what those symbols mean? Luckily, yes.

The previous examples were not shown at chance... Glazunov was a great composer and orchestrator who wrote wonderful percusion parts (do yourself a favour and study his music and parts). He was a professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, where he taught and influenced people like Shostakovich and Prokofiev

While investigating some other issues I will tell you about soon, I got to know Glazunov´s already mentioned "La Mer" (sadly, not very often played nowadays). The score includes some performance notes that clarify this matter for once and for all:



Point 3 explains the cymbal notation:

3. Cymbal strokes are of three types: a) Stroke given with a sponge headed stick on one of the cymbals "colla baccheta" indicated with +, b) Stroke given with the wooden part of a stick "col legno" and c) Cymbals stroke, one against the other, indicated (after the preceding types of stroke) with o.

When a note features the indication "+" and "colla bachetta", it means suspended cymbal struck with a soft mallet (strictily speaking, a sponge headed one. See THIS article). The indication "col legno" means suspended cymbal struck with a wooden stick. No other special symbol is used. "o" means crashed cymbals, but almost always as a reminder, as previous strokes may have been "colla bacchetta" or "col legno".

Most of the time (I have checked loads of parts and works... You can´t imagine how many!), the symbols are used once, and it goes without saying that the following notes, unless indicated, are played following the last indication. It is not untill a new indication turns up that we have to change the way we play.

Why can we use this composition by Glazunov as a guide? Because he was an important professor who influenced various generations of Russian students and composers. The normal thing for students is to follow their teacher´s indications, and this notation, so typical of Glazunov, was passed on to his students, who used it with profusion.

A very famous example of this is Prokofiev´s Symphony #5. I think it may be a good idea to analyze, following Glazunov´s notation, its cymbal part. This is the first page:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Before and after figure 2, the indication is suspended cymbal with a soft mallet. Figure 5 is a roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets (it can´t be anything else: Russians didn´t use Bartok rolls on cymbals), ending also with a stroke on suspended cymbal with soft mallet ("+" is cautionary. Changing technique/sticks/cymbal at the resolution makes no sense).

Page 2:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Bar 5 of figure 15 is, again, suspended cymbal struck with a soft mallet (despite the hand written indication by some percussionist 😉, who has obviously not read Percusize Me! 😃). Same at figure 17. See that there´s no indication, but it goes without saying: the last indication was "+". Third bar of figure 19 has already been covered: a roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets, where "+" is, again, a reminder. Any change between the roll and the resolution makes no sense.


Page 3:



© Sergei Prokofiev


Bar 9 of figure 23 is, again, suspended cymbal struck with a soft mallet. There´s no "+" because that´s the last indication in the part, so it goes without saying. The following crotchets (around figure 24) are played on suspended cymbal with a soft mallet, and they feature the indication "+" because the last crotchet, five bars before figure 25, is marked "o", meaning crashed cymbals ("a 2"). This movement ends with a roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets (we´ve covered this same thing before).

Page 4:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Figure 42: suspended cymbal struck using brushes ("verghe"). The rest of the movement is played on suspended cymbal struck with soft mallets.


Page 5:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Figure 71: rolls on suspended cymbal using soft mallets. Bar 6 of figure 71 is indicated "o", so crashed cymbals ("a 2"), and back to suspended cymbal with soft mallets for the next two crotchets ("+").

Page 6:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Nothing special: roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets.

Page 7:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Every stroke in this page is on suspended cymbal using soft mallets ("+").

Lastly, page 8:


© Sergei Prokofiev


All notes before figure 111 are to be played on suspended cymbal using soft mallets. Bars 4 and 5 of figure 112 feature no indication, but I´d go with crashed. Figure 113 is suspended cymbal with brushes ("verghe"), and the last bar is a roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets (thus the indication "colla bacchetta di timpani", as Prokofiev wants the last roll with mallets, not with brushes, as we have been doing in the previous bars). When Prokofiev wrote this symphony, sponge sticks were already dated and old fashioned. For the previous generation (Glazunov), soft mallets were made of sponge. For the next one (Prokofiev), soft mallets were timpani mallets. For us, soft mallets tend to be yarn ones (think vibraphone/marimba), but we start to see new designs like those by Ron Vaughn.

As you can see, Prokofiev never indicates what kind of sticks/mallets should be used on rolls. Why? Because it´s pretty obvious mallets have to be used to get a roll and, as I said before, Russians didn´t use "alla Bartok" rolls on cymbals. He indicates "+" on resolutions. Bizarre, I know..., but having the indication on the resolution makes what stick to use on the "preparation" (the roll) obvious. Juggling trying to play the roll like this and the resolution like that is against any logic.

These performance notes by Glazunov put an end to the many missunderstandings and complications we can find in the Russian repertory. The final bars of Prokofiev #5, for instance, tend to be played in a too over complicated way: a crashed cymbal in one hand, the other cymbal, a brush and a mallet in the other hand (crazy!), playing the brushes part (while holding the rest of the other stuff!), rolling with the soft mallet (still, while holding to much stuff!) and ending with a cymbal crash (while still holding the malett and brushes!). Crazy. It doesn´t make any sense at all... The easiest explanation tends to be the correct one, and that final passage is clearly done all on suspended cymbal, the only change being the switch from brushes to soft mallets for the final bar.

Thanks to the indications Glazunov wrote for "La Mer", we now understand much better how Russian cymbal notation works, and I´m glad I found the key which will save us many headaches. Do you think this will make your percussive life easier?


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés