Jazz style, Latin beats and Irish cadence morphs into one sound March 29 when the 20th annual “Day of Percussion” arrives at Lehman College.
For the past 20 years, the Royal Irish Academy of Music from Dublin and the Lehman College Percussion Ensemble have pulled it off with new beats every outing, putting on a show to remember not just for the college, but for the Bronx.
“The community gets the same thing that the students get,” said Victor Rendon, the director of the Lehman Percussion Ensemble and founding co-director of the Lehman Latin Jazz Ensemble. “They get to see the Ireland part of it. Then they can see the music that we are playing and can relate to it. They can say, ‘That’s all me. That’s us right there.’”
The event not only creates a cultural exchange between the United States and Ireland, but it even provides a chance to learn through a workshop component Rendon implemented a couple years ago at the end of the performances. They’re led by Allan Molnar, a jazz lecturer at the college, and Joe McCarthy, a Latin Grammy award winner and leader of the Afro Bop Alliance Big Band.
The Lehman Percussion Ensemble’s annual show originated with Morris Lang and Richard O’Donnell, two music professors whose friendship goes back to the 1980s when O’Donnell studied with Lang. By the ‘90s, O’Donnell — now a faculty member of the Royal Irish Academy of Music — was bringing students from Dublin to New York to play with students in classes taught by Lang.
The shows were originally performed at Brooklyn College, but later expanded to Lehman.
When Lang retired two years ago, Rendon took over. Although Lang isn’t directing, he’ll still be at Thursday’s performance as a host.
O’Donnell is an “excellent teacher,” Rendon said, especially when one considers what the professor has actually achieved in Ireland.
“He took his skills that he learned here (in the United States) and actually started that percussion ensemble from scratch.” Rendon said. “That’s a big step, and starting it from scratch and exposing his students to all that literature can be challenging.”
For 10 weeks, the performers practiced different styles of music, capturing all of it quite quickly, Rendon said. However, an event like this does not just happen overnight. It takes a certain discipline that musicians develop over time.
“You have to play where the breaks are, and it’s a big band and there’s maybe 10 or 15 musicians on stage,” said David Rivera, a musician in the Lehman Ensemble. “We all have to be on point, and if the band is all in, it turns into a masterpiece. But if my bongo player isn’t on the same page as me, it’s not going to be as beautiful.”
The performance has not only honed the musicians’ skills, it’s also helped prepare them for the many shows they’d like to do through their careers.
“This is a wonderful experience, and it’s been getting me used to crowds,” Rivera said. The Irish percussionists “are great musicians, and I’ve learned so much from them. We’re so different, but at the same time we’re basically the same.”
There will be congas, bass, bongos, timbales at the “Day of Percussion.” In fact, it will be something like a party. Sometimes the crowd “vibes” with the musicians, Rivera said, getting up out of their seats to dance.
The show takes a lot of practice and focus, and it’s teamwork that brings it together, Rivera said. Working with the Irish group has definitely been a beneficial experience.
“Every year it is something new with the Irish group, and you kind of learn and get a feel for their style,” Rivera said. “It’s definitely a bonding experience.”
“Day of Percussion” begins at 2 p.m., March 29 in the music building of Lehman College, 250 Bedford Park Blvd. W. Admission is free. For more information, visit Lehman.edu.