PARTCH Member Spotlight

  • Nick Terry - Boo, Cloud Chamber Bowls, Marimba Eroica, Bass Marimba

    Percussionists in the United States have widely embraced Harry Partch’s work as an innovator, as one who raised the broader consciousness of found-object percussion sensibilities: the art of foraging, searching, and imagining sound sources from junkyards, metal shops, and second-hand furniture stores, factor primarily into the mindset of the contemporary percussionist. It’s not the sound of a metal pipe struck with a mallet that percussionists seek: it is the sound of the perfect pipe, struck with the perfect mallet, that sends percussionists on goose chases circumventing traditional music-making approaches, cutting to the core of the matter. It’s a matter of necessity that drives percussionists to become the masters of “everything else,” the instruments that are not winds, brass, or strings yet manage to find their way into the scores of modern music composers. Need a Singing Ringing Tree? Talk to your local percussionist, and one can be built with some elbow grease and a bit of imagination.

    Such was the spirit of Harry Partch, so much so that in 1974, the Percussive Arts Society (PAS) honored him with inclusion into their PAS Hall of Fame.

    The legend of Harry Partch resonates with percussionists all across the world; those reverberations were first heard by PARTCH percussionist Nick Terry during his undergraduate studies at Eastern Illinois University. As is the case with many members of PARTCH past and present, Nick’s encounters with the composer would not carry significant meaning until his musical journey brought him through the doors of the California Institute of the Arts to pursue a master’s degree. David Johnson, then Head of Percussion Studies at CalArts, immediately recognized Nick’s talent and his spirit of adventure. As such, when the opportunity arrived to become part of a band, something different…

    “... it wasn’t something I needed to deliberate on…”of course!” was the answer.”

    Nick was the fourth musician recruited by founder and Music Director John Schneider to join the ensemble that would come to be known as PARTCH. After finishing his MFA degree at CalArts, Nick’s path led him to the University of Southern California to pursue a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degree; by the time he was finished in 2011, California had become home for Nick and his growing family.

    “Back then, I recall being most impressed by the passion, drive, and commitment...The music was so odd sounding…quirky in fact…and yet at every moment of rehearsal and performance, members of the ensemble were smiling and tapping their feet…sometimes dancing wildly.  From the earliest days, our group’s music making has always been a really joyful experience.”

    In PARTCH, Nick performs regularly on the Cloud Chamber Bowls, the Marimba Eroica, Bass Marimba, and the elusive Boo, one of the anchors of the mallet-focused core flowing beneath PARTCH’s current working repertoire.

    “In performing Harry Partch’s music, I remain in awe of his dedication towards his artistic vision...the integrity [with] which he crafted his instruments and presented his music…in his written scores, audio/video recordings, and in his writings. These impressions of Harry help guide me in my own musical pursuits, to be sure, and also in the way that I advise and educate my own students.”

    Currently serving on the faculty of Chapman University in Orange, CA, Nick’s career has brought him to the highest levels of artistry and performance as a contemporary classical percussionist. A founding member of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, Nick maintains a robust schedule of performance, recording, and touring with the group. Additionally, he is a founding member of Brightwork, a new music consortium, engaged in the commissioning, creation, and performance of new music for their unique instrumentation.

    A respected member of the Los Angeles classical and new music communities, Nick has performed at such LA institutions as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Green Umbrella Series, MOCA, and REDCAT; he has spent several seasons as part of the annual Lucerne Festival in Switzerland, working under famed conductor and composer Pierre Boulez. Nick was part of PARTCH’s 2015 Grammy® Award-winning Plectra and Percussion Dances, in addition to securing two nominations with the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet for their 2013 Rupa-Khandha (nominated in Best Chamber Music Performance and Best Surround Sound Album), released on Sono Luminus.

    The lure into the world of percussion is heard by many, but it is the select few who chase the proverbial rabbit into a world of immense sonic possibilities, endless textural variation, limitless timbral outcomes. The kinship felt by percussionists across all musical communities manifests in the fanatical devotion to sound...truly, to the perfection of sound...at least, the belief that the right sound performed at the right time...may create a scenario that is at once nuanced and informed, at once transcendent and divine.

