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Percussiano3 on March 28, 2023

Musicians thrill audience with skill and communication


By Neville Bowman

Special to the Daily Courier 


When is a trio not a trio? If there are three people but two musicians are on one instrument, does that count? Then again, one musician was playing over 30 instruments, so perhaps it's a small orchestra...either way, what it is,  is something unique. That is Percussiano3. 


Percussiano3 consists of percussionist Rod Thomas Squance, who teaches at the University of Calgary, and Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann, who themselves perform and record as the highly regarded Bergmann Piano Duo. The trio joined forces 20 years ago at the prestigious Banff Centre for the Arts and present a musical experience you simply won't hear or see anywhere else. 


The evening started with an Aaron Copland piece, the stage split between the grand piano and an impressive array of percussion instruments. Unusually, the two pianists sat at the piano side by side, four hands on one piano. This is done at times for effect but not that often, yet the Bergmanns played the entire evening in this manner, creating a density and fullness of sound that one player cannot manage. 


Opposite them, Squance perfectly wove his way through the music, at times seamlessly slipping into the spaces between, or at other moments leading the piano using the marimba or vibraphone. The arrangements were all done by one or all of the members and really showcased both the instruments and the abilities of the players. 


At times, only the pianists were in the spotlight, performing Mozart's Fantasy for a Musical Clockwork to great effect and Malaguena, a beautiful piece by Ernesto Lecuona. The percussion featured on a solo marimba version of Bach's Prelude from Lute Suite 3 and an original composition by Rod himself, titled The Pleiades. I would venture that few in the audience had heard percussion instruments played in such a manner. It really gave a different perspective on what can be done by a master.


In most instances, however, the group played as a trio and that's what most impressed me. The piano being essentially a percussion instrument, it has an instant "attack" to a note. What that means is that when notes don't land at the same time precisely, it sounds very evident (as opposed to strings for example which can have a slower attack). The skills and excellent communication of these three musicians left me wholly impressed how often they achieved a singular sound. Even between the two pianists it would be difficult, but with the marimba added, almost impossible. Yet they managed it, far more often than not. 


The standout for me (and many others, based on a quick survey) were the Selections from West Side Story. The arrangements were brilliant, fiery when needed, beautiful and melodic elsewhere, respecting the genius of Bernstein, but with their own signature on every piece. I suspect they could do an entire concert just on that musical, and people would rush to hear it. 


It was so strong, in fact, I was curious as to why they swapped it with Blue Rondo a la Turk to end the evening. The Brubeck piece is fun (I have often played it with my own quartet) and I enjoyed some of the re-interpretations of the original, not to mention the chance for Rod and Marcel to improvise, but it did seem a bit anticlimactic after West Side Story. 


Unique is an over-utilized word, I admit. Yet Percussiano3 offer something I've never heard. The originality of arrangements and well-spoken, affable musicians made the evening a memorable experience worth repeating. A trio? Sure. Definitely unique.


Neville Bowman is a local actor and musician

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