Body percussion and vocals

Over the past few years, the profile and use of body percussion in the classroom has increased dramatically.  It had always been a much used tool but often as a warm up, that led onto other instruments and activities.  Through my body percussion tutorial ‘Body Beats’, released in March 2020, and our online content, Beat Goes On were happy to be able to support teachers during a uniquely challenging time.

Later that year, Catherine Barker from United Learning approached me about a collaboration with composer / choral specialist team Alexander L’Estrange and Joanna Forbes L’Estrange.  This project, ‘Green Love’, combined body percussion with voice to create an online performance.  In this case, the body percussion came first, with Alexander and Jo basing sections of the work on grooves that I’d composed.  One of these was an adaptation of a West African djembe pattern, with stomps, chests, clicks and claps representing bass, slap and open tones.  Others had a funk / hip-hop feel, mimicking the snare, kick drum and hi-hat of a drum kit.

More recently, I’ve been involved in a couple of key projects again combining voice and body percussion.  Ruth Coles, Junior Head of Music at Blackheath High School got in touch regarding a collaborative concert for the Girls Day School Trust (GDST), involving ‘Along Came Man’, a cantata by composer, conductor and educator Lin Marsh.

This time I was basing body percussion on previously written vocal material.  The phrase ‘Along Came Man’ lent itself to the 3/2 ‘clave’ rhythm, which I then adapted onto body percussion, with a visual, as well as musical focus.  This project also gave opportunity for pupils to compose their own variations on a theme and to improvise new variations during the performance.

In March 2023, Lucy Joy Morris got in touch, following a workshop I’d delivered for a ‘National Youth Choir Boys Choir’ virtual course.  They were interested in adding body percussion to ‘I am.  We are.’ by Oliver Tarney.  I would deliver the workshop on a Saturday afternoon, with the piece then being performed the following Tuesday evening at NYC’s 40th anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

I had a few things to consider:

  • to compose suitable, polyrhythmic body percussion parts for a nationally-recognised choir
  • to make those parts suitable to be learned and performed (happily and with confidence) three days later, on a world famous stage
  • to suitably combine the body percussion with the vocal parts

The parts were written partly to complement the rhythms of the vocal lines and partly to fit into rest bars.  During sectional and full choir rehearsals, Lucy Joy Morris and her colleagues provided useful suggestions and support, whilst allowing me space to workshop ideas.  These included the use of vocal entries to prompt body percussion phrases for each part.  This made remembering the vocals and body percussion easier, and also created space within the piece for all parts to be projected, musical and visually.

The final performance, with elements only learned three days earlier, was astonishing.  The choir truly rose to the occasion and there are plans for a video later in the year.

If you’d like to discuss projects, workshops or CPD / PD please email [email protected] or contact us here.