OGDEN — You know how they say curiosity killed the cat? For the members of Third Coast Percussion, that same curiosity has done the exact opposite.
It’s given them life.
The Chicago-based percussion ensemble is scheduled to perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, at The Monarch in downtown Ogden, in a concert sponsored by Onstage Ogden. Various media outlets have described the group’s concerts as “commandingly elegant,” declared their recordings as exhibiting “rare power,” and hailed them for their “inspirational sense of fun and curiosity.”
“The idea of, like, curiosity or exploration is definitely at the core of Third Coast Percussion,” said TCP member Peter Martin.
One of the advantages of percussionists, according to Martin, is that they’re not defined by a single instrument.
“A pianist plays the piano, and a guitarist plays the guitar,” Martin said in a recent telephone interview with the Standard-Examiner. “But as percussionists we have thousands upon thousands of instruments from all over the world — and all time periods — and we get to fuse them all together.”
Sometimes, those instruments didn’t even exist before Third Coast Percussion came along.
“It’s about finding new instruments, and sometimes us building our own instruments,” Martin said. “It might be a two-by-four, or some Speed-Rail (conduit) from Home Depot.”
For example, at the Utah concert TCP will perform a piece that is largely based on planks of purpleheart wood, which Martin says produces “a beautiful sound.”
Of course, Third Coast Percussion also features traditional instruments like marimbas and vibraphones.
“That’s not to say we don’t have pre-existing instruments,” Martin said. “But as percussionists we’re always interested in finding new sounds and new colors. It’s just really, really fun.”
Martin says he loves the idea that “percussion can be anything.” And even more than that, he loves being able to open audiences’ eyes and ears to that fact.
“We love that surprise we get from audiences with these different instruments,” he said. “It’s more than novelty or just sound effect, it’s something more substantial.”
The quartet consists of Martin, David Skidmore, Robert Dillon and Sean Connors. The four classically trained percussionists met at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, while under the mentorship of percussion professor Michael Burritt, who now teaches at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
“Short story, the type of repertoire we do now? That was a big part of our percussion training there at Northwestern,” Martin said.
The group won a Grammy Award in 2017; they were nominated again this year, although they didn’t win.
“Turns out, it’s much more fun to win than NOT win a Grammy,” Martin said with a laugh. “But it was still an amazing experience, and certainly a feather in our cap.”
While the Grammy was an important milestone for Third Coast Percussion, Martin says they’ve passed other milestones that are just as important — for example, when the group was able to transform from part time to full time.
“It was just one of those moments where we could take the leap, trust the art we’re creating and trust each other as colleagues and artists,” he said.
And these days, not only is TCP the day job for these four artists, they also have three full-time employees.
As free-flowing and organic as a Third Coast Percussion concert might seem, these are classically trained musicians — not members of a jam band. Martin says the music they perform is heavily scripted.
“It may be surprising, but in everything we do, almost none of it is improvised,” Martin said. “Generally, all that repertoire is written on a sheet of paper.”
Although this has been the four musicians’ day jobs for seven or eight years now, they also spent time teaching music at various colleges and other institutions. And that love of education shows in their touring.
“From the beginning, teaching and education has been important,” Martin said. “To this day, we continue with educational and outreach performances. We’re always doing some type of community engagement wherever we go.”
Third Coast Percussion is a nonprofit ensemble, meaning it’s “mission-driven rather than profit-driven,” according to Martin. As a nonprofit, the group is able to raise funds, accept donations, and apply for grants.
“That way, we can focus exclusively on making really good art,” he said.
For the Ogden show, Third Coast Percussion will play repertoire by some well-known 20th- and 21st-century composers, as well as a variety of pieces written by members of the ensemble.
“I think the thing about the program we’re doing in Utah is that there’s not necessarily one specific theme for the concert,” Martin said. “But what I love is that it showcases how eclectic and diverse music can be for a percussion ensemble. Again, that’s what’s really exciting about a group like this — you can pivot from piece to piece, and it can be so different.”
This will be Third Coast Percussion’s first-ever performance in the state of Utah. Martin says the group is looking forward to Tuesday’s concert.
“This is what we do — tour the country and the world — and we love it so much,” he said. “And more than anything, we love playing for new audiences. We just love surprising them.”