Assem3ly is an unexpected chamber music trio.
The group — which just released its first CD, “Taking Charge” — is comprised of flutist Lindsey Goodman, pianist Anna Waltner and percussionist Scott Christian.
Goodman and Christian are members of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Waltner was a music professor at West Virginia State University.
Christian said the music the trio plays is classical, though not to everybody.
“It’s hard to call it classical music,” he said. “There’s a problem with the terminology.”
There is a tendency to lump classical music together based on its age. Christian said they love the old masters, but they’re also fans of modern classical composers, like Joseph Schwantner.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer is part of the reason Assem3ly exists.
Five years ago, Christian met Joseph Schwantner through the WVSO, which was playing his “Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra.”
Christian said, “He was a composer I’d heard in high school. I was always struck by his music. I thought it really had a unique voice to it.”
At the time, Christian was only an acting member of the orchestra, a fill-in, but the two struck up a conversation and Schwantner told him about a percussion piece he’d written for a trio.
The work, commissioned by Northwestern University, was going to premiere at the school.
“I thought it was very interesting,” Christian said.
Then Goodman told him, “Oh yeah, we’re doing it at the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, too.”
And the ensemble’s percussionist had also just resigned.
Goodman put in a word for Christian, who got the gig, which was also part job application to replace the percussionist.
Christian was excited for the chance to play new music, which presents very different challenges for a symphony performer.
“With famous pieces, you can access all kinds of recordings,” he said.
The music of Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart has been performed and recorded countless times. There is a vast body of work to use to study and compare.
“This was brand, spanking new.”
The funny thing with music and percussion, Christian explained, is that while the notes on the page can look the same as any other instrument, they aren’t the same when it comes to how they’ll actually be played.
A percussionist is just one person, but he or she might be required to play eight different instruments in the same piece of music, which requires some serious planning.
Christian said the first thing a percussionist has to do when he looks at music is decide, “How do I arrange all these instruments so I can go from this instrument to that instrument?”
He spent weeks working out the logistics.
Meanwhile, Northwestern was having trouble with Schwantner’s trio.
“They looked at it and said, ‘This is impossible.’ So, they played it as a quartet — with two percussionists,” Christian said.
He didn’t know that at the time and continued to work on his set up, which basically put him in the center of a huge ring of equipment.
“And I was doing this while preparing for two other really big pieces in the performance,” he said.
And while he prepared to audition for a permanent position with the WVSO.
“So, I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep,” Christian laughed.
In Pittsburgh, the ensemble went through Schwantner’s piece, but the percussion seemed too loud to the conductor, despite the composer’s notes.
Schwantner wasn’t sure about it either. He’d come to hear his music performed and doubted the percussionist’s setup, but they talked about it and went forward.
The ensemble performed the trio, but Christian didn’t get the job.
“Part of the reason was they said I didn’t play the piece very well,” he said.
Christian did land the job with the WVSO, however. He and Goodman continued to perform together, eventually finding Ann Waltner to join them on piano as a trio.
They did the Schwantner piece again, as well as some others, for the Kanawha Forum.
“We had such a great time performing together, we just wanted to keep going,” Christian said.
The problem was finding chamber music for their unusual configuration. Over time, the three reached out to composer-friends as well as composers they admired to build up their repertoire, which became the basis for “Taking Charge.”
Assem3ly hopes to get in some performances later in the year, but Christian said they needed to wait while things settle down with Waltner. The pianist and her husband moved to South Dakota where they’re dealing with their own unexpected trio.
Waltner gave birth to triplets.
“So, their entire lives are being absorbed by that,” he said. “But we’ll get together soon, hopefully.”
Until then, “Taking Charge” is available on Amazon.com and iTunes.
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.