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Buyan is a rewarding workout, testing the timpanist's proficiency in various techniques. Across its six minutes, the player must navigate syncopated grooves in compound time, simmering roll and glissandi techniques, and playing with fingers. Most challenging of all, though, is the extensive pedalling required to articulate the melodic material. Buyan moves briskly, its timpani line often skipping across the surface of the accompanying backing track's dark and cinematic electronica. Indeed, the backing track evokes the mystery, intrigue and exoticism of the fabled island that names the work, rising and falling in intensity like the tides that are so integral to the island's magic. The variety of playing techniques in Buyan demonstrate the subtleties offered-yet often overlooked-by the timpani.


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Project Details


for Solo Timpani and Digital Audio

Commissioner: Diana Loomer

Instrumentation: Timpani (5-6)

Premiered by Diana Loomer on March 10, 2018 at the Bates Recital Hall, Austin, Texas, USA

Difficulty Level:
Instrument Tags:
Digital Audio

Programme Note

In Slavic mythology, Buyan is described as a mysterious island in the ocean with the ability to appear and disappear using tides. Three brothers-Northern, Western, and Eastern Winds-live there, and also the Zoryas solar goddesses who are daughters of the solar god Dazhbog. Koshcei the Deathless keeps his soul hidden there, secreted inside a needle placed inside an egg buried in a mystical tree. Legends call the island the source of all weather, created there and sent forth into the world by the god Perun.

Diana Loomer commissioner of the work writes;

The first encounter that I had with John’s music was in 2010, when I auditioned to be the timpanist for the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps. The required excerpt was from his timpani concerto, Planet Damnation. As much of a challenge as it was, I became intrigued by this powerful, yet melodic usage of timpani. It was exhilarating, and I craved more of it. Once the summer was over, I immediately began learning the original concerto. I realized that John had a great understanding of how to make timpani sing. He built a rhythmic structure that supported the melodic lines, but never got in the way of them. The pedaling was extremely challenging, and I loved that. But after I performed it and started to look for new pieces to play, I realized that the repertoire for timpani with advanced pedaling was quite limited.

This experience is actually what eventually led to my Melodic Timpani Project. I wanted the world’s perception of timpani to change, both from the composers’ and performers’ perspectives. There is a huge melodic potential for the instrument, and we haven’t even come close to reaching it yet. I started asking composers to explore these boundaries to see what was possible. My request was: “Do not write a timpani solo. Write a piece of music as you would for any other instrument, and my challenge is to figure out how to play it on timpani”. Being the instigator of the whole idea, John was of course the first person I asked to compose for the project.

If you have ever played any of John’s music, you know that he doesn’t take it easy on the performer. In one of the early drafts of Buyan, I actually asked him to add more pedaling. Knowing his own reputation for writing extremely challenging music, he was both stunned and amused, saying I was “the first person to ever ask him to make a piece more difficult”. In hindsight, I realize that it was probably a dangerous request, because the difficulty level skyrocketed. It is a beast of a piece, and I am beyond thrilled with the outcome.

A bit of advice to the performer: Be mentally engaged the whole time. Don’t depend solely on muscle memory, because there is no time to react and recover. The pedal motions should be quick and precise, and the physical movement around the drums should never distract from the music. Constantly work toward releasing any unnecessary tension, because it will slow you down. Performing Buyan is invigorating from start to finish. Enjoy the journey, and don’t forget to breathe.

Buyan is very representative of the potential of timpani in a melodic context. I am honored to have a part in this, knowing how much of an impact this piece will have on the future of melodic timpani. Thank you, John.

Performance notes

  • Drum requirements: 5-6 timpani spanning two octaves from low C to high C.
  • In the section starting m.135, it is suggested that a second 32" timpano is used solely for the low C. If this is not available then use a bass drum instead.
  • Balanced action pedals are recommended as tuning changes occur rapidly throughout.
  • Quick pedalling motion during melodic passages is required to avoid glissandi between pitches (except where glissandi are specified). Overall, the pedalling should not distract from the performance of the work.

Digital Audio

There are a few options available for the digital audio component of this work:

  1. Performance DryMix: This is the recommended track for most situations. It has no added reverb (apart from a few essential exceptions), and will match the non-amplified dry, non-reverbed sound of acoustic timpani in a recital space. Using this track will result in the most natural blend between pre-recorded elements and the live timpani.
  2. Performance Reverb: This reverb-only track can be mixed with the DryMix track as needed to add a controllable amount of reverb to the digital audio component. This track cannot be used by itself and must be used in conjunction with the DryMix track by using a digital audio workstation (DAW) software to play both tracks simultaneously. This is an option for extremely dry acoustic situations where some reverb may be needed for the digital audio. Having the reverb separated allows for variable degrees of wetness for a range of situations.
  3. Alternate Performance Mix: In cases where the timpani are amplified and reverb is added to the amplified timpani, this track is fully mixed with reverb to match. This option is intended for larger-scale, louder performances.
  4. Click: The performance tracks above are intended to provide the timpanist with all the audio information required to perform without a click track. But in cases where an in-ear click track is necessary it is provided here. There are no additional count-in bars as the timpanist does not begin playing immediately. A playback solution with multiple outputs would be required to use this click track with one of the performance mixes.
  5. Reference Mix: A reference track including a MIDI timpani performance. This is not to be used in performance.

The digital audio was mixed by John Neill at Park Road Post Productions.