In writing The Rule of Three, composer Clif Walker thought big – very big. This epic work is scored for three percussion sextets and a small rhythm section of bass and piano. Each sextet’s instrumentation is centered on a certain instrument family; from left to right (audience perspective), these families consist of drums, woods, and metals.
The piece is intensely rhythmic, with surging 16th note figures by the full ensemble serving as a recurring motif. In between these moments are phrases highlighting the different instrument types, often moving from sextet to sextet in an imitative fashion. The sonic development of the piece is built around the interplay of textures between these main sections of the ensemble. Later in the piece, players pick up accessories that mimic the sounds of opposing sextets – vibraphone players pick up woodblocks, for instance.
Enriched by a colorful, often jazzy harmonic language, this work is a sonic experience that’s hard to come by in percussion music. The interplay between the sextets is reminiscent of the shifting power dynamics of a game like rock, paper, scissors. (In fact, this game is where the concept of the piece originates!) For percussion programs with the personnel and inventory to play it, this work is a true gem of our art form, and would make a breathtaking concert opener or closer!