Families, students and enthusiasts join the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House percussion section and guest drummers from orchestral, pop and jazz worlds for a day of master classes, workshops and performances London ­ 10 May ­ This Sunday, hundreds of people from all over Europe and the US will descend on the Royal Opera House (ROH) in Covent Garden. They are not going to see the latest revival of Copley's vintage 1974 production of La bohème. Nor will they be watching Marcus de Sautoy wielding a baton for BBC Two's how-to-be-a-conductor series, Maestro at the Opera. They will be joining some of the world's leading percussionists and drummers for a day of master classes, performances, interactive workshops and a mini-trade show ­ a Day of Percussion.

These sorts of events normally take place at convention centres such as Earls Court Olympia (The London Drum Show every October), Excel (The London Music Show) and the Messe in Frankfurt (the colossal Musikmesse every March) and the Kane Kane County Fairgrounds (the Chicago Drum show every May). However this Sunday musicians, families, students and enthusiasts will invade London's oldest opera venue, the 280-year old Royal Opera House.

It's also a mini trade show (but for the public) for manufacturers of percussion instruments and drums ­ those who have a relationship with the ROH. The Paul Hamlyn hall, originally a flower market, will be transformed for the day into an Aladdin's cave of instruments that can be hit, brushed, stroked and bashed.

The event is organised by the education department of the Royal Opera House, alongside the Percussive Arts Society, a worldwide organisation that exists to promote education in percussive arts to people of all ages.

Drum and percussion master classes will be given by: Wieland Welzel from the Berlin Philharmonic, who will be giving a timpani (kettledrum) master class; Gustavo Gimeno from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam (the number one orchestra in the world according to a recent Gramophone magazine critics' poll), who will be demonstrating the symphonic percussion world beyond timpani; and UK session drummer, Ash Soan, who has played on recent US Billboard chart top-10 albums 21 by Adele and Soul 2 by Seal and will be giving a master class on kit drumming.

There will also be performances from, for example, vibes player Mike Mainieri and electronic percussion soloist Daniella Ganeva (a spectacular multi-media performance). Students from the Junior Departments of the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Trinity, Guildhall and the Royal Northern will be workshopping and performing world premieres by the British composers Anna Meredith and the ROH's very own Simon Archer.

Nicholas Ormrod, a principal percussionist at the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (he also sits on the board of the Percussive Arts Society), says: "This is the third one we've done, three years apart, and they've all been very successful. The main comment we get from people who come from far away including the US and Germany is the venue. We are the only people in the world that can host an event like this in Covent Garden. This percussion-flavoured entertainment/education package for people of all ages and musical abilities is certainly boosted by our extraordinarily beautiful venue."

Nicholas adds: "It's also great to have a selection of smaller artisans attending, like Matt Nolan and Henry Potter & Co, and we use their hand-crafted instruments here at the Royal Opera House. It's interesting to see how, as a result of the decline in retail over the last fifteen years in the music business, these small niche firms and artisans have been given more of a chance to flourish, particularly the ones that make the really high-end instruments, because from a customer's perspective high-end is more affordable when you are dealing with a small artisan manufacturer, whose products also tend to be superior and good value for money."

Artisans Matt Nolan and Henry Potter & Co., will have stands at Sunday's event (alongside the better known brands like Yamaha and Sabian that people will recognise from MTV). Their presence at the Day of Percussion and at other trade shows around the world (Matt is just back from Musikmesse and is shortly off to the Chicago Drum Show) is indicative of the small but growing number of artisans whose hand-made, hi-end percussion instruments are increasingly being used by orchestras, artists and composers all over the world as an alternative to mass-produced drums and percussion.

Matt Nolan is the UK's only cymbalsmith and gong maker. Matt's hand forged, bespoke percussion instruments have found their way into the percussion sections of symphony orchestras and opera companies from around the world including the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, The Boston Symphony, the Finnish National Opera, the Bergen Philharmonic and the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. Matt's bespoke instruments are also used by artists such as Massive Attack, Danny Elfman and Bjork. Bjork is currently touring with a brand new instrument, the gameleste (a cross between a gamelan and a celeste), co-created by Matt Nolan and Iceland's only pipe organ builder, Björgvin Tómasson, for her last album, Biophilia. She controls the gamaleste live via wireless MIDI using MAX MSP. Percussionist and composer Dame Evelyn Glennie has also just bought nineteen triangles from him.

Henry Potter and co., was founded in 1810 by an officer in the Coldstream Guards, and still makes Baroque timpani and custom-built drums for orchestras all over the world, as well as servicing and repairing a wide range of percussion.

Cymbal smith and gong maker Matt Nolan, says: "It's good to see a smaller-scale show like the Day of Percussion happening in the UK. I'm more used to exhibiting in huge convention centres in America and Germany, or Excel and Olympia in London, although America is perhaps also leading the curve with the introduction of smaller, public drum and percussion shows. The UK seems to be catching on to these smaller shows, which are great for the public to get hands on with instruments and great also for the boutique and artisan makers to get a foothold, since the large trade shows are often a big stretch for us financially."

 

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