Different Drums

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Principal Timpani Shannon Wood was on stage taking pictures of a brand-new set of timpani Thursday morning prior to rehearsal of Puccini’s La Rondine. I wouldn’t say he was as excited as a child on Christmas morning, but he seemed pretty happy.

Shannon Wood with new Walter Light Mark XIV Timpani, handmade w/custom altelrations
Shannon Wood with new Walter Light Mark XIV Timpani, handmade w/custom alterations

He was taking photos so the maker could see them on the Powell Hall stage (see caption). Proof! Shannon told me the previous timpani, played on by the late Richard Holmes, were from the 1960s. Although this sounded as if they were prehistoric to me, Shannon explained that he had a set from the 1950s. He pointed to the pedals on the new set, a Dresden pedal, he explained, which timpanists can adjust with a flex of the ankle. Another set of timpani were placed center stage for the Puccini, which Shannon told me were used by the Youth Orchestra and by Associate Principal Tom Stubbs. Those have a Berlin pedal, Shannon said, which require a musician to raise his or her whole leg to adjust. “Not bad,” Shannon told me, “just different.”

The new timpani were fixed with plastic drum heads, rather than calf skin. Shannon said he used both types of drum head, and chose between the two “mostly due to weather.” The calf skin absorbs moisture more, and so will tend to drop or sag if the humidity is high; or rise when the humidity is low. “Calf is not so good in the orchestra pit” at Opera Theatre, he said.

Powell Hall has improved climate control on stage. Shannon shook his head imagining the logistical conundrums Rick Holmes faced during his 40 years on the job.