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WWU Percussion Orchestra presents 'Volcanic Reflections'

Concert channels volcanic energy to inspire awe and wonder among audience members

The Western Percussion Orchestra rehearses “Volcán de Fuego” by Francisco Perez under the conduction of Haley Nutt (pictured on the left) on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in Western’s Performing Arts Center. The upcoming concert will take place on Friday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the PAC. // Photo by Bryn VanMansum

“Volcanic Reflections” uses a vast range of percussion instruments played by the Western Washington University Percussion Orchestra to take listeners on an exciting musical journey. On Nov. 18, students and Bellingham residents can escape the cold winter weather and embark on a journey into a foreign, fiery landscape.

The concert will feature the arrangements “Volcán de Fuego” by Francisco Perez, “From This Viewpoint” by Josh Gottry and “Pyroclastic Steam” by Dave Hall, all of which draw inspiration from a volcanic or mountainous environment. 

Instructor of musicology and percussion and conductor for the concert, Haley Nutt, played “Pyroclastic Steam” during her days of schooling and wanted to revisit the piece. Featuring 13 percussionists, the piece showcases a wide variety of percussion. 

“It’s part of a subgenre of percussion ensemble called ‘percussion orchestra.’ In an orchestra, the strings are the ones doing all the stuff,” Nutt said, chuckling. “The equivalent of that in this setting is marimbas, so there [are] four marimba players that are playing all the notes.” 


Lucas Webster plays “Volcán de Fuego” on marimba in the PAC on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in the PAC. “Volcanic Reflections” will feature many different types of percussion instruments. // Photo by Bryn VanMansum

Nutt took the time to get to know what type of music her students enjoy playing and took their input into account when programming “Volcanic Reflections.” She also wanted to create a music and nature theme throughout each piece.

“I think music and sustainability is an important aspect of Western,” Nutt said. “I’ve always been amazed at the potential for percussion instruments to convey so many natural disasters.”

Instructor of percussion at Western, Gunnar Folsom, described how, aside from the obvious absence of woodwinds and strings, a percussion orchestra setting also differs from the first moment you step into the concert hall.

“The first thing people notice when they come into the concert hall is that the instruments are all set up on stage,” Folsom said. “That can be really exciting when you walk into the space and see the instruments and your imagination starts to unfold. You think, ‘Oh! What’s that going to sound like?’’’

Third-year and longtime percussionist Lucas Webster said that compared to playing in a typical supporting percussion section, playing in a percussion orchestra provides a unique opportunity to work on listening skills and learning how to take center stage.

“In a percussion ensemble, you will often have the melody or bass line depending on what instrument you’re playing,” Webster said. “So you’re suddenly a part of this melodic texture. Learning how to fit into that and be a member rather than an accompaniment was really unique to me.”

Having spent many years in various percussion groups, Webster also credits some of the joy he feels from playing this music to the people he plays with. 

“Everyone is here because they love it. We all love playing, and we’re all really connected to this music,” Webster said. “To be able to play with these people that I care so much about and make beautiful music is really a dream come true.”

“Volcanic Reflections” will take place on Friday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center and is open to all at no cost.

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