He also seems to be a fairly controversial, Bobby Fischer-esque character in the drum corps community- brilliant, but personally difficult- perhaps even a little bit[?] of a crank. Maybe that's a totally unfair characterization; my drum corps world revolves around people associated with the Santa Clara Vanguard from the early 70's through the late 80's, and until this week he was unknown to me personally.
So this piece, Lazer Beam, was played by Mazur when he won the solo snare drum competition at DCI nationals in Philadelphia in 1976:
I'll give you a few moments to stare gape-jawed at that, then after the break I'll share whatever coherent thoughts I can muster about it.
So. A few observations:
- Mazur would've written it before he was 21, when he was a performing member of the Phantom Regiment drum and bugle corps.
- Don't panic, it is quite unreadable. Really I think it was written for the author's own use, probably with an eye on dazzling competition judges (who I believe would have been given a copy). It's hard for me to imagine anyone else negotiating this into a performance, though I believe the notation is explained in Mazur's book.
- Features frequent meter changes, includes brief passages of unmetered "free verse", frequent tempo changes, frequent accelerandos (including an accelerando during a rest) and ritards. Meter changes are unrelated, making it impossible to use a regular metric modulation. In the first eight measures the piece goes from quarter note = 220 to 300, to 140, to 180, to 50, then accelerates back to 180.
- The multi-line and two-part passages deal with visuals or special techniques.
- No recurring musical theme, and no repetition whatsoever that I can detect.
- Tempo and meter are utterly dismembered from their normal musical functions. Tempos change frequently, and before they can become established, which causes them to act as purely rhythmic governors rather than as orienting pulse, their normal function. Variations in rhythm are actually largely achieved via the tempo changes. I think this is my biggest problem with this piece: musicians tend to be very skilled at accurately playing a wide variety of rhythms against a steady pulse. They do not tend to be able to nail unrelated changes in tempo with anything like the same level of precision. It would be more possible to make an accurate performance if the piece was notated with more complex rhythms and fewer tempo changes.
- Unfortunately there is no recording available on line, but here you can view a brief video clip of Mazur playing the beginning of the piece.
- Notation is extremely dense on the page, forming a nightmarish web. That and the over-sized deco font used for the time signatures begin to give the page the illusion of depth, like a cubist painting, or a work by Mark Tobey. In fact, the piece is most interesting to me as visual art.
- I can't escape the suspicion that if I mentioned Mazur and the piece to my late instructor Ghost, he would have something to say about the variety and quality of weed/LSD circulating among the corps at the time.
What is the purpose of a snare drum solo? I come with a strong bias that it should be a piece of music or a study for developing musical skills, and I think that's what is giving me problems with this, which is actually purely a vector for competition, made with an eye on advancing the history and/or craft of rudimental snare drum, and possibly for "working the refs" with an intimidating, unreadable chart.
View and download the complete piece (and lots of other great stuff) at rudimentaldrumming.com.