In 2010, as students enrolled in the University of Toronto’s masters’ program in percussion performance, Jonny Smith and Greg Harrison were paired up at the behest of their professor. More than six years later, their percussive, marimba-based duo Taktus continues to thrive and delight audiences.
The duo is bringing their world-influenced sound to the Salle Neil Michaud, located on the Université de Moncton campus, this Friday evening. The performance is one of eight shows they will be performing in the Maritime region, a tour that will serve as a homecoming of sorts for both Smith and Harrison, who are natives of Cole Harbour, N.S. and Fredericton, respectively.
“We performed a one-off show in Fredericton last summer and had such a wonderful time, we knew that setting up a more extensive run of performances was necessary,” Smith says.
Looking back on the earliest days of the group, Smith jokingly notes that while it was their professor, Beverley Johnston, that served as the catalyst that helped initially pair them up, he and Harrison also happened to be the only two master percussion students enrolled in the music program at the time.
“Greg had been working on a marimba-based arrangement of [composer] Ann Southam’s ‘Glass Houses,’ which Beverley had asked him to perform at the year-end percussion ensemble concert. The arrangements he was working on were actually suited to two people, and so Greg and I were partnered up to bring the arrangements to life.”
“Glass Houses” was a defining piece of musical artistry for the late Southam. Born in Winnipeg in 1937, Southam lived most of her life in Toronto, studying at the University of Toronto and at the Royal Conservatory of Music. A teacher and music creator, Southam composed music for some of Canada’s major modern dance companies, and was also an instructor in electronic music.
Smith says the rhythmic backbone which drives “Glass Houses” allowed the song to be adapted for marimba with utmost ease.
“’Glass Houses’ is rhythmic in nature, a very melodic and tuneful piece of work that ultimately translates well onto the marimba. Both Greg and I feel the instrument helps enhance the qualities heard throughout the song.”
Following Taktus’ well-received performance at the aforementioned year-end program concert in 2010, the duo was called upon to play their arrangement of “Glass Houses” at an April 2011 concert that was organized to pay tribute to Southam’s work.
Although the duo did not perform on stage, they had the opportunity to play in the lobby as concert-goers were entering the venue. Smith says it was there that he and Harrison realized they could be onto something good.
“Suddenly, we had people from outside of our university class telling us what we were doing was good. It was then that Greg and I realized there could be something more to this than just coming together for a couple of one-off performances.”
In April 2015, Taktus finally made their way into the recording studio, cutting six different parts of the “Glass Houses” opus as duets for the marimba. Released in July 2015, the resulting album, Glass Houses For Marimba, earned the praise of critics from coast-to-coast, and went on to earn a Top 10 placement in CBC’s Top 10 Classical Albums of 2015.
While Taktus is not the sole musical project for the pair – both members perform with a myriad of other acts, ranging from indie rock bands to orchestral work – Smith says they hope to return to the recording studio sooner rather than later.
“We are looking to embrace a wide array of artists, including [electronic artist] Aphex Twin and [composer] Philip Glass, within what we do. We each feel that expanding our horizons is one of the best ways to remain vital moving forward.”
When: Friday Sept. 23, 7 p.m.
Where: Salle Neil Michaud located in the Arts faculty, Université de Moncton
Admission is free and open to all ages