Steve Reich’s Drumming is an iconic composition in the genre that has come to be known as “minimalism.” It is also one of the most important works in the percussion repertoire. Reich taught Drumming to the percussionists in the Steve Reich and Musicians ensemble by rote as he was composing it. This method of teaching the piece created an oral tradition of learning the piece and has continued through several successive generations of percussionists. For those of us who learned Drumming by rote and who have taught Drumming to many of these young musicians, we find the method of teaching through imitation and repetition to be an important part of the process of learning and performing the work. It is not unlike the system of learning music from Africa and other non-Western cultures and provides insight into different ways of thinking about rhythm.
In the following three essays under the banner “The History of Drumming,” Russell Hartenberger and Adam Sliwinski provide an overview of this masterpiece. In “Origins,” Russell describes the creation of the piece using examples from Reich’s own sketchbooks that are now housed at the Paul Sacher Stiftung (PSS) in Basel, Switzerland. He discusses his experience as an early member of Steve Reich and Musicians in which he learned the piece by rote as Reich was composing it. In “50 Years of Interpretation,” Adam references Josh Quillen’s “Conversations” to examine and summarize various approaches to the interpretation of the piece as it is passed down from one generation of percussionists to the next. In the final essay titled “Disseminating Drumming,” Russell outlines the fifty-year connection between Nexus and Steve Reich, and describes ways that Reich’s music found its way into the repertoire of percussion ensembles around the world.