    In the PARTCH Ensemble, we believe Harry embodied this character as well as anyone. It’s no wonder, then, that a percussionist such as Nick Terry would find his way to a group like ours...for like attracts like, and that magnetic draw can be felt across decades, especially when the energy itself is attached to an instrument. The sound that is struck reverberates, felt across time and space, finding its way to the listeners and lovers of music...but the sound that is unstruck and lies dormant, it is this sound that the percussionist seeks in all that can be perceived. Harry sought this sound...and so does Nick Terry.

    “For me, music is an ever present force and source of endless inspiration...similar, I imagine, to religious devotion.”

  • Alex Wand - Harmonic Canon, Guitar, Surrogate Kithara, Voice

    PARTCH Member Spotlight - March 2019

    Alex Wand

    "I love how Partch extended the idea of what it is to be a composer - [the] design and tuning of these instruments were all compositional choices...integral to the way his music sounds. Perhaps for this reason, Partch described himself as “a philosophic music-man seduced into musical carpentry.” - Alex Wand

    Alex encountered Harry Partch’s music as a student at the University of Michigan, in his freshman composition class. Like so many experiencing Partch for the first time, he was drawn closer by the character of Partch himself, especially how his cross-country transient rail travels against the backdrop of America’s Great Depression seemed intrinsic to Partch’s music.

    “The professor even mentioned that there was an ensemble out in LA that performs Partch’s music. Little did I know that I’d be playing in that very ensemble some years later!”

    Fast forward to 2010: now a student at CalArts en route to a master’s degree, Alex’s interest in microtonal composition deepened after attending Wolfgang Von Schweintz’s intonation workshop. One guest artist at this workshop, John Schneider, brought his own collection of guitars, each with a different intonation system; one of these instruments, the National Steel Guitar, found its way to Alex’s hands.

    “This is how I met John, who, a few years later, asked me to play in the PARTCH Ensemble.”

    Alex’s work on Harmonic Canon, Guitar, and Surrogate Kithara has been a cornerstone feature of PARTCH’s performances and recordings for the past 5 years. Additionally, Alex composes and performs with Desert Magic, an ensemble of CalArts alumni, as well as being an active composer for film, dance, and mixed media presentation. His interactive musical score/installation to Jay Carlon’s choreographic work, “fold, unfold, refold” was featured at the REDCAT Theater’s NOW Festival 2018.

    For his most recent project, Alex completed a 2000-mile bicycle expedition, following the migratory pattern of the monarch butterfly; this journey was documented on his blog, Camino de las Monarcas, featuring musical compositions, field recordings, ecological discoveries, and tales from the bicycle. It is from these seemingly divergent artistic pursuits that Alex draws the inspiration for his composition, his research and investigation, and (much to our delight) his intrinsic understanding of the sound and function of Partch’s instrumentation and tonality, and their application in live and recorded performance.

    In his own words: “On the [piano] keyboard, there are only two kinds of thirds...the major third and the minor third...whereas in Partch’s scale, there are six different thirds. Partch uses these intervals in his music to unlock other-worldly timbres and evoke subtle nuances of emotions. Studying Partch’s unique approach to intonation is incredibly relevant to many composers and musicians looking to creating unique sounds and timbres in their music.

    “When we were recording our upcoming album...there was a driving section in Windsong where T.J. [Troy] and Nick [Terry] trade off percussive phrases and I play a rhythmic vamp on the Harmonic Canon. I remember being so absorbed in the physicality of playing this repetitive rhythm. It was that feeling when you get so into something that you almost forget where you are. After the take, I looked over and Nick and T.J. - they both give a nod as if to say ‘that was the take.’”

    Alex’s rich background in folk and acoustic music, as well as his ecological pursuits, elide into PARTCH’s corporeal sensibilities with a natural grace and elegance. On behalf of the entire PARTCH Ensemble, we are proud and honored to work alongside Alex Wand as a bandmate, contributing artist, and musical family member.

  • Erin Barnes - Diamond Marimba

    [Composer Harry] Partch made a big point of the corporeality of music. HIs instruments and tunings were intended to reach a listener physically…[Partch] wanted performers who were physical presences...and he got them in the likes of Erin Barnes.

