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LineC3 Percussion Ensemble: Rigorous Fun

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It’s close to 2 a.m. and two members of the Line C3 percussion quartet are eating Thin Mints in the control room of the Yonkers recording studio of Ryan Streber (B.M. ’01, M.M. ’03, composition). The other two members are beginning their last sets of takes of Nico Muhly’s (M.M. ’04, composition) Ta and Clap, which will be on a companion DVD to the second edition of Sam Solomon’s instructional bible for composers, How to Write for Percussion

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Percussion alums (clockwise from top left) Sam Solomon, Haruka Fujii, Chris Thompson, and John Ostrowski “love each other hard” when they manage to get together and perform as the ensemble Line C3. Most recently, they recorded an instructional DVD for Solomon’s How to Write for Percussion.

(Photo by Masataka Suemitsu)

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“It’s always balls out and you wanna kill yourself at the end,” said John “Big Country” Ostrowski (M.M. ’04, percussion) of how the part-time ensemble works. Country seemed tired during the interview, but not as tired as the five-months pregnant Haruka Fujii (Advanced Certificate ’01, percussion), or Solomon (B.M. ’01, M.M. ’03, percussion), who was to drive back to Boston that night to be with his wife, his newborn, and his 3-year-old. What was clear was that despite the exhaustion and the 12-hour day, every member of the group was excited to be with each other. “Line C3 is so special because we love each other so hard,” said Fujii, who flew down from Toronto for the taping. “We only get together for the purpose of loving each other and loving the music, and we only get together when there is the right music, right circumstances, and right people.” 

Fuji initially formed the group for a recital at the Juilliard Summer Percussion Seminar in 2003, and right after that landed it an opportunity to perform in Japan. “Just think about three American guys going to Japan and not knowing anything whatsoever about what was going on, that’s when they started calling me Ruki Mama,” Fujii said over a few good laughs. At that point, the group was more of a traditional, “serious” chamber music group, but a few circumstances quickly changed that.

Carl Schimmel’s Serving Size 4 Bunnies, inspired by marshmallow Peeps, was premiered by Line C3 in 2005. The piece calls for squeaky toys and is far from serious. “It so completely fit us and our personality and the way we actually wanted to be,” Chris Thompson (M.M. ’03, percussion) said. One bright orange Web site later (designed by Solomon, originally as a joke), the group had a vibe and a mission statement: “to play with an uncompromising standard of performance and a rigorous emphasis on fun.” 

Line C3 takes its name from the last line of Xenakis’s multi-percussion solo work Psappha, and the group boasts a vibrant repertoire that mostly consists of pieces written for it. “When I start talking to a composer, I start by introducing them to all of us. I want to give them a sense of our individual personalities and hope that that will inspire something that’s more on the fun side,” Thompson said. Composer Sean Friar, who was initially attracted to the group through its Web site and mission statement, is currently writing a concerto that highlights each of the members’ personalities. Thompson describes them as running the gamut from “actorly and full of personality” to “sensitive slash uber aggressive marimba playing” to “super intellectual” and for Thompson, something inspired by his background in drum corps. 

Friar’s concerto is being written thanks to a Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning grant that he and Line C3 received last July. This grant marks the first time that Line C3 will have to actively seek performance opportunities, which thus far have largely come to them. “Having to approach venues and try to get gigs is going to be a new frontier for me,” said Thompson, who is also responsible for Line C3’s social media experience (it includes an absurdly hilarious blog and a Twitter feed that only tweeted names of percussion instruments until he could think of no more).  

Solomon noted the advantages that they’ve had as a part-time ensemble, saying that what they do is really intuitive and that when they get together it is all the more special. “When we have these opportunities, we’re just so excited to be making music with our friends and some of the best musicians that we know that it’s really easy to do the kind of work that we’re doing,” Solomon said, describing what sounds more like a fun college reunion that happens to involve really great music. The group doesn’t have any upcoming performances, and they’re not fretting about it; they’ve gone several months without performing together before, and they know that when they do get together, it will be the same fun energy they had when they started. 

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