The Showdown

By Josh Albrecht

There comes a time in every man’s life when he must lay down a beat and prevail over his combatants.

For the NIU School of Music percussion faculty, that time is 3 p.m. Sunday. Four men will enter the Boutell Concert Hall, but only one will leave victorious.

With the use of mallets, comedic timing and a few changes in tempo, Robert Chappell, Rich Holly, Orlando Cotto and Liam Teague, along with an array of special guests, will perform in this mostly-annual recital that has emerged as one of the most popular music events on campus.

The rumble will feature original compositions by Chappell and Teague that highlight world music, jazz works in tango and Afro-Cuban styles, virtuoso solos on marimba and congas and a piece for double steel pans and piano. The victor will be decided by a non-scientific means, but one is expected by the end of the show.

This past Tuesday, two of the match-up’s headliners, Chappell and Cotto, sat down with the Weekender, forgot the hype for a moment and gave a bare-knuckled preview of Sunday’s concert.

Weekender: You and Rich Holly are referred to as combatants in the press release. Do you think that’s accurate?

Chappell: Well, it is in a lot of ways, because these recitals are different compared to the normal recital where people come out in tuxes and that kind of thing. We do crazy things along with great music, but that is the basic thing, it has to be great music. And percussion is fun stuff anyway. I mean, you bang on stuff and it is actually pretty funny sometimes to watch people play. One time, we set up 40 tom toms in a row and played a piece running up and down these tom toms. Another time I dressed up in a chicken outfit and played a xylophone. Last year we did a thing called “Dueling Xylophones,” and that’s where the combatants thing came from.

Weekender: Do you have any tricks planned for the concert?

Chappell: We do, but I don’t think we should let them all out. We do have a piece called “Latex,” which people can take whatever they want from. And we have another surprise which is our opening piece and it’s something that I think will be both embarrassing … maybe a little bit … and we are showing our school spirit here.

Weekender: What’s your favorite or signature percussion piece or instrument and why?

Cotto: Actually, I am a marimbist and also a Latin percussionist. And in the concert I am going to be doing a solo piece by Keiko Abe. And we are doing “Cubanita,” in which I will be featured on the congo drums. [Cotto was a semifinalist in an international hand drum competition and is regarded as one of the finest conga players in the world.]

Chappell: I run a percussion camp in Door County (Wis.) every summer and they call me Smorgas Bob because I play piano, I play mallets, I play tabla drums. The only thing I really don’t play is drum set, which I gave up for Lent 15 years ago.

Weekender: What kind of training have you done for this?

Chappell: We run miles, about six, seven miles a day.

Cotto: I do five, five miles every other day. I run up the stairs and my office is on the fourth floor so I keep in shape.