Sticks and Stones

Cody Gifford | November 2008

 A work for solo drum set and band with comments from composer Jim Bonney.

The influence of popular music is apparent in such concert bandworks as Eric Whitacre’s Godzilla Eats Las Vegas!, Michael Daugherty’s Motown Metal, Scott McAllister’s Black Dog for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble, and Donald Grantham’s Baron Cemetiere’s Mambo. These pieces are widely appealing but often range in higher difficulty levels; Sticks and Stones for drum set soloist and wind ensemble by Jim Bonney (BCM International/Hal Leonard) is grade 3. It is an opportunity for an accomplished drumer to show his stuff.

In May 2004 Bonney performed his electric guitar concerto, Chaos Theory, with the Mountain View High School (Loveland, Colorado) wind ensemble. After the concert, band director Peter Toews asked him to write a composition featuring the school’s percussion instructor, Shilo Stroman, on drum set. Bonney states, “I rarely take suggestions, but the drum set is a fantastic instrument, and Sticks and Stones is an opportunity for a drummer to play out and show off instead of back everyone up.”

The instrumentation is standard but the number of parts is reduced. There are only two parts for clarinet and trumpet and one part for oboe, bassoon, and horn. Says Bonney, “I wanted to have massive sections so each part would sound big. The goal was to reproduce the energy of rock music – structurally sound and viscerally powerful. It was unnecessary to write complicated harmonies.” It is worth noting that the work has no piccolo part but three trombone parts (two tenor, one bass) and an optional part for string bass. Percussion scoring is for timpani, marimba, tam-tam, snare, bass, crash cymbal, two suspended cymbals, and glockenspiel.

The drum set solo part offers a great deal of freedom, and the interpretation determines what the performance will be like. “In my experience, the less that is written in the part for the drummer, the better the performance turns out. The work starts with three short drum solos so that the audience knows to pay attention to the drummer. The drummer even counts the director and band in.”

The director is responsible for leading the band accompaniment, but interpretation of the solo part is left up to the drummer, who should base his interpretation on an understanding of what the band’s role is. “As I was writing the piece I imagined different well-known drummers in each section. The opening four bars might be played in the style of Max Roach.”

Measure 5 starts with a basic groove, which asks for heavily ornamented hi-hat 16ths six measures later. At measure 23 the focus shifts slightly to a mix of cymbals and cymbal bells. Drummers might consider emulating Carter Beauford of the Dave Matthews Band or Paul Wertico of the Pat Metheny Group, “both of whom make great use of mixing hi-hat and cymbals. The idea in these sections is to draw different colors and accents out of the cymbals, showing the audience the variety of sounds a drum set can produce.”

At measure 35 the drummer plays a series of short fills around rhythmic figures. “Neil Peart of Rush is a master at this. Rush is a trio, so the drummer has to take up more space in the music.” At measure 43 the solo part is labeled ad lib. highly ornamental funk/rock groove. This should sound like a combination of a funk rock beat with a loose jazz feel.

The band may have a bit of difficulty at measure 81. Most of the wind instruments have four measures to “ascend independently through the chromatic scale gradually, from lowest playable note to highest playable note” while the soloist plays out of time. Students will need to watch the conductor closely during these four bars.

At measure 85 the drummer turns the snares off and switches to mallets. “I’m looking for a tribal, jungle feel in this section. The pulse should be less dominant with color and rhythmic diversity, but the drummer has to keep things moving or this section will feel heavy, slow, and directionless. Bill Bruford is a good example for this section; he uses polyrhythms and can keep something driving without making it feel lockstep.”

The cadenza is entirely up to the drummer, but he must be careful not to lose the audience. After a recap, the piece ends with an extremely fast (q=192) seven measures, with the soloist playing a thrash rock groove. A drummer with strong double-kick chops could show them off here.

The most important aspect of the piece is to keep the groove going. “Although I have given a great deal of thought to the tempo markings, the energy of the ensemble and the space the group is playing in can both affect the tempo. Both rushing and plodding through it slowly can destroy it; the piece should always have a driving feel to it.”

The score and an mp3 of Sticks and Stones is available at www.jim

Jim Bonney is the audio director at 2K Boston and a founding member of the composer consortium BCM International. He graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1994 with a double degree in classical guitar performance and audio recording technology and completed the advanced studies program in scoring for motion picture and television at the University of Southern California in 1999. He has scored numerous short films, documentaries, commercials, games, and videos.