    • Mark Swed, Music Critic, Los Angeles Times

    The California Institute of the Arts is one of few accredited institutions in the world that feature music curricula beyond the scope of what is found in a traditional conservatory environment: CalArts boasts programs specializing in North Indian (Hindustani) Classical Music, Balinese and Javanese Gamelan, and Ewe Drumming from Northern Ghana, collectively dubbed World Music Studies. It’s one thing to hear music from these regions and be moved, but another thing entirely to practice these art forms under the guidance of the established masters of the genre; CalArts offers the opportunity to experience both, in significantly meaningful ways.

    As a percussion major at CalArts in the 1990s, Los Angeles-born and raised percussionist Erin Barnes was exposed to all this and more. Early on in her CalArts tenure, her interest in instrument building led her to discover alternative concepts of intonation, and an introduction to the work of Los Angeles-based composer and musicologist Kraig Grady. Kraig’s own brand of microtonal string and percussion music was firmly rooted in theories set forth by (amongst others) composer Harry Partch, and it was through this collaboration that Erin Barnes was first introduced to Partch’s music, and ultimately led to her to the Diamond Marimba, a fixture in virtually every performance of the PARTCH Ensemble.

    “It was...1998, but I think the first piece I heard (of Harry Partch’s) was And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma, or Daphne of the Dunes,” says Erin, when recalling her first experience with Partch’s music. “At that time, I was also deeply immersed in the world of dance, taking several ballet and modern classes a week...When I started playing Partch’s music, I had no idea about his philosophy of corporeality and music. Castor and Pollux, a highly physical piece, was the first piece I learned as a part of this group, and naturally I found myself moving around the instrument a lot. When I later learned that Partch wanted his musicians to move, to have a strong physical connection to the music, it made complete, perfect sense, and I felt deeply that I had found my perfect artistic match.”

    Indeed, Erin’s command of the corporeal Diamond Marimba has become one of the great highlights of all PARTCH Ensemble performances since joining the group in 2003; at that time, the ensemble was but three people, still performing under the name of founder John Schneider’s group Just Strings. Together with Schneider and fellow percussionist (and CalArts mentor) David Johnson, the group performed for two more seasons, recruiting current members Nick Terry and T.J. Troy along the way, before officially establishing the ensemble now known as PARTCH in 2005.

    Beyond the microtonal world of PARTCH, Erin is active in many different musical and educational capacites in the Los Angeles area, performing on the hammered dulcimer, focusing on traditional Celtic, Swedish, and American “Old Time” string music. Recent projects include a return to 1920s Xylophone and novelty Piano music (which also require a 1920s era xylophone, a sudden and preoccupying obsession!). She currently serves on the faculty of the Pasadena Waldorf High School, leading their Percussion Ensemble, and coaches the Violin and Cello sections of the Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, Erin is a trained yoga instructor, her work focused on elderly practitioners.

    Yet, it is the spirit of invention championed by Harry Partch himself that engages Erin on a fundamental level, revealing deeper musical meaning through her experiences with PARTCH Ensemble. “The most meaningful memory” she shared, ”...probably my deepest experience as a musician and human being...happened to be with PARTCH.

    “We were at UC Santa Cruz, having played the previous night at Mills College to a large and enthusiastic audience. The Santa Cruz audience was smaller than Mills’, and maybe this set the scene for a more relaxed performance. For a fleeting moment, while playing Pollux (possibly my favorite music to play, ever), I experienced a clear and deep feeling of complete oneness between the music, the sound of the instrument resonating in the hall, myself, and the audience. It was such a calm, powerful, and beautiful moment, and as it occurred, I realized I was conscious of it.”

    While music’s power to transport and inspire imagination has been documented repeatedly throughout all eras of human existence, it is the transformative aspects of music that are more elusive; more likely than not, it’s because the unique nature of these experiences leave little to compare to another’s. Regardless of what inspirations brought Erin Barnes to the music of Harry Partch, it is our PARTCH Ensemble that benefits from her inspiration to stay there, to keep searching for the deeper parallels, the resonances that reach across decades and across people, to arrive at a place where the corporeal interacts with the spiritual...this is where Harry operated, and in that space, Erin Barnes continues to dazzle with the pure physicality that is music in motion.

    “I truly appreciate this group as a mix of wonderful musicians...I feel like I learn so much from everyone in this ensemble. As for Harry, there really is no other music like his.”

