Summer Spotlight: Percussion Alumnus Travis Newman Writes from the Zeltsman Marimba Festival

Travis Newman

Travis Newman

Class of 2017 M.M., Percussion/Marimba Photo credit: Ryan Watanabe

July 14, 2017

New Brunswick, New Jersey

Since July 2, I have been participating in the 2017 Zeltsman Marimba Festival (ZMF) at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

This two-week festival is centered on the marimba, but also includes a nice variety of faculty and participants who may perform of all kinds of percussion. Yet, in focusing this summer intensive on the marimba, the conversations, classes, and performances share a common thread that provides the context and language for deep musical discussions. As percussionists, we may struggle to find time, or simply patience, to hone in on a single instrument, and having the space to do this at ZMF makes this a highly enriching experience.

The festival features an array of renowned performing artists such as Jack Van Geem, Svet Stoyanov, Ria Ideta, and Christos Rafalides, as well as others in the field who present talks on composition, careers, and other ways the marimba is integrated into our culture. Generally, we start the morning with a master class taught by a faculty member, proceed to lessons and ensemble rehearsals after lunch, and finish the day with a concert or large group event after dinner. Of course, many participants then continue to practice, rehearse, and socialize late into the evenings.

Since Nancy Zeltsman, chair of percussion/marimba at Boston Conservatory at Berklee, is the founder and director of this festival, it is not a surprise that many of the people involved have various ties to the school. Both Nancy and alumna Nanae Mimura (M.M. '00, percussion) are faculty members at the festival; alumnus Dan DeSimone (M.M. '16, contemporary classical music) and student Ayami Okamura (P.S.C. '18, marimba) of the Shiki Percussion Duo and Mark Haygood (M.M. '16, percussion) performed; and alumnus Dane Palmer (M.M. '13, percussion) presented a talk on the marimba in popular music.

Along with these familiar faces from the Conservatory, I am surrounded by people from across the U.S. and around the world, including Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Japan, and China, to name a few. The crowd is diverse, open, and full of brilliantly unique individuals.

In addition to soaking up this incredible range of artistry and energy, I have been performing some exciting pieces. Last week, I played the marimba part on a short chamber piece called “Snow in Kalamazoo” by Koos Terpstra with Conservatory students Gabriella Mayer (M.M. '18, percussion) and Neil McNulty (B.M. '18, percussion) as a part of one of the ZMF ensemble concerts, and I played with Mark Haygood in a piece called Burn-off, which was commissioned by Samuel Z. Solomon, one of our percussion teachers at the Conservatory. On the final day of the festival, I will close out the participants’ “Marathon Concert” with Mallet Quartet by Steve Reich.

One of the most exciting parts of this festival for me has been reconnecting with some friends I met through past ZMFs, including Sven Hoscheit, my two-time ZMF roommate who has become a very close friend and is a featured artist in one of the evening concerts this year, along with my other roommate and fellow Conservatory alumnus, Mark Haygood.

The time we share together here supporting each other, gaining performing experiences, and having some of the outright deepest and most meaningful conversations we have ever had makes this a highly enriching experience, and one that has certainly already impacted the rest of my life.