The Percussion Music of

            David Macbride


            Benjamin Toth





            Triptych - Benjamin Toth, marimba                22:09

1                      1st movement

2                      2nd movement

3                      3rd movement


4          Timing - Benjamin Toth & Ed Fast, percussion          8:02


5          Envelop - Benjamin Toth, percussion                         4:49


            Shape Notes - John Wion, flute

                                    Benjamin Toth & Shane Shanahan, percussion          10:40

6                      1st movement

7                      2nd movement

8                      3rd movement


9          For Four - Benjamin Toth & The Hartt Graduate Percussion Trio (Murray Mast, David Merrill & Christopher Vandall), marimbas       16:17


Total duration: 62:15

File under: Classical, Macbride


Made through the American Composers Forum’s Recording Assistance Program, underwritten by the McKnight Foundation.


BAR CODE: 7 26708 65252


© American Composers Forum, 1999.

All Rights Reserved.


332 Minnesota Street E-145, St. Paul, MN 55101, USA.

(651) 228-1407

[email protected]


innova 525




            One of the major challenges facing David Macbride and Benjamin Toth as they prepared these compositions for performance and recording was how to deal with the simple fact that once a percussion note has been sounded, there is little a performer or composer can do to alter it.  It can be particularly noticeable on a marimba that a note's color and pitch do not change after it has been struck.  The sound just sits there, in space and in the listener's ear, awaiting the next note.

            David and Ben approached this challenge in a couple of different ways.  Perhaps the more common way (at least for other composers and performers) is to create music with infectious and engaging rhythms, so that the sharply attacked marimba notes follow one another in more or less rapid succession.  The listener responds not so much to the inner life of individual notes as to the patterned way they succeed one another.  A more subtle and difficult approach is often in evidence on this CD, however.  When you listen to the opening movement of Triptych, for example, you will hear various notes and chords sustained by rolling the rapid alternation of strokes on the same pitch(es).  Marimba rolls can readily become clichés, but the artistry of Macbride and Toth renders their sounds infinitely variable, with subtle changes as the pitches sustain.  Patterns beyond simple alternation (e.g., LRRLR) contribute to the fascination of these pulsating sounds.  The extraordinarily beautiful and subtle interiors of these notes are products of both Macbride's sensitive sonic imagination and Toth's incredible physical control.  Thus Triptych is a true collaboration between two artists.  What results is music that invites you in to find its riches, rather than throwing them out at you.

            Given the subtlety of this performance of Triptych (composed for Ben in 1993), it is hardly surprising to learn that Toth worked on it for a full year, suggesting various modifications, which Macbride readily incorporated into the score.  Their seamless cooperation gives Triptych an integrity and intimacy all too rare in performances of contemporary music.  It is hardly surprising that David describes this work as "a kind of fusion of Ben's and my musical personalities...  Percussionists generally not only are interested in [my] music and ideas but also are not afraid to contribute, to be critical, and honestly to take part in the creation of new stuff.  Percussion and percussionists will always be a vital influence on my music."

            Rolled chords are not the whole story in Triptych, however.  The middle section of the first movement, most of the second, and the opening of the third offer stunning rhythms, sometimes almost fast enough to become rolled sounds, yet at other times with patterns of contagious vigor.

            A similar interplay among ways of playing the marimba infuses For Four, composed in 1988.  The implied pun in the title should not be taken too literally: the piece is often, but certainly not always, in 4/4 time!  It is scored for four marimbas, placed in a square (another aspect of "four").  The movements of the four (!) players within this square are carefully choreographed, so that different performers play different marimbas at different times.  Sometimes all four musicians gather at one instrument, while at other times they fan out across all the keyboards.  Macbride recalls the "players bumping into one another, with sticks flying" during preliminary rehearsals.  In some cases, the bodily movements suggested musical gestures to the composer, as for example where musical canons grow from the players physically following one another.  The result is a large-scale work of almost symphonic dimensions.

            The earliest work on this recording is Envelop, which Macbride composed in 1972 for percussionist-composer Stuart Smith.  The title, like that of For Four, is a subtle pun.  "Envelop" is a verb, meaning to enclose and surround.  Macbride intended the piece to be "an interruption of silence; silence envelops sound."  The word is related to the noun "envelope," one meaning of which is the pattern of changing loudness of a single musical sound.  Like all of the music recorded here, Envelop is profoundly concerned with the envelopes of percussive sounds. 

            Already in Envelop it is possible to hear the inner beauty and intimacy of Macbride's compositional voice.  Not yet having worked with Toth and hence not having explored in depth various ways to sustain mallet sounds through rolling, David relied on other means to animate the percussion sonorities: the close juxtaposition of rhythmicized passages with static ones, and the use of that most variable of all timbres the human voice in interjections spoken by the solo percussionist.  The spoken syllables "doo-wah-dit" come from Manfred Mann's hit song "Doo-wah-ditty (ditty-dum-ditty-doo)."

