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A Symphony of Coordination Brings ‘Metamorphosis’ to Life

Posted: 03/23/22

A Symphony of Coordination Brings ‘Metamorphosis’ to Life

Imagine you’ve just read the program for "Metamorphosis" and can’t wait to see the words come alive. As the lights turn off one by one, and you get cozy in your seat with anticipation, five artists stroll onto the stage. They slowly pick up their mallets, you hear the sweet tone of the vibraphone, and soon your ears are absorbed in the diverse blend of instruments that Third Coast Percussion (TCP) wields into something magical. 

The show on Jan. 28 was much more than a performance. It was a moment that brought the community together, ensuing days of musical activity. 

Months before the performance, Henry Ptacek, a current UW-Madison student and Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Performing Arts Committee (PAC) director, was planning for a diverse Concert Series program. TCP + Movement Art Is (MAI) presented the perfect interdisciplinary duo of music and movement. After a year of anticipation, emails, and planning, Henry was enthralled to finally meet the artists in-person. 

“I love the way they interact with each other. I was in love with the huge and emotional sound that they create together especially with the mallet pieces,” Henry said. “They also have such depth at the same time. Their battery instrument pieces are so explosive and entertaining.”

TCP + MAI Is make their incredibly accurate cadence sound natural. There is a lot more that goes into tempo than meets the eye. Beyond hours of rehearsal and repetitions, the artists need one more thing to glue it all together: a click track. You may have noticed the musicians wearing earpieces. These little devices offer a pre-calibrated metronome into each percussionist's ear to ensure precise beats for the musicians and the dancers. 

Not only does this metronome help the artists on stage, but it also steers the lighting. Behind the scenes, “Metamorphosis” Light Designer Joe Burke is glued to the cue sheet that tells him exactly when to activate each scene and ambiance. Joe’s meticulous work makes it seem as if TCP’s mallets are hitting light switches. The incredible coordination of lighting and sound adds even more depth to the breathtaking performance. 

For UW-Madison Professor Anthony DiSanza and his percussion students of the UW Mead Witter School of Music, TCP + MAI was more than an exhilarating show. Having a globally recognized chamber group on campus allowed his students to observe “how a professional group operates both professionally and on an interpersonal basis.” The large percussion studio at UW-Madison had the chance to reap the benefits of TCP with a studio class on Jan. 28. The musicians listened to students play and shared their expertise as well as teaching philosophies. 

In addition to teaching students, “Metamorphosis” cultivates inspiration in itself. TCP + MAI are pushing boundaries by joining percussion and electronics with a contemporary blend of dance. Percussion is inherently a “visually dramatic art form,” as explained by Professor DiSanza, and Third Coast Percussion levels that to the max with intriguing gear and intense compositions. Take, for example, TCP's serpentine-looking crash cymbal.

This is one of the few instruments Third Coast Percussion can bring on tour. Most of the instruments that TCP plays are borrowed from  performing venues - in this case the UW Mead Witter School of Music - and the musicians have a short time to get familiar with the equipment. Bringing all their own gear would require a semi-truck or two, not to mention the delicacy of bells and vibraphones. Before the show, the percussion studio was hard at work rounding up instruments for TCP. Issues can arise, but TCP member Sean Connors explained that they felt pampered by DiSanza with beautiful instruments and an extremely supportive studio. 

The Wisconsin Union Theater aims to have a lasting impact on the community and UW music students, beyond the realm of the show. 

Learn about other upcoming Wisconsin Union Theater performances here.

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