wcfsymphony Principal Timpani Alan Lawrence

Alan Lawrence

Alan Lawrence sure can bang those drums. Our principal timpanist is not only one of the finest mallet men in the region but is also a noted educator and ensemble leader in Cedar Rapids (where he also plays with Orchestra Iowa and the Cedar Rapids Municipal Band). Alan shared his thoughts about being musician with us for the website:

“I had no meaningful contact with music until my older brother began to play the cornet in the 6th grade. The next year, a friend of mine started on viola. At first I wanted to take up the trombone, but after seeing and hearing a drummer play up close, I decided on percussion. My first teacher was excellent; Halfway through that first year we had one session on timpani, and I had found the instrument that I really wanted to play. Three years later, my younger brother started on the baritone horn, so we had the good makings of a family band.

“When my older brother got into high school, his enterprising band director led them through a transcription of Respighi’s Feste Romane, and I was just astounded. My father brought home an LP recording of the piece from the public library, and this began a deluge of study: recordings from the library, classical radio and any readings on the subject that I could consume. I was definitely hooked.

“My wife Anita Tucker and I are both employed by two orchestras (wcfsymphony and Orchestra Iowa), so commuting is time that we get to spend together. In addition to evening rehearsals for both groups (a typical month has about two weeks on, two weeks off), I teach percussion at Coe College and at Cornell College. On Tuesday mornings I direct rehearsals of the New Horizons Band of Cedar Rapids.

“Anita and I agree that Jason’s programming is a good reason for us to make the trip to Cedar Falls. I served on the Artistic Committee of the orchestra in Cedar Rapids under two music directors, and can appreciate the challenge of finding the right combination of pieces to produce a good program, and the right balance of programs to make for a worthwhile session from both the audience’s and the musician’s perspective. Jason has a real knack for steering us into the interesting byways of the orchestral repertoire, without neglecting the established masterpieces.

“I don’t get to practice on the instruments that I will perform on until the first rehearsal; for this reason, I try to get there early. However, to maintain good physical condition, I keep a practice pad and a pair of sticks handy at home; this gets a good daily thrashing.

“One of my most memorable performance experiences was on tour with my college orchestra. In addition to playing timpani and percussion on this tour, I was also driving and loading the equipment truck. On the first half of the program was a modern piece with a lot of percussion, followed on the second half by a cello concerto (with no timpani or percussion) and finally the last movement of Dvořák’s Symphony #8 in G Major. At intermission I was in charge of tearing down and loading all of the percussion into the truck; someone let me know when the cello concerto started the second half. This time however, the conductor didn’t tell me he was making a big cut in the concerto, shortening it by about 10 minutes. So I was still loading the truck when someone yelled, “They’ve started the Dvořák!” This movement starts with a trumpet fanfare that lasts maybe 30 seconds, followed by a very soft but soloistic passage for timpani. Fortunately, I had tuned the timpani ahead of time, and a member of the percussion section handed me my sticks as I ran by him, like the baton in a relay race. I got to the timpani (fortunately at the rear corner of the stage) just as the conductor looked my way and cued my solo. He never knew that I wasn’t present at the very start, but all of the orchestra around me saw what happened and had a good laugh. Eventually I caught my breath…”

One thing we know for certain about Alan – we’ll always make sure we know where he is before we start Dvořák 8!