Brendan Faegre

composer, percussionist

Tihai (2008)




percussion ensemble
[Perc 1: 4 Toms / Perc 2: Temple Blocks / Perc 3: 4 Metal Cans & Splash Cymbal / Perc 4: 4 Timpani / Perc 5: Vibraphone]


Kyle Acuncius, Nick Stevens, Colin Hill, Tim Crockett, & J.J. Pearse, percussion; Brendan Faegre, conductor / 22 November 2009 / Auer Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA


BMI Student Composer Award 2009


dedicated to Raju dada and Sureshji

Tihai is a piece inspired by my four months spent studying tabla and rhythm in Pune, India with Ramdas Palsule and Suresh Talwalkar. It is a translation and adaptation of the rhythmic tools and systems of Hindustani Classical music to my Western Classical composing.

In order to better understand this piece, a brief introduction to the basics of Indian Classical music is necessary. In this tradition, time is organized not into measures and bars, but rather according to rhythm cycles (tala). These tala are of a fixed number of beats in length, and are simply repeated throughout the duration of a piece of music, with the first beat of the cycle (the sam) always possessing the most importance. A tihai is a rhythmic phrase that is repeated three times, where only on the last repetition does the final beat of the rhythmic phrase land on the sam. It is a purely rhythmical and more explicit version of the "tension and release" concept so often spoken about in Western music. To me, the tihai concept is Indian Classical music's gift to the art of rhythm. It is this concept that I would ask listeners and performers to spend the most energy trying to hear and understand in Tihai.

Another important element of Indian Classical music is the differentiation between "open" and "closed" sounds on the bayan, the larger of the two tabla drums. All tabla patterns can be played open - where the bayan is struck with the fingers and allowed to resonate - or closed, where the whole hand slaps the bayan and stays there, muting the drum. In addition, each tala has its own series of open and closed portions, and I tried to integrate this idea, as well as some traditional tabla-solo approaches to open vs. closed playing into Tihai.

The piece begins with staggered entrances of the four main percussionists, each playing their own lengthy tihai that is aimed towards the same final sam. On the explosion of that sam, the main body of the piece begins, which is essentially a series of theme-and-variation solos for one percussionist at a time. Each solo begins with the four percussionists playing the rhythmic accompaniment pattern of a particular tala, which is maintained throughout the solo. In addition to the accompaniment pattern, the vibraphone plays a nagma, or melodic line that conveys aurally the length and contour of the tala, to assist both audience and musicians in keeping track of where in the tala they are.

Each soloist begins by playing their theme in half-speed, with short, improvisatory bursts of a faster tempo. The first tihai of the solo leads to the theme played in full speed, now with another percussionist coloring the soloist's line by playing fragments of it in unison. What follows is a series of variations mostly derived by dividing the theme into small motives and manipulating these motives. I used primarily Indian Classical methods of variation, but also some Western rhythmic tools - such as call and response - to compose the solos. Following the second tihai of the solo, variations are now played over two full cycles of the tala, allowing for more intricate and polyphonic variations, and an additional percussionist joins in the coloring of the soloist's line. The solo builds towards one final tihai, on the sam of which all the tension of that solo is finally released. After toms, temple blocks, metal cans, and timpani have played their solos, the introductory sequence of tihais is recapitulated and followed by an intense coda that finishes off the piece with one final, bombastic tihai.

In addition to the sensory enjoyment and excitement that I hope this piece will produce in listeners and performers alike, I believe that through performing this piece the musicians will become endowed with fresh, exciting new tools to use in their own rhythmic improvisations. Enjoy!

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[Kyle Acuncias, P1 / Nick Stevens, P2 / Colin Hill, P3 / Tim Crockett, P4 / J.J. Pearse, P5 / B. Faegre, conductor]

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