Rowan Percussion Ensemble blends music and cinema with “Nosferatu”

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Creepy but intriguing music filled Pfleeger Concert Hall this past Sunday night as the Rowan University Percussion Ensemble presented a performance of the original “Nosferatu” score. The music accompanied a screening of the classic 1922 silent horror film.

The ensemble is comprised of various percussion instruments, including drums, marimbas and chimes, while also featuring several upright basses and a piano. Three soloists were featured for the event: Jim Ridl on piano, Robert Rawlins on clarinet and Douglas Mapp on bass.

For junior psychology major Brianna Beulah, this was their first time at a Rowan concert.

“I saw a flyer for the ‘Season of Horror,’ and I like old movies, so I decided to come,” Beulah said. “The performers are clearly very talented, and this show is unique.”

Dean Witten, professor of music and director of percussion studies, commissioned this piece by composer Mick Rossi in 2000. Witten said this was the third time he performed “Nosferatu” with his students.

“I try to do it every four to five years, so each class of students gets to experience it,” he said.

Witten also stressed that the piece is structured differently from most scores, containing large amounts of improvisation. The players are required to maintain high concentration, as they play continuously for 80 minutes.

Rossi specifically instructed in his score that the conductor must not pre-determine the order but has to improvise it live to the film.

“Therefore, the students never played the six pieces in the same order that I chose last night, making the piece new every time it is rehearsed or performed,” Witten said.

To notify the players what section of the score he decided on, Witten held up pieces of paper with a number that corresponded to the specific part.

Emily Velez, a senior music education major, thought the performance went really well and further explained how the ensemble achieved this unconventional performance.

“The percussion ensemble learned the parts first, and then the bassists and soloists,” Velez said. “The day before, we ran it one time with the movie and then played it live the next day. The decisions really are in the moment. As Professor Witten watches the movie, he decides what movement to go to.”

Rowan’s 2016-17 “Season of Horror” also featured “Dracula,” and upcoming shows are slated to premiere, including “Danse Macabre,” “Titus Andronicus,” and “Carrie: The Musical.”

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