Next to Normal pit percussion setup

Next to Normal pit percussion setup

Here’s my setup for the drum book for Next to Normal, a musical I’ve been working on with Twelfth Night Productions down in West Seattle. It’s pretty much built around a five piece drum set, since the rhythm section is very prominent in this show. There’s also a lot of rhythmically challenging mallet parts, so I have the bells and “vibraphone” keyboard nestled as close to my music and line-of-sight with the MD as possible. Everything else, i.e. tambourine, shaker, bongos, triangle, wood block, finger cymbals, and djembe, are just wedged in wherever i could fit them.

I tried to get away with as few pairs of sticks & mallets as possible here, so the whole show is played with just the basics: some jazz drum sticks, brushes, and blasticks, rubber Bob Becker 30’s and aluminum bell mallets, and some cord mallets for cymbal rolls. I got a lot of mileage out of my Mike Balter 9AR aluminum bell mallets, on the glock of course but also as a triangle beater. I was surprised how easy it is to get a consistent, controlled sound out of an Alan Abel triangle with one of these.

This is the first show I’ve used a MIDI keyboard to play a percussion part, in this case vibraphone. I feel a little like I’ve joined the dark side but it’s surprisingly handy and better than just putting all of the vibes parts on bells or cymbals. My only complaint is that there is no monitor near me, so I can’t really hear myself play. Overall it has been a positive foray into electronics.

Everyone I know seems to have a personal connection to mental illness and trauma, and this musical deals with those themes in a way that’s a little harrowing at times. The thing that I notice, however, is how insightful the author, Brian Yorkey, seems to be when it comes to the inner workings of families faced mental illness and trauma. As I got to know the show and the characters better, I started finding insight into my own life in a way that doesn’t always happen with musical theater, and for that the painful themes are worth the emotional cost.

Next to Normal has become one of my favorite drum books to play. There’s a lot of up-tempo rock and punk rock, interesting mallet parts, and most importantly a fantastic story with depth and heart.

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About Chris Stroh

Seattle percussionist and music teacher. OAKE Executive Board member.
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