The WYSO Percussion Extravaganza, originally scheduled for Saturday, April 4, has been postponed in response to COVID-19. This amazing concert was to feature the WYSO Percussion Ensemble and a list of guest artists, including Matthew Coley (Glass Marimbist), the UW World Percussion Ensemble, the Tundra Line of the Packers (with WYSO alumnus Patrick Coughlin), Norman Gilliland (Narrator), and Richard Hildner (Guitarist). In all, five new compositions would have premiered at this event, three composed by students under the mentorship of WYSO alumnus Jon D. Nelson.



How the Student Composition Project Began

As one Percussion Extravaganza! ends, the planning for the next begins for Vicki P. Jenks, Director of the WYSO Percussion Ensemble. One April day in 2019, Jenks met WYSO alumnus Jon D. Nelson at a Madison coffee shop to talk about an opportunity for the 2020 concert: the possibility of the Percussion Ensemble premiering compositions written by their peers (and coached by Nelson). As the two talked, they discussed themes and “the spirit of this project, how it would revolve around family stories and American history in a way that might spark positivity around the country we live in and all of the generations here that led up to us. I remember feeling really invigorated at this opportunity to involve some students in an amazing opportunity,” recounts Nelson.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble rises early on WYSO Saturday mornings to start their rehearsals at 7:00 a.m. at the Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. It is a required ensemble for all WYSO Orchestra percussionists, who may spend an hour  or more driving from their homes to rehearsal. For Vicki P. Jenks, the rehearsal begins at 5:10 a.m. when she climbs into the car in her driveway in Wild Rose, WI to head toward Madison. Once there, she will lead the Percussion Ensemble Students in 10-15 minutes of Tai Chi, before beginning their musical work together.

In the fall of 2019, the Percussion Ensemble, a group of 11 brand new and returning students, began work on Technology by Jim Casella and Children’s Suite 1 by Roland Guerrero. Kallan Engleson, Gabe Roe, and Joseph Batterman began working with WYSO alumnus Jon D. Nelson on a suite of 3 music compositions, that would stand alone but together form a single piece called American Tales, which were planned to be premiered by the WYSO Percussion Ensemble at the April 4, 2020 concert.


American Tales

Kallan Engleson’s piece, Homeland, originated from two simple melodies: Gentle Lena Clare, an old Stephen Foster song, and America the Beautiful. “The piece opens with America the Beautiful being played on the vibes, signaling the patriotic nature of the composition. This patriotic essence that is woven throughout the whole piece is mainly derived from my family history,” Kallan explains in her Program Notes. “A lot of my family comes from the south, and a few years ago we actually discovered that we have ties to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; hence America the Beautiful being used in the piece. Gentle Lena Clare is an old song that . . . seemed very fitting to me to include in my composition. Overall, Homeland strives to connect different aspects of American sounding themes and melodies all into one cohesive story in music. It is a story that relates to my own personal family history and background, but also I think can be related to many other Americans as well.”

Gabe Roe, the youngest of the three students, wrote a composition that he titled Eventful Voyage. “Given the theme of ancestors, I primarily focused on how they came to this country and what they gave up. What I learned while I was making this piece is that my family were farmers from Germany. They heard that there were new opportunities, and they came over on a boat. In my piece, I included parts to make the listener feel as if they were going on a voyage that was not always easy. But in the end, they will feel pleased at knowing that they have made it.”

Joseph Batterman took charge of the last section, a composition he titled  Journey Home, that was composed with many influences. “Journey Home is a tri-section piece that evokes the memories, adventures, and emotions a person experiences throughout their lifetime. The song starts with a childlike fanfare featuring trumpets and world drums. The first section, which begins in a major key, cherishes the creativity and happiness of a child. This gives way to a moving minor segment which represents an individual’s transition from childhood to adulthood through the teenage years. Directly following is an upbeat section with a djembe groove which represents an adult as they use their knowledge and experience to make an impact on the world. Finally, the end is a retrospective, soul-expanding section that reflects an aged person looking back on the events in their life. In this section, a grandparent is telling their grandchildren riveting stories from their life and the lessons learned through both joy and struggle. The end includes Taps as symbolism that the person has died, and the last chords exude the Fullness of Life that a person experiences in the realized Hope of Eternity.”


At the April 4 concert, an American Tales narrative would have been read by guest artist Norman Gilleland. You can read the narrative for yourself here.

Percussion Ensemble Roster

T. Angelina, Angela Batterman, Joseph Batterman, Aiden Dalby, Ellis Goeden, Anais Griffith-Oh, Ingrid Malin, Lucian NG, Lauren Rault, Amanda Sealock, Simeon Stelter, Abe Tietge, Tighearnan Way, Luke Whittingham, Rohan Yethiraj

Everyone in the 2020 Percussion Ensemble wrote a Vision Statement for 2020. Read the combined statements here.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble and Percussion Extravaganza! are supported by the Eric D. Batterman Memorial Fund, the Theodore W. Batterman Family Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. 


The original concert was to benefit RMHC Madison (Ronald McDonald House Charities Madison). The organization still needs donations at this time of COVID-19 and you can donate here.


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