NEXUS: Confessions of Percussionists
Thursday, September 19th At 7:30pm
Saint John’s Episcopal Church
40 Market Street, Ellenville, NY 12428


NEXUS has been called “the High Priests of the Percussion World” by the New York Times. Celebrating its 49th anniversary this concert season, NEXUS will perform some of its greatest hits including Steve Reich’s seminal composition Drumming – Part One, a NEXUS arrangement of traditional Zimbabwe music and Novelty Ragtime Music which NEXUS rediscovered in the 1970s.

Each member of Nexus - Bob Becker, Bill Cahn, Russell Hartenberger and Garry Kvistad - are virtuosos alone and bring their knowledge and character to a distinct and powerful whole. NEXUS stands out in the contemporary music scene for innovation, program diversity, an impressive history of collaborations and commissions, their revival of 1920s novelty ragtime xylophone music, and influential improvisatory ideas.

Listen to Garry Kvistad interview with Alan Buckler, WELV 107.9.
Listen to music samples – NEXUS Percussion.


NEXUS Program for Music on Market

Traditional Zimbabwe (arr. NEXUS) Tongues (late 1970s)
Steve Reich (b. 1936) Drumming Part I (1970-1971)
Ragtime Xylophone Music Selections  
George Hamilton Green (1893 – 1970)
(arr. Bob Becker)
Caprice Valsant (1927)
Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
(arr.Ford T. Dabney and Yurika Kimura)
Castle Valse Classique
(originally titled Humoresque)(1894)
George Hamilton Green (arr. Bob Becker) Just A Kiss From You (1921)
George Hamilton Green and Victor Arden
(arr. Bill Cahn)
Dotty Dimples (1921)


Program Notes


The featured voice in this music is the African mbira, an instrument whose name literally translates as "tongues", albeit tongues of metal rather than flesh. It is a type of plucked idiophone found throughout Africa and sometimes called a "thumb piano" in the west. The mbira performing the leading part is a 22-keyed Shona mbira, known as "mbira dza Vadzimu" (mbira of the ancestral spirits). Accompanying instruments include a marimbula (bass mbira from the Caribbean Islands), gankogui (iron bell), Axatse (gourd rattle) and a drum. The music is NEXUS’ own interpretation of a traditional Zimbabwean melody. In the Shona culture of Zimbabwe, the mbira is strongly associated with memories of departed ancestors and with the experience of remembering in general.

Drumming Part I

Steve Reich composed Drumming under the influence of music he heard and studied during a trip to Ghana. The piece, which eventually comprised four discrete parts, marked a new phase in Reich’s work, as he began to incorporate different kinds of percussion instruments into the same piece. He also added sounds of the human voice to the ensemble. Because of certain choices left up to the performers, the duration of a performance of Drumming varies. Like Mallet Phase, phasing is used to create canons, this time from patterns played on tuned bongos. In this work however, the 12-beat pattern is first “built” by two players adding one note at a time until the entire pattern emerges.  At that point, one player begins to very slowly speed up until the two are in canon.  This happens a number of times during the work, often followed by a third player doubling certain notes of the combination of the resulting canonic patterns of the other two players.  In the middle of the work, the original pattern that was built up in the beginning is broken down to just three notes.  The players then change to soft mallets and build a new pattern.  Steve’s study and practice of African music is unmistakable in Drumming in many ways including the “confusion” factor as to where the “downbeat” is at any given time.  IE, each listener will have a unique experience. 

Ragtime Xylophone Music Selections

From the turn of the century through the Roaring Twenties, there was a tremendous dance craze all over North America.  One instrument in particular - the xylophone - found its way into the dance orchestras, probably because of its ability to clearly accentuate the syncopated rhythms of the newer dance music.  One of the most popular of the dance bands was the Green Brothers' Novelty Xylophone Band. This group consisted of string and wind instruments, as well as two or three xylophones played by Joseph and George Green, who were both virtuosos on the instrument.  George Hamilton Green was hailed as the world's greatest xylophonist, and he greatly expanded the instrument's expressive potential through his many compositions and transcriptions.  The Green Brothers were very active in the budding record industry, and they recorded hundreds of dance tunes - including Dotty Dimples and Fluffy Ruffles - One Step, both composed by George Hamilton Green - for virtually every major record label in existence before 1930. Their popularity was worldwide.  In the first decades of the 20th Century George Hamilton Green was enormously influential in creating a repertoire of concert pieces for solo xylophone. Caprice Valsant is among Green’s celebrated works in this genre. The music, though relatively light in character, is nevertheless demonstrative of the energy, joy, and direct sentiment of its time.  Instrumental solos such as these were regularly featured in the theater programs of the early 1900s because they were an ideal vehicle for allowing the theater orchestra musicians of the era to “show their stuff” and because they were also very popular with audiences. (note by Bob Becker)

Extracted from Wikipedia:

“George Hamilton Green, Jr. (May 23, 1893-1970) was a xylophonist, composer, and cartoonist born in Omaha, Nebraska. From age four G.H. Green showed a prodigious talent as a pianist; he then took up the xylophone and by the age of eleven was being promoted as the “world’s greatest xylophonist” and was playing for crowds of 7,000-10,000.  In 1915, when Green was 22 years old, a review in the United States Musician stated: He was a popular recording artist starting in 1917 with the Edison Company and was employed, along with his two brothers, Joe and Lew Green, as the original sound music crew for Walt Disney’s first three cartoons.


Green was an important ragtime composer and authored many pieces that remain standards for the instrument even today.  He retired from performing in the late '40's to pursue a successful career in cartooning.  Green would die in 1970, just a few years before a revival in the popularity of his ragtime xylophone music, and before his induction into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1983.  The rebirth of his music was led by members of the NEXUS Percussion Ensemble in the late 1970’s.  Through their efforts, G.H. Green’s xylophone music has been preserved and remains a relevant part of contemporary percussion pedagogy and performance.”

Green moved to Woodstock, NY in the late ‘40’s and is buried in The Woodstock Artists Cemetery.



“NEXUS is widely recognized as one of the most influential percussion ensembles to have emerged in the post-war period” (2006 doctoral dissertation U of Hong Kong).  New York Times has called NEXUS “the high priests of the percussion world” and Steve Reich says, “probably the most acclaimed percussion group on earth.” NEXUS is in the Percussion Hall of Fame (along with Ringo Starr) and tours extensively. The group has participated in 60 international festivals, 4 times at the Kennedy Center, twice at the BBC Proms (Royal Albert Hall), 5 times in Carnegie Hall. The group is made up of four master percussionists internationally revered for virtuosity, innovation and extraordinary music out of the broadest array of percussion instruments imaginable. Their original compositions and arrangements, high-end commissions from Pulitzer prize-winners Steve Reich and Ellen Taafe Zwillich, Grammy-winner Libby Larsen, and Japanese master Toru Takemitsu, and famed collaborations with the likes of Canadian Brass, Kronos Quartet, and Richard Stoltzman, have created repertoire ranging from novelty ragtime and haunting African rhythms through award-winning improvised film music and ground-breaking compositions. NEXUS delivers a stunningly virtuosic spectacle of sound and rhythm.

Each member of NEXUS is a Grammy® Award winner. NEXUS wishes to acknowledge the generous support of Pearl/Adams and the Canada Council for the Arts.