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Grammy winner Third Coast Percussion to play free show at USC

Third Coast Percussion.
Third Coast Percussion.

The music of Third Coast Percussion is so much more than drums. In a show, the quartet might play four marimbas simultaneously one minute and tap Japanese singing bowls the next.

Anything can be an instrument, and TCP’s dedication to exploring new sounds make the group a fitting bookend to the University of South Carolina’s Southern Exposure New Music Series.

The Chicago-based group is fresh off a Grammy win for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, the first percussion ensemble to win a Grammy in that category.

Members Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore will be in Columbia on Friday, March 24, playing music from their Grammy-winning album “Third Coast Percussion | Steve Reich.”

“Even though we’re drummers, the music is super intricate and complicated and interesting on a lot of levels. I think that defies people’s expectations,” Skidmore said. All of the members also are classically trained musicians.

In its Columbia show, Third Coast Percussion will play contemporary composer Steve Reich’s “Mallet Quartet,” as well as three commissioned pieces.

“Luckily for our ensemble, so much of (Reich’s) music features percussion. His ‘Mallet Quartet’ is a piece we’ve been playing for many years,” Skidmore said.

Composers have written music for string quartets for hundreds of years, but percussion-only ensembles are much newer.

“Surface Tension” is a 30-minute-long commissioned piece by Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy. To play it, TCP uses tubing attached to instruments to smoothly bend the pitch while playing. Blowing air into the tubes raises the pitch, while letting air out lowers the pitch.

“It creates this swirling sound unlike anything people have probably heard before,” Skidmore said.

Dennehy will be at the concert to speak about his piece, which was inspired in part by techniques used to play the bodhran, a traditional Irish frame drum.

There’s also a piece written by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and another by composer Augusta Read Thomas written entirely for bells.

Southern Exposure artistic director Michael Harley said, “Third Coast is a great fit for Southern Exposure because they are a superb ensemble comprising world-class artists. As a group, they have participated in the creation of so many beautiful and accessible new works for percussion.”

If you go

Third Coast Percussion

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24

WHERE: University of South Carolina School of Music Recital Hall, 813 Assembly St.

COST: Free

DETAILS: www.sc.edu/music/southern-exposure