            Movement is involved in Shape Notes, composed in 1993, but in contrast to the set-up in For Four, the movement in this piece is more conceptual than tangible.  In each of the three movements, the two percussion players' music is laid out on the score page in patterns outlining a star, a triangle, and a diamond respectively.  After the players repeat the music located at each vertex of these geometrical figures several times, they move on to the next vertex, eventually tracing each entire figure.  The flute music is written out in the traditional manner, but nonetheless all players must be coordinated.  The rhythmic ostinatos in the percussion provide an intriguing foil to the freer-sounding flute solo.  This work drew its inspiration from Lou Harrison's First Concerto (composed in 1938) and from Lois Ehlert's children's book Color Zoo, which ingeniously combines shapes and colors into animals.

            Shape Notes is not Macbride's only work emanating from the world of children.  Timing, composed in 1990, eventually adds toy instruments and household objects to its drums and maracas.  A timer ticks loudly throughout, referring to the sound of a baby's heartbeat in the mother's womb.  The two percussion parts represent the Mother and her Child respectively.  According to the composer, "Often, the Child's part is the same as the Mother's, only faster.  Canons and close imitation represent the two persons' shared existence.  The sound of the timer could be thought of as the gestation period."

            It is a mark of the depth of their partnership that Ben chose to devote his first solo CD in its entirety to David's music.  What kind of music will you hear on this collaborative CD?  According to Toth, Macbride's music is "sometimes funny, sometimes ominous, sometimes theatrical, sometimes subtle, sometimes complex, sometimes simple, sometimes groovy, sometimes lyrical.  The eclectic nature of David's work is clearly the result of his varied inspirations."


—Jonathan D. Kramer


            David Macbride has written numerous works, ranging from solo, chamber and orchestral music to music for film, TV, dance and theatre.  His works have been performed extensively in the United States and abroad: recent performances include the Hartford Symphony, the Arditti String Quartet, League ISCM,  Percussive Arts Society International Convention, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.  The Royal Spanish Chamber Orchestra  performed Poet in New York on its tours of Spain and the US during the Garcia Lorca Centennial in 1998-99.   Macbride recently  presented a recital of his piano works in Peru at the invitation of the Instituto Cultural Peruano Norte-Americano.   Awards include the  Georges Enesco International Composition Prize, two Leo Snyder Memorial Composition Prizes sponsored by League ISCM Boston, and the Composers Inc. Prize.  Recent commissions include Chamber Music America, Performers of Connecticut, and the Connecticut Valley Chamber Orchestra.   Macbride’s compositions are also available on Concora, Hartt/Next Exit, Opus One, Owl, and True Media Recordings.  A solo CD of his works was released in 1993 by Composers Recordings Inc. (CRI).  Alex Ross of the New York Times writes: “. . . Macbride achieves a remarkable balance of technical rigor and free spirited invention. . . Composers Recordings has done justice to a distinctive voice in American music.”   Macbride is co-founder of Conundrum (with Benjamin Toth) and is on the faculty of the Hartt School, University of Hartford.


Benjamin Toth is the director of the percussion program at The Hartt School of the University of Hartford.  He has presented concerts and master classes in Austria, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Yugoslavia, and throughout the United States.  In addition to his musical partnership with David Macbride (Conundrum), Mr. Toth's performance credits include: The Percussion Group/Cincinnati, the Jovan Percussion Projekt, the Sinfonia da Camera of Illinois, the Illinois Contemporary Chamber Players, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Akron Symphony Orchestra, the Brass Band of Battle Creek, the Hong Kong City Contemporary Dance Company, Myriad, the Ohio Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Milwaukee New Music Ensemble, Pan Caribe, Hartford Stage, the Goodspeed Opera House, StageWest, the Kenley Players, and the Jimmy Dorsey Band.  His performance activities include: live television and radio broadcasts, new music festivals and concert series, recordings, university master-class presentations, children's concerts, concerto appearances, big band/show band drumming, and Percussive Arts Society International Conventions –– performance venues include: Ravinia, the Walker Arts Center, and Carnegie Hall.  Mr. Toth has previously recorded for the Albany, Arabesque, and Centaur labels.  He has served on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music.  His musical training includes degrees in performance and jazz studies from the University of Akron and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois.


Assisting Artists’ Bios


Ed Fast is a virtuoso percussionist and composer/arranger, who has been involved in Latin music for many years as Musical Director of the Latin jazz bands Home Cookin’

and Latin Flavor.  He received his Bachelor and Masters degrees in percussion from the Hartt School and has performed with such noted artists as Paul Winter, percussion virtuoso Giovannia Hidalgo, the Ray Gonzalez Latin Jazz Orchestra and Jose Gonzalez Y Banda Criolla.  Ed has played for symphony orchestras throughout the Connecticut region and has composed original scores for choreographers Judy Dworin and Karen Bacon.  He has taught at the Hartt School, the Artists Collective, and is currently on the faculty of Trinity College.