  • David Johnson - Member Emeritus

    In 2001, David Johnson was the first musician recruited by John Schneider in his quest to build a new set of Partch instruments, and the fledgling ensemble that would become PARTCH first began. David, then faculty at the California Institute of the Arts, was a central figure in the band until 2016, providing a rehearsal venue and storage for the band’s instruments from 2006 to 2018, as well as tapping several former CalArtians to fill PARTCH’s ever-growing need for performers.

    Originally from Port Angeles, WA, David’s musical upbringing focused around the piano and organ, before settling on percussion as his professional musical voice. His skill set was commensurate with that of a classical percussionist, though his passion lay in jazz and improvised music of his time. The era was the mid-1960s, and after one year of study at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, David transferred to the University of Washington to focus on his Bachelor of Music degree, focused on orchestral percussion.

    A fateful meeting with legendary percussionist John Bergamo would change David’s life permanently. Bergamo had just helped found the California Institute of the Arts, serving as the Institute’s first Head of Percussion Studies (a position held until his resignation in 2002), and was in the midst of a recruiting trip...literally driving up the west coast of the United States, picking up any and all interested students to join him at CalArts. He met David at the University of Washington, and after hearing him play, offered him a full scholarship and ride to California. David jumped in the van and never looked back.

    He completed his undergraduate studies at CalArts, and was immediately recruited to join the Black Earth Percussion Group, one of the nation’s premiere percussion ensembles. He lived in Champagne, Illinois, home of the University of Illinois, and Black Earth’s main academic support. After touring and recording with Black Earth, David settled back in Los Angeles to work and raise a family in 1977. After a brief teaching appointment at the Winword School, David was offered a part-time teaching appointment at CalArts, a position he would remain in for 26 years, eventually taking over for his teacher and mentor Bergamo as CalArts’ Head of Percussion Studies, working with hundreds of students in the percussive arts, including many of the current members still playing in PARTCH.

    In 1970, shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, David met Dean Drummond, fellow percussionist and then resident of San Diego, where he studied and played with composer Harry Partch and his strange family of invented instruments. Dean and David became fast and lifelong friends, with Dean inviting David to visit him in San Diego, to meet Harry and personally experience his musical world. The two friends made the trip together, and the impression Harry Partch left on the young David was enormous. When the opportunity came, years later in 2001, to join a new ensemble focused on the compositional output of Harry Partch, David would not hesitate...and after 15 years, thousands of rehearsal hours and hundreds of concerts, PARTCH would rank as one of David’s highest musical achievements.

    His work as a freelance percussionist in Los Angeles boasts an impressive resume: primary ensembles include XTET, the New Century Players, the Kim Richmond Jazz Orchestra, the Vinny Golia Large Ensemble, Dark Wing, Roger Williams, and the Lian Ensemble. He has worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, John Zorn, Pierre Boulez, Wadada Leo Smith, Yusef Lateef, Stuart Copeland, Green Day, Dave Brubeck, and the California Ear Unit; he has performed on over 40 major motion pictures, including Spiderman 3 and The Matrix. A noted composer in his own right, his work Quartz City for vibraphone solo with percussion ensemble won the Percussive Arts Society Composition Competition in 1995; other major works include The Oregon Variations for marimba soloist and percussion quintet, Shape Shifter for vibraphone and marimba, Dark Wing for cello and marimba, and Nine Sheets to the Wind for a mixed chamber ensemble and improviser. His book, “Fifteen Etudes for Vibraphone,” along with his other percussion-based works, are published by MalleTech, and many of his compositions have been  included on the Lian Records Dark Wing CD “The Hidden Sacred” and on “Dual Force,” recorded with guitarist Ken Rosser on the Nine Winds label.

    David retired from CalArts in 2017, and has since relocated to Port Angeles, where he lives and stays musically active performing solo piano renditions of traditional jazz standards, now and always his first musical love. His contributions to PARTCH are numerous and unforgettable, from his first stints behind the Bass Marimba, to the amorphous and deceptively complex Cloud Chamber Bowls, before finally settling behind the Chromolodeon. David’s tri-level residential building in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles would serve as PARTCH’s de facto headquarters for nearly 12 years,  the definitive roof over the ensemble’s head.

    David’s contributions to the band can never be forgotten, and certainly his musicianship, his joy, and his friendship will never be replaced. PARTCH, the band and the music, will be forever richer for his contributions.