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Percussion Ensemble Fall 2018

The NAU percussion ensemble will perform a new original composition by Professor Steve Hemphill as well as several classics at their concert on Friday, Nov. 9.

When the final members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach emerged from the Tham Luang mountain cave complex on July 10 after being trapped by water for 18 days, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. All 13 people were successfully rescued from the Thai cave with just one casualty after a diver died while trying to deliver oxygen to the group. Like other too-good-to-be-true stories, the events have inspired the making of a movie depicting the harrowing rescue and a local professor has also drawn from it in his work.

Steve Hemphill, director of percussion studies at Northern Arizona University, was among those watching the story unfold on the news and used it as inspiration for an original composition, “Caves of Thailand,” to be debuted during a percussion ensemble concert on Friday, Nov. 9, in the Ardrey Memorial Auditorium, 1115 S. Knoles Dr. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $12.50; $7.50 for seniors, NAU faculty and staff; and free for youth and NAU students.

“Caves of Thailand” incorporates elements and techniques meant to challenge the students in the quintet but also to tell the story of the Thai boys and their coach as they navigated not knowing whether or not they would be saved.

“It kind of starts with a happy, carefree quality with some folkloric melodies that I found, and then we go into the idea of entering the cave with some very resonant, very echoey sounds that might reverberate in such a setting,” Hemphill explained.

An improvisational section in the middle will allow the students to become more familiar with collaborating as they complement what the other musicians are playing.

While the piece came together relatively easily, Hemphill said he wasn’t originally planning to write something new for the concert.

“I was going to drag out a very old piece for younger players to work with extended techniques and then I just decided to write something new,” he said. “I don’t compose very often, but once I get started I can’t quit.”

He said the whole thing came together over the course of three days, and it utilizes a number of unique instruments from the Southeast Asia region. Between the five musicians preparing the piece, nearly 50 instruments will be played to build a soundscape inspired by the rescue.

“They’re dipping gongs in pails of water [and] using instruments they’ve never seen before,” Hemphill said.

There will also be another student in the hallway playing extra rain sticks and an ocean drum on cue to create a surround sound effect.

Among the more unique instruments to be featured in “Caves of Thailand” are the Indonesian angklung made from bamboo tubes attached to a bamboo frame; the Vietnamese danmo, a wooden instrument made with five temple blocks; goat hoof rattles; and the waterphone, which consists of a water-filled base that changes pitch when tilted, and long metal tines that can be struck or bowed.

The composition is made up of several sections to represent the different phases of the cave rescue, beginning with the soccer team entering the cave and the rains trapping them to the desperate waiting and eventual rescue. The jubilant emotions following the ordeal’s successful conclusion will be conveyed with fast drumming and small Chinese cymbals that are “very bright and brilliant-sounding to make quite a ruckus for the rescue,” Hemphill said.

Some other pieces that will be performed during the concert include “Away Without Leave” by Bob Becker, which takes cues from the early days of military drumming; Rüdiger Pawassar’s “Sculpture in Wood,” featuring four marimbas embodying the contours of a jazz piano solo; and Alan Menken’s “Kiss the Girl,” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

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