Northern Illinois University’s Graduate Percussion Quartet (NIUGPQ) is currently performing at the International Festival of Percussion Ensembles in San Jose, Costa Rica, Monday – Friday, June 19 – 23. The performance was made possible by an invitation from NIU Professor Emeritus Robert Chappell. Under Chappell’s direction, the NIU Percussion Ensemble first performed at the festival in 2009.
“The connection between NIU and Costa Rica is special,” said NIUGPQ member Raychel Taylor (’17). “It is an honor to contribute to the narrative as the next NIU-affiliated ensemble to perform at the International Festival of Percussion Ensembles.”
NIUGPQ members Taylor, Kyle Flens (’17), Ethan Martin (’18) and Jonathan Summers (’18) began working together in the fall of 2016, embarking on a musical journey that they say has had a deep impact on their lives.
“Meeting and playing music together at NIU has been wonderful,” Flens said. “The NIU Percussion Studio’s nurturing environment has allowed us to learn and grow together in a powerful way.”
Coached by NIU’s Director of Percussion Studies Dr. Gregory Beyer, the quartet conducts its own rehearsals and makes repertoire choices with great autonomy. They have the freedom to experiment musically and have multiple opportunities to collaborate with composers.
“This year has been, both musically and personally, fulfilling for me,” said Taylor. “Graduate school can be nerve-wracking as you take a leap into the unknown, but the percussion program at NIU was everything I hoped it would be and more. The other graduate students I have met here are talented musicians and wonderful people! Dr. Beyer designed a safe place for us to experiment as a quartet within the NIU Percussion Ensemble course, and I think we have flourished from the freedom and guidance he provided us.”
The Quartet’s journey began with the piece “Mangata” by NIU alumnus composer Kyle Krause (‘14). Jonathan Summers elaborates, “I had never played a piece quite like it. Krause calls for the piece to be memorized and performed in the dark. This was a challenge! In the beginning, I was still becoming familiar with my colleagues and not sure how we would perform together as an ensemble. Yet, from our first rehearsal, I knew this was the place I wanted to be and these were people with whom I wanted to make music.”
In the spring of 2017, NIUGPQ had the opportunity to collaborate with NIU faculty composer, Dr. Brian Penkrot, to prepare the world premiere of the work “Amniorrhexis.” The piece presents a very abstract soundscape, suggesting a world of sounds heard by an infant still in the womb. To navigate its incessant independent musical gestures, quartet members worked creatively to develop a system of communication throughout and offered the composer many solutions to problems encountered in the brand-new work.
In preparation for Costa Rica, NIUGPQ has chosen uniquely meaningful repertoire.
“Through meeting and working with Kyle Krause, Brian Penkrot, and Christopher Deane, we now have pieces that we can proudly call our own and can keep in our repertoire for the future,” said Flens.
As word spread of this opportunity, the group quickly gained travel support from the School of Music and the NIU Graduate School, as well as interest from NIU’s Division of Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications.
“One of the goals I had for myself in my first year of graduate school was to find like‐minded musicians to collaborate and create with,” said Martin. “That goal was instantly realized when I started to perform with NIUGPQ. Having the opportunity to perform in Costa Rica with my friends Kyle, Raychel and Jon will just be the icing on the cake to what has been an incredibly fulfilling year in the NIU Percussion Studio.”
“Playing with NIUGPQ has been incredible,” said Summers. “We don’t know where our journey will take us next, but we do know that no matter where we go, we will make plenty of good memories, laughter, music and great joy.”