It started, Jason Treuting says, “as a grad-school kind of thing.” The four original members of Sō Percussion met at Yale School of Music, each drawn to the tutelage of percussionist and marimba professor Robert van Sice.
“We were assigned to play a piece together, and we put together a complex piece of music that required us to be around each other a lot. But it never felt like an assignment,” Treuting said. “At the end of the year, we realized we enjoy doing it.”
Thus was born the ensemble, which performs Sunday at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick. Sō Percussion also is a part of the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music at Bowdoin, which is Thursday and Saturday.
Sō Percussion expands the very idea of percussion, using things like aluminum pipes and an amplified cactus, along with glockenspeils, marimbas and other more traditional instruments. Membership in the ensemble has evolved over the years, but that sense of anything goes still informs the spirit and energy of the ensemble, said Treuting, a founding member.
“The way we see it, percussion is almost a state of mind. It’s anything you can hit,” he said. “The role of percussionist has always been interesting to us. It’s kind of the overflow grab bag. When you need a penny whistle, give it to the percussionist, not the piccolo player.”
They perform familiar modern classics, as well as a wide array of new music, including works by John Cage, George Crumb, Steve Reich, David Lang and others.
Treuting said the ensemble is motivated by creating new music and new sounds. There is a strong sense of “come check this out” going on in the rehearsal space, and the members of the group are always pushing each other for new ideas and new directions, he said.
“When we started off, being in a percussion quartet was new and different. There were not so many of them out there. Percussive arts and classical music still felt young,” he said. “But now it feels like there are a lot of folks who play at a high level. When we are looking for somebody (to join the group), playing at a high level is a base line. Now the question is, what else does someone offer besides fast hands?”
The last member change came a decade ago, when Eric Cha-Beach joined the group. Other members are Josh Quillen, who joined in 2006, and Adam Sliwinski, who has been a member of Sō Percussion since 2002.
Each has a different specialty. Treuting is a drum set specialist. Sliwinski is interested in keyboard instruments, especially marimba and piano. Quillen is an all-around percussionist and steel drum expert. Cha-Beach is a generalist, who likes incorporating new instruments into the mix.
At its core, Sō Percussion is like any other chamber ensemble, where the key to a successful performance is the ability to work together and to think collectively, not individually.
WHERE: Bowdoin International Music Festival, Studzinski Recital Hall, Bowdoin College campus, Brunswick
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $45
INFO: (207) 373-1400 or bowdoinfestival.org