Drummers gather at BGSU to celebrate master performer, composer and teacher Michael Udow – BG Independent News
By David Dupont
BG Independent News
Anthony Di Sanza is one of nine percussionists who will travel to Bowling Green early next week to honor their mentor, master percussionist, composer and teacher Michael Udow, on the eve of his induction into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.
Di Sanza, who will be soloing with the reunion of the Galaxy percussion ensemble, will be in charge of bringing one of his instruments. Not a tambourine, or a set of bells, or even a drum set – Di Anza will be carrying an instrument of Udow’s own creation, a granite lithophone. The bars thrown like a marimba weigh 300 pounds and the support to hold them is substantial.
He will be a soloist at the premiere of “Ancient Echoes” during the Galaxy Concert on Tuesday, November 8 at 8 p.m. at Kobacker Hall on the BGSU campus. Public performance is free.
The ensemble will also perform the soundtrack to Udow’s film “Echoes of the Past” at the screening of the film. The work is inspired by the burnt trees the composer observed in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Working with a photographer, he took many pictures of the trees. He then collaborated with an animator to turn the footage into a movie.
“Ancient Echoes” is also inspired by a find in another Colorado nature preserve, Great Sand Dunes National Park. During the pandemic, Udow saw a special about an archaeologist who discovered large stones that had been used as musical instruments, likely for ceremonies, Udow said.
But almost everything about them is guesswork, he said. Using an electron microscope, researchers can see that they are chipped and chiseled as if struck or scratched, consistent with their use as a percussion instrument.
Such instruments have been found all over the world – Asia, Europe, South America.
Percussion’s deep global roots are part of its enduring appeal. It is both ancient and contemporary music.
The diversity is reflected in the diversity of colors and timbres of the percussion, Udow said. And percussion comes from cultures all over the world.
Even how the sound is activated is varied. There are dozens of ways to get sound from percussion – variations on hitting, rubbing, strumming, shaking. “All kinds of moves to get the sound right,” Udow said.
Udow began taking percussion lessons in fifth grade, and in sixth grade joined the Wichita Youth Orchestra. It was the orchestra’s wide range of colors – not only in the percussion section, but also in the woodwinds, brass and strings – that captivated him.
“I just fell in love with that sound,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do with my life by being involved in this sound.”
He then pursued a career as both performer and composer. Although known as a percussionist, he composed for the full range of instruments, including three operas. Since retiring in 2011 and moving to Colorado, he has written more for other instruments.
He writes different versions of the same piece for different instrumentations. “Ancient Echoes” premiered in April in its orchestral setting, he noted, also with Di Sanza as a soloist.
“I find composing for various orchestrations of a composition to be a very engaging and very introspective process,” he said. “You have to take into account the different instruments and ensembles to create a cohesive sound. It’s quite a challenge, and I love this challenge.
He taught percussion for many years at the University of Michigan. Most of those who attended the BGSU gathering studied with him as undergraduates or graduates,
Dan Piccolo, a percussion teacher at BGSU, studied with Udow when he was a student in Michigan. He wrote: “Dr. Udow is a remarkable artist and teacher, and he had a huge influence on me as a young musician!
He was honored to be invited to play with it at the Galaxy reunion.
Galaxy, said Udow, he formed in the 1980s at the request of Japanese marimba soloist Keiko Abe to tour Japan with her and perform her compositions.
Many of the original members will be at BGSU as a whole. They include Di Sanza, Payton MacDonald and Roger Braun. Piccolo, Shoko Araya, Gramley, Renee Keller and Takako Nakama will join them. The ensemble will also perform its piece “Lightning” with Pius Cheung on marimba as well as compositions by Araya and Di Sanza. In addition to Galaxy, the University’s percussion ensemble will play Udow’s seminal “Timbarck Quartet”
Piccolo arranged for Udow and the ensemble to meet at BGSU to prepare for the Indianapolis concert on Wednesday.
While there, Udow will also be offering masterclasses for student percussionists and composers.
Then he and the ensemble will travel to Indianapolis where they will perform and Udow will be honored for his life’s work as a performer, composer and teacher.