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.”