ARTS: TRICKS OF THE TRADE

18: HOW TO PLAY THE TRIANGLE IN AN ORCHESTRA; SIMON CARRINGTON Percussionist, London Symphony Orchestra. He is performing in 'Reinventing America' at the Barbican from today
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The Independent Culture
PERCUSSIONISTS are always accused of doing very little, and there's no smoke without fire. There's a symphony by Bruckner which has a cymbal- crash and a roll on the triangle at the zenith - and that's all, in a symphony of 70 minutes. And you can't walk out in the middle of a concert hall. It doesn't look good. But there are other repertoires in which we're actually playing more than anyone else. There's a Shostakovich cycle we'll soon be performing which needs 11 percussionists. One movement is just percussion from beginning to end.

Percussionists play all sorts of instruments. In John Adams's Nixon in China tonight at the Barbican, I'm playing on my own in a multi-percussion set-up. I've got about 20 different instruments, so it is a bit of a juggling act. Getting the instruments organised around me so I can get to them quickly is quite difficult. I have a basic drum-kit, and other bits and pieces like wooden blocks, suspended cymbals and sandpaper blocks - which sound a bit like a choo-choo train.

I also have a triangle, the butt of many a joke. I often kid people that I am a specialist triangle player, and that I'm in demand throughout the whole world just for my triangle talents. According to the repertoire I can have different sizes of triangle that will make different sounds and pitches - it sounds stupid, but the triangle is much harder than it seems. The kind of sound you want to make is not always the one you produce.

I was playing in orchestras from the word go - I started playing the violin when I was six - and for some reason had a fascination with what was going on in the percussion section. It largely depends on the repertoire as to how much I contribute. It might depend on the composer, the genre in which the composer is writing or the period - in general, the percussion section is much busier in 20th-century music than it was, say, in that of Beethoven, Haydn or Mozart.

The whole orchestra does three three- hour rehearsals for each concert: eventually we're going to know where we need to come in, but we can't ever presume that it is the right place. We'll get cues from other instruments in the orchestra written into our part and then, of course, the conductor is a great help as well.

There's a nominal hierarchy within an orchestra, in that all the different sections have principal players who play the solos. But there's a general awareness between players of the complexities of each others jobs. I hope this includes a healthy respect for the percussion section.

! John Adams's 'Nixon in China': Barbican, EC2 (0171 638 5403), tonight.

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