Experimental percussion ensemble faces termination

Scattered around the room of SF State’s percussion ensemble class, everyday objects are tapped and beaten to create musical cadence.

While traditional instruments, ranging from acoustic guitars to drums are used, unusual tools are scavenged by members of the class and repurposed.

One student slaps the palm of his hand with a black wooden panel in time with the beat. Later, he bangs a bright orange safety cone against a table, creating an ominous thud. Three broken hubcaps double as marimbas.

Zayn Mufti, a mechanical engineering major, plays on old drum brakes from a car during the percussion ensemble class on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015 in the creative arts building at SF State. The class often uses recycled items to create different sounds. (Ryan McNulty / Xpress)

Zayn Mufti, a mechanical engineering major, plays on old drum brakes from a car during the percussion ensemble class on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015 in the creative arts building at SF State. The class often uses recycled items to create different sounds. (Ryan McNulty / Xpress)

The class, which is taught by Allen Biggs, is in danger of being cut due to the SF State’s minimum class size requirements.

Students were supposed to start class Aug. 25, but the course disappeared from the SF State Class schedule site, according to Biggs. The administrators added another section of the course, but the roster had zero people enrolled because the students had not been transferred over from the originally cancelled Music 377 course.

There has also been some confusion about the class being cut, according to Biggs, who said that Daniel Bernardi, interim dean of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, told him to refer to Dee Spencer, the chair of music and dance. Biggs said that when he asked Spencer, she told him to refer back to Bernardi and that the class was still on the course schedule.

Biggs said the ensemble performs at various venues in the Bay Area, such as the Berkeley Community Theatre and Presidio Theatre.

“I wanted to bring the percussion ensemble class back, like how it was when I was in school here,” Biggs said. ”At the time, there would sometimes be three students, but we would still hold performances for the community in places like churches and performance halls. I have been doing this since I went here to SF State, so it would be a shame if it got cut.”

His students follow a tradition of dumpster diving in Chinatown for new and interesting pieces that could be used for instruments, Biggs said. Percussion ensemble enables students to create their own music and perform without the usual pressure of professors telling them what to play according to Biggs.

As a senior earning her degree in math, SF State student Gen Katoa said percussion ensemble helps her relax and get in tune with her creative side. It is also one of the only classes that she still needs in order to graduate for her last semester, she said.

“If the class gets cut I will have to look for another course and reapply for another semester,” Katoa said. “It’s frustrating because the administrators keep going back and forth, saying the class is safe and then it will be cut.”

Donald Biggs talks with his percussion ensemble students at the beginning of class about the possibility of their class being cut on Thursday Sept. 3, 2015 in the creative arts building at SF State. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

Donald Biggs talks with his percussion ensemble students at the beginning of class about the possibility of their class being cut on Thursday Sept. 3, 2015 in the creative arts building at SF State. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

The minimum class size is 12 students for upper division classes and 17 students for lower division, according to a policy memo from the SF State College of Liberal & Creative Arts provided by Spencer. Biggs and Spencer have spoken numerous times about the current standing of the issue and Spencer told the class Aug. 25 that as long as the course had “double-digits” of students, the class would not be cancelled.

SF State music major Sean Thompson is one of the many students who oppose cutting the class.

“We have a lot of students with varying educational backgrounds to music, but there’s a lot of cool things we do here,” Thompson said. “We write music to perform at concerts, and this class is used to express that.”

Biggs said he exhumed this class in the hopes of instilling the same musical experience he had while attending.

“It was such a great experience for me and I want to share this tradition with other students,” Biggs said. “We make great music and these students love performing and expressing themselves creatively. We are moving forward and we remain optimistic.”

Students said they hope to incorporate a chant describing their experience for their next performance, if the class continues to see another session.

“Please refer to your department chair, hiding in their office way up there. 17-double digits! Open the door, don’t ignore— give us what we’re paying for!”

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