Álvaro Rodas

AlvaroRodasÁlvaro plays percussion, and joined us in October 2010

How did you come to join QUO?
A friend mentioned it to me, and I looked it up online. My first rehearsal was at the GMHC on 24th Street. I remember that time we had actual timpani for rehearsal!

What is your favorite place to take friends visiting NYC?
I like the High Line because it’s right there, and it’s hip. I love the new architecture around it, the views of the river and its landscape design. But I also like to take friends to the lesser known places in the City. Through my nonprofit, the Corona Youth Music Project, I got very familiar with Corona, Queens, so I love bringing people there. I like showing how wonderfully different Corona is from Times Square. Also, the new expansion of the Queens Museum, its Panorama, and the view of the Unisphere are very unique. Not many tourists know about it, so my visitors always feel super special.

What musical symbol best defines you and why?
Do I have to pick one? As a percussionist, I like when I read a new piece for solo percussion or ensemble and find new symbols, or traditional symbols used in an unusual way. I like the challenge of having to learn new symbols, and/or create my own meaning for new and old symbols (not to mention creating interesting sounds and music out of them, and to have people wondering “Was what you just played actually written on paper?”).

From Steven: What is the most challenging percussion instrument to play in an orchestra and why? And what is the most joyful to play?
The obvious answer from a percussionist is “ALL percussion instruments are challenging”. So, there. I once read a funny article about a poor guy who had to deal with a demanding conductor, who nagged him for not producing exactly the same sound in four consecutive triangle notes. It’s not easy, actually. But at the same time, that makes it fun. Of course there’s the demanding xylophone excerpts, and the demanding snare excerpts, and the demanding cymbal excerpts. I guess it all comes down to how demanding you, or the director is about your playing. Anyone can bang the (beep) out of a drum, but it becomes a real challenge when you try to get the right tone that matches the character, style and historical context of the piece you are playing.

The most joyful percussion to play is the stuff that you have to figure out the most: What instrument (or device) is this? What is it supposed to sound like? When it’s not a conventional instrument, where do you get one? How do you set it up so you get the best sound?, and then, how do you make it as musically and aesthetically meaningful as possible? When I played one of John Cage’s Constructions in Guatemala we had to find 16 tin cans, 4 sets of 4 cans for each percussionist (along with another about 12 drums, rattles, shakers, claves, a log drum, etc.). Fortunately, a friend owned a tin can factory there, and we got 16 different cans, from 2″ to about 16″ in diameter. The father of one of my percussionist colleagues (last name Corleto) built beautiful sets of cans using long rods. We called them “Corlatones” (a contraction of his last name and the Spanish word for tin: latón). The whole process of figuring it all out was very exciting. We had so much fun playing on those cans! (And after two performances they were completely useless!)