Murray Mast is the Director of Percussion and Jazz at Tomball High School in Tomball, TX.  He also has served as percussion director for Wadsworth High School in Wadsworth, OH.  He received his B.M. from the University of Akron, where he studied with Larry Snider and Bob McKee.  He received his M.M. from the Hartt School of the University of Hartford, where he studied with Benjamin Toth and David Macbride.  He has performed with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Boston Composers Guild, Canton Bluecoats Drum & Bugle Corps, in Trinidad Carnival with the Potential Symphony Steel Orchestra, and for the 1993 and 1995 Percussive Arts Society International Conventions.


David Merrill received his Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Colorado and a Master of Music degree from the Hartt School.  He has performed with various symphonies in Connecticut and Colorado, including concerto performances with the Boulder Chamber Sinfonia and the University of Colorado Symphonic Band.  He has premiered works by many composers including George Crumb and David Diamond.  Merrill was a finalist in the MTNA national collegiate percussion competition and was founder and past president of the Colorado Percussion Society.  He is currently residing in Colorado where he serves as Director of Music at Fort Lupton High School and performs with the Zimbabwean-style marimba group Ukama.


Shane Shanahan is a freelance percussionist who works extensively throughout New England and New York.  He plays with various orchestras, steel drum bands, African drumming groups, and percussion ensembles.  He also composes and performs for many dance and theater companies.  Some recent projects include collaborating with a North Indian Kathak dancer, singing with the Spectral Voices Harmonic Choir, and recording with world-renowned percussionist Glen Velez.  Shane teaches at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and collaborates regularly with the dance department at Wesleyan University.  He received his B.M. and the Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with John Beck, and his M.M. from the Hartt School, where he studied with Benjamin Toth, Nebojsa Zivkovic, Glen Velez, and Alexander Lepak. 


Christopher Vandall did his undergraduate work in percussion at the University of Akron with Larry Snider and completed his Master’s degree from the Hartt School with Benjamin Toth.  Vandall has worked with many composers, including Pierre Boulez, Jean-Charles Francois, Stuart S. Smith, Herbert Brun, James Wood, Daniel Levitan, and David Macbride.  He has recorded with the University of Akron Steel Drum Band and the Hartt School Performance 20/20 program.  Vandall has performed at Percussive Arts Society International Conventions in Columbus, OH and Phoenix, AZ, the Gaudeamus International Competition in Rotterdam, Holland, and in New York, Boston, Phoenix and throughout Connecticut as a member of the Hartt Percussion Trio.  He is currently Principal Timpanist with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, staff accompanist at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, and teaches percussion in the Hartford area.


John Wion, Professor of Flute at the Hartt School, has been Principal Flutist of the New York City Opera since 1965.  He has appeared as a soloist in New York’s major concert halls and at prestigious summer festivals in the United States.  He has made recital tours with pianist Gilbert Kalish, and guitarist Lisa Hurlong, and guest appearances with the Tokyo, Emerson, and Manhattan String Quartets.  He has recorded a variety of solo and chamber music repertoire for Lyrichord, Turnabout, Opus One, and Musical Heritage Society, as well as three CDs for the Hartt Music Productions label.  In his many visits to Australia and New Zealand he has appeared as soloist with all of the major orchestras in addition to performing recitals.  He has taught master classes in Australia, Canada, Mexico and Italy, and has served as President of the National Flute Association.


Conundrum, Inc. is a non-profit arts organization formed by David Macbride and Benjamin Toth for the purpose of producing and presenting concerts, residencies and commercial recordings of a broad and stylistically diverse spectrum of music.  Conundrum  toured the Northeast and the Midwest in the spring of 1996, and appeared at the Spanish Institute in New York City in May, 1998.  Conundrum: The Percussion Music of David Macbride featuring Benjamin Toth  is the group’s premiere recording.  Future plans include school residencies, community concerts, and additional recordings.




Produced by David Macbride and Benjamin Toth.


Triptych (1993) - Recorded 7/16/94


Timing (1990) -  Recorded 4/1/95 (Assistant Recording Engineer:  Scott Metcalfe)


Envelop (1971) - Recorded 5/13/96


Shape Notes (1993) - Recorded 3/13/96


For Four (1988) - Recorded 5/23/95, Millard Auditorium, Hartt School, University of Hartford, W. Hartford, CT.


All works recorded and edited by David Budries at Sound Situation, Glastonbury, CT

except as noted.


Timing - AM Percussion Publications, Lancaster, NY


Envelop - Smith Publications, Sonic Arts Edition, Baltimore, MD


Triptych, Shape Notes, and For Four - unpublished


Cover Design.....


Special Thanks to Maria Toth - OTHERS?


Executive Producer: Philip Blackburn

Design: UMod007


This CD was supported by two Vincent Coffin Grants of the University of Hartford (Alice Ditson Fund of Columbia University?) (Faculty Development Grant of the Hartt School, University of Hartford?) TBD


David Macbride and Benjamin Toth

Hartt School

University of Hartford

W. Hartford, CT  06117, USA