The Little Drummer

Yes I know we are weeks past Christmastide and the constant loops of that irritating song about the even more irritating manger musician are fading as a bad memory. This is only a bit of silly word play on the name of one of my favourite performers in the Baroque music world who just happens to be a drummer: Marie-Ange Petit (little/small).

To say she is a drummer is, of course, an understatement, she is a percussionist par excellence and is recognized as the leading Baroque specialist in the music world. There is an interesting video (alert in French only) produced by Les Arts Florissants where she explains the percussive instruments of the period, their differences from today’s instruments and the techniques involved in playing them.

I first heard her on an early recording of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum made by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants and to be honest my reaction was sexist: how can such a little woman make such a big noise.


Obviously Mme Petit has faced that question before. In the video she says that it isn’t a matter of strength but of technique: flexibility, relaxation, and stance.

Most of the instruments in a Baroque orchestra have morphed over time as materials and techniques advanced. It is obvious from the videos that the trumpets used for Charpentier and Rameau are not the trumpets we see in today’s orchestra. The same applies to percussion instruments: modern drum heads are no longer made of goat or calf skins and even the mallets are different. These old instruments demand once thought lost techniques both for playing and tuning. Mme Ange has done major research on these instruments and methods.

One of the first modern uses of the Xylophone was in Camille Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre in 1874. Here Marie-Ange Petit plays it on an Harmonia de bois et de paille – an antique xylophone made of wooden tubes and woven straw.

Mme Petit is passing on her knowledge to young percussionists through teaching. And she is continuing her research of ancient iconography, regional practices from multiple cultures, personal practices and new annotation techniques on percussion instruments and how they are played.

The word for January 21st is:
Drum /drəm/: [1. noun 2. verb]
1.1 A percussion instrument sounded by being struck with sticks or the hands, typically cylindrical, barrel-shaped, or bowl-shaped, with a taut membrane over one or both ends.
1.2 A cylindrical container or receptacle.
2.1 To play a drum or drums
2.2 To make a continuous rhythmic noise.
Middle English: from Middle Dutch or Low German tromme, of imitative origin.

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

3 thoughts on “The Little Drummer”

  1. She’s wonderful! I especially enjoyed the Rameau video — so rare to see the percussionist so front and centre, wandering around! And everyone on stage looked like they were enjoying themselves tremendously! Just marvelous.

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