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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

What's that sound? November is International Drum Month, a time to celebrate the huge diversity of percussion instruments from around the world. Percussion instruments are any instruments that produce sound through physical impact—drums beating, cymbals clanking, bells ringing and hands clapping. Along with our singing voices, they're the oldest type of instrument in humankind's musical history.

Through November 8th, Isango Ensemble is on the New Victory stage presenting their jubilant adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Benjamin Britten's Shakespearean opera. Voices raised in operatic song are accompanied by South African music and dance, elevated by percussion all around. The percussionists, many of them also performers, flank the stage and take turns playing multiple instruments. Keep reading to learn a bit about these instruments before you come to see the show!

Marimbas
 
A baritone marimba Marimbas of various tonalities

The first instruments you'll notice onstage are marimbas. Not to be confused with xylophones, marimbas feature wooden bars mounted above tubular resonators, which make their sound more, well, resonant! If you peek under Isango Ensemble's marimbas from the front, you might see them. Nowadays the resonators are made of wood or aluminum, but traditionally they were made from hollowed gourds. Also, where traditional marimbas would have been tuned to play only notes from a specific melodic scale, modern marimbas are chromatic—they feature bars for every note, like keys on a piano.

Just as Isango Ensemble's different opera singers have different vocal ranges (Mezzo-soprano, Countertenor, Bass, etc.), the marimbas they use come in four sizes corresponding to their pitches. Highest to lowest, they are Piccolo, Soprano, Tenor and Baritone, and they're arranged in that order onstage with the Baritone farthest upstage (toward the back) and the Piccolo farthest downstage (toward the front). "What about huge Double-Bass marimbas?" you ask. Indeed! They are the deepest-sounding of all marimbas, but they didn't make the trip from South Africa this time.

Drums
 


Djembe drum Djembe drum with a crocodile carving

You will also hear drums, but these aren't the snare, tom-tom or bass drums of your typical rock band—no. These are djembe drums. Carved from wood and covered with rawhide (often goatskin), djembe drums are quite loud—you won't see many of them on stage, but you'll definitely hear them. While it's the large interior cavity that resonates, the rawhide drumhead is tightened and tuned to a specific note using a series of ropes knotted all the way around. Djembes are a variety of goblet drum, carved with wider drumheads and narrower bases, and resembling a goblet. If you look closely, you may notice lively carvings around their bases—birds, crocodiles, geometric patterns.

CabasaCabasa

When Puck, played by Noluthando Boqwana, shakes her feathery wand onstage, the sound you'll hear is actually coming from a cabasa just offstage. The clacking sound of this handheld percussion instrument comes from a series of ball chains wrapped around a corrugated metal cylinder. Traditionally, like the marimba resonators, cabasas were made from gourds. Just wrap a net tied with small beads or shells around the bulb of the gourd, and use the stem as a handle for shaking!

Fairy Instruments

BroomThe fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream all carry brooms, not just as instruments of magic, but as percussion instruments as well! The brooms sweep and glide across the stage, occasionally smacking it, and all these motions generate swooshes and thumps that add to the soundscape of the show.

The fairies also wear long, beaded necklaces, which softly click and rattle as they move. Puck's costume, though, takes the percussion cake. Her skirt is fashioned from strands of wooden beads, and hung among the strands are wooden kitchen implements—spoons and spatulas—that collide with the beads and give Puck's signature gait a signature percussive accompaniment!

Feet and hands

The oldest percussion instruments of all, and ones that Isango Ensemble puts to excellent use, are our hands and feet. During the show's many joyful dance sequences, the barefoot performers join the djembes in drumming and punctuating the rhythms of Britten's music onto the wooden stage. The stage is inclined and elevated, leaving space underneath for their stomps to resonate (like the resonators under the marimba bars or the cavity under the goatskin drumhead). Resonate they do, and the sound adds a rich vitality to the dancing. After all, dancing's no good without a decent beat!

As for hands, Isango Ensemble leaves that up to you. "Give me hands if we be friends," Puck says, inviting applause from the audience as the show ends. So put your hands together, percussionists, and clap out a celebratory rhythm of your own.
 
 
Kudu Horn Corrugaphone

When you come to see A Midsummer Night's Dream, pay attention to all the instruments you see and hear. The kudu horn and the corrugaphone (sometimes called a whirly tube) lend their unique sounds to the performance, too. They're not percussion instruments—they're winds—but keep an ear out for them anyway!
Posted by Zack Ramadan

Looking down 42nd Street with The New Victory in the foregroundCompanies come from around the world to perform on the New Victory stage. Flip FabriQue is no exception—they traveled from Quebec for Catch Me!'s four-week run in New York City, trampowall and all. Catch Me! is a show full of breathtaking acrobatics and circusy hijinks, but the fun doesn't stop when the cast steps off-stage. There's still all of NYC out there to enjoy!

We asked a few of the members of Flip FabriQue about their time exploring the city, and they shared some lovely anecdotes. They also gave us some beautiful photos to share, like this gorgeous shot of The New Victory!
 
Christophe Hamel Hugo Ouellet-Côté Bruno Gagnon
Christophe Hamel Hugo Ouellet-Côté Bruno Gagnon
        
Tell us about the most fun thing you've done during your NYC visit. 
 
Christophe Hamel     I went to Central Park and Chelsea Market, which were awesome. I also saw Queen of the Night.
Hugo Ouellet-Côté     I went bike riding in Brooklyn. For dinner, I hopped around, tasting from place to place. I also went to a Yankees game.
Bruno Gagnon     I went to Central Park with my father. It was his first time—a great moment.

What has been your favorite meal? Dessert counts! 
 
Christophe Hamel     Baby back ribs. And burgers, lots of burgers! Cheesecake is my favorite dessert, and New York is pretty good for that!
Hugo Ouellet-Côté     The meat at Fette Sau BBQ.
Bruno Gagnon     DINNERS, DINNERS! I love them all. Also, it was Easter last week, so chocolate was a big favorite as well.

Describe your favorite New York spot—a place you might want to see again someday.
 
Christophe Hamel     There is a little park close to our place in Brooklyn. It's a nice spot to see Manhattan and relax, feet in the sand.
Hugo Ouellet-Côté     The view of Manhattan from Brooklyn at night.
Bruno Gagnon     I love Times Square. I've come to New York five times already and it's always impressive. It's a great way to feel the city.
 
View of Manhattan across a sunlit East River Buskers on the Times Square subway platform The outfield of Yankee Stadium
Photos: Hugo Ouellet-Côté (Click to enlarge)

Be sure to catch the last week of Catch Me!, running through April 19! And follow Flip FabriQue on Instagram for more great shots of their time here at the New Vic.
Posted by Zack Ramadan
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