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DSO, D'Drum + The Police = A Rare World Premiere

by Jerome Weeks 3 Feb 2011 9:32 AM

Individual Balinese gongs are slightly off-pitch. And in their reverberations, they even contain their own rhythms. So how does Steward Copeland, former drummer for the Police, compose for them, for the Dallas Symphony — and for Dallas’ own percussion ensemble, D’Drum? The world premiere is tomorrow at the Meyerson. KERA’s Bill Zeeble – a trained percussionist – has this story.


Stewart Copeland with members of D’Drum

The Dallas Symphony is preparing a premiere for not one, but two orchestras. Famed drummer and composer, Stewart Copeland, of The Police, has written a work for the Symphony and D’Drum, a Dallas percussion ensemble. They’ll appear with the symphony and their own array of instruments that make up their Gamelan orchestra. KERA’s Bill Zeeble explains.

  • Dallas Morning News interview (subscriber access req’d)
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A world premiere is rare enough. This new work, called Gamelan D’Drum, pairs the symphony orchestra with D’Drum’s dozens of percussion instruments.  The two ensembles have never appeared together before. On stage will be dozens of typical percussion instruments like drums, xylophones and cymbals, but also exotically tuned Balinese bells and gongs. Composer Stewart Copeland hopes the sounds will knock your socks off. He’s not worried about classical music lovers who fear modern works.

Copeland: “Let them be terrified by the new, because if all they want to hear is Mozart, there’s plenty of Mozart for them to hear. Stay home. If you want to hear something new that an orchestra hasn’t done before, come on down.”

This piece is not Mozart. [music clip]

Copeland in rehearsal with D’Drum

Copeland is no stranger to classical music. He’s composed for opera (Holy Blood and the Crescent Moon) and written numerous film scores (Rumble Fish, She’s All That, Made Men). But members of D’Drum are excited because here’s one of the most influential and important rock drummers ever, committed to this project. The 5-member, Dallas-based percussion ensemble has been together a couple decades. But before this orchestra commission, no outsider had ever written a work for them — in this case, a three-movement, 35-minute concerto.

John Bryant: “This is a band that has played our own music for 20 years, and so Stewart as a composer knows what a band is. And he has taken all of that into account.”

John Bryant plays drum set with D’Drum and teaches at Southern Methodist University.

Bryant: “And so now there are notes in front of us. That was new for him. He had to come here, hear these instruments, see what our craziness was about and then figure out how do I write for this?”

Copeland drew not only on his Dallas visits with D’Drum — which began three years ago, with him videotaping the group at work — but his past Bali experiences.

Copeland: “And I went there, I traveled there and really was bitten by the bug of Balinese culture. It’s a culture that’s pumping art out of every pore.”

Copeland loves Gamelan instruments because they sound exotic and beautiful.

Copeland: “Every village, every set of Gamelan bells is in tune with itself but out of tune with the next village down the road. That whole stage of bells were made for them. OK, but there’s another aspect of this, which is the, out-of-tuneness which is critical to the sound of the Gamelan.”

D’Drum’s Ron Snider, who’s also a Dallas Symphony member, demonstrates how a Balinese gong, tuned to a single pitch, is characteristically, slightly off-pitch. [music clip]

Snider: “It actually has beats in the sound.”

Melding the percussion and orchestra into one pulsing, melodic piece was Copeland’s challenge. He relished it. He wants to break new musical ground without losing his audience, most of whom know him as a rock drummer. He looked for a balance.

Copeland: “You have to move forward. And if you go too far out ahead of your audience well then you screwed up. But that’s OK, it’s only art.”

Copeland and D’Drum won’t know until after tonight’s premiere whether the piece really works. Copeland can’t wait to find out.

All images from Gamelan D’Drum trailer