Music Preview

The Harvard University Drummers

A dynamic group of Harvard students thrills audiences with a mix of drums, cymbals, cups, brooms, trash cans, bottles and water jugs—all without missing a beat. The Harvard University Drummers (THUD) is Harvard’s four-year old percussion group.

Harvard Band members founded The Harvard Percussion Ensemble in 1999 in an effort to form a group with a percussionist focus. The name was changed to THUD two years later, and the group has grown quickly in status and size. Its membership has doubled to 12 in just a year.

The group uses ethnic instruments like bongos and djembes to complement more common percussion instruments, creating a “delightful bland of the tribal and theatrical,” says Kyle J. Berkman ’06. But they are perhaps best known for their creative use if everyday items, influenced by shows like Stomp and “Blue Man Group.”

“Anything we can find that makes a good sound, we try to work that into a piece somehow,” says music director Jason D. Armstrong ’03. “That is one of the most fun parts of being in the ensemble, playing pieces that have been written for unconventional instruments.”

Improvisational jamming is another popular aspect of THUD’s shows. The group decides on a general shape, groove, or structure and then arrives at an appropriate improvisation within that groove, Armstrong says.

About half of the music that THUD performs is self-composed.

At their next concert, audiences can expect “a real mix,” predicts Julian O.S. Carlos ’04, next year’s music director. The concert will include “original pieces, bringing back some old favorites of ours, some great solos and a diverse sampling of drumming types from around the world,” he says.

As for the future, the group is looking to expand and continue working on challenging pieces.

“We are open to experimenting with new things as well,” Carlos says.

A focus will also be on writing music, in an effort to “keep the creative side of it going,” Armstrong says. However, writing their own music is difficult and uses up precious rehearsal time, Armstrong says.

Almost 150 people attended THUD’s November show, an astonishing number considering the group’s small size. A goal of the program is to increase community involvement next year, says Armstrong. THUD will also participate in Arts First weekend in May.

According to Armstrong, musicians come to THUD with different backgrounds, but all have had some percussion experience. Most have played in high school bands, processional ensembles, or private bands. Most members have no relation to the Harvard Band, but some play percussion in other groups on campus.

Brian Boyle ’03, who took over musical direction of the ensemble in 2000-2001, “gave [THUD] a more serious approach,” according Music Director Jason D. Armstrong ’03. “It really expanded with this greater commitment, and a greater number of students.”

In his second year as music director, Armstrong is responsible for choosing, arranging and composing music.

“What’s great is the opportunity to do percussion-focused music,” he says. “It has been great getting to compose music and then to have enthusiastic individuals contribute to it and want to work on it.”

And even new members pick up this mantra quickly.

As Berkman says, “We believe that percussion is the highest form of expression.”

THUD performs on Friday, April 18th at 7 p.m., in Lowell Lecture Hall.

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