The Anvil Chorus

David Lang

When percussionist Steve Schick asked me to write him a solo piece I wanted to do something that showed percussion’s connection to real life activities. I didn’t want to work with the pretty instruments, like vibraphone or chimes, that were invented so that percussionists could play politely with other musicians. I wanted to write a piece that reminded the listener of the glorious history of percussion — that since the beginning of time people have always banged on things as a result of their professions.

Then I remembered that I had once read a book on the history of blacksmithing, and I had become particularly interested in how medieval blacksmiths used song to help them in their work. Although small jobs could be accomplished by individual smiths, larger jobs created an interesting problem — how could several smiths hammer on a single piece of metal without getting in each other’s way? Smiths solved this problem by singing songs together which would control the beat patterns of the hammers. There was a different song for each number of participating blacksmiths — obviously, a song that allowed for three hammer strokes would be confusing and even dangerous if used to coordinate four smiths.

My solo percussion piece The Anvil Chorus also uses a “melody” to control various beat patterns. The “melody” is played on resonant junk metals of the percussionist’s choosing, and, by adding certain rules, it triggers an odd accompaniment of non-resonant junk metals, played both by hand and by foot.

— David Lang

Duration 7′

Annotated by Mike Daley