Principal Percussionists have one of the most unique jobs in the orchestra (or wind ensemble). Our parts don’t come already laid out all nice and neat like the rest of the orchestra. The horns have it easy: Horn 1, 2, 3, and 4… Most of our repertoire isn’t incredibly complicated to figure out how to divide up parts. Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony is pretty easy as it is just Bass Drum, Cymbals, and Triangle. Three people – three parts. However (and that’s a giant however), some of the repertoire out there is much more complicated to lay out. Plus we have the issue of equipment to worry about. With big shows it can look like a yard sale on stage. How does the principal percussion figure out where to put all that stuff? When laying out parts there are a lot of factors to think about:
How many players will you need?
Do you need to rent instruments?
Do you want to keep one player only playing mallets?
What instruments need to be near other instruments for quick switches back and forth?
How much room do you typically have onstage and do you need more than that for a specific concert?
Needless to say there is a lot to think about! To help keep small details from falling through the cracks I have come up with this Step by Step Guide and Checklist for Part Assignments over my 8 year of experience here in St Louis. For those who have never distributed parts or held a principal percussion position, this resource will be invaluable as you navigate your first concert. Being prepared for that first rehearsal is critical and you want everyone to know what their responsibilities are. After all, you can’t do everything, you have to rely on your section and you need to put them in the best possible scenario to succeed. This Guide and Checklist will help you whether you are in a profession orchestra or college wind ensemble.