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Take a deeper dive into specific pieces of music and composers with Classical KC and the UMKC Conservatory while learning how they connect to events today.

'Seven Pillars' is a percussion palindrome for the eyes and ears

A man with a close cropped haircut in a blue shirt stares at the camera
Courtesy of artist
Composer Andy Akiho.

Andy Akiho's 'Seven Pillars' combines visual effects and flashing lights with unconventional instruments such as glass bottles and boxes for a fun and highly syncopated piece for percussion. Learn more about this cutting-edge piece recently performed by UMKC's Ensemble in Residence: Sandbox Percussion.

Nick Baker is a DMA student at the UMKC Conservatory.

Over the past decade, Andy Akiho has garnered recognition as one of the premier living composers of art music, receiving commissions from orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra and the Shanghai Symphony. A trained percussionist and virtuoso steel pannist, Akiho expands rhythmic and timbral possibilities through his music. His work is highly syncopated, with frequent polyrhythms, metric modulations, mixed meters, irregular note groupings and calls for traditional — as well as non-traditional — percussion instruments to be played with extended and non-standard techniques. Akiho does not stop his creation with sound; rather his vision includes the visual and theatrical aspects of performance, which is evident from his use of integrated lighting and his inherently visual ping-pong concerto.

On March 6, Akiho’s "Seven Pillars" was performed in Kansas City. This eleven movement, 80-minute long piece was commissioned and performed by UMKC Conservatory ensemble in residence, Sandbox Percussion. In their role with the Conservatory, the group has taught and mentored students and facilitated sessions in the Conservatory's entrepreneurial studies curriculum. This performance of "Seven Pillars" follows a Grammy Award nomination for Akiho and Sandbox Percussion's album of the same name.

The work is structured as a large palindrome with seven movements being quartets, interspersed with four solo movements for each of the quartet members. Many of the rhythmic motives and gestures also follow palindromic patterns. Akiho uses non-traditional scales to form the melodic and harmonic language. Whereas a typical scale would have the same pitches in every octave, the scales of "Seven Pillars" take three octaves before they repeat their pitch sets. The instrumentation features classical instruments such as the concert marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, bass drums, as well as found objects like glass bottles, metal pipes, rubber bands, and boxes. A lighting scheme, designed by film director Michael Joseph McQuilken, supports the form of the work and is triggered by the percussionists in real time.

If you missed the performance at Just Off Broadway Theatre earlier this month, you can still enjoy Sandbox Percussion's performance of the work on YouTube.