Ethos Percussion Group is that odd entity that turns on its own name. The ensemble cultivates an alternative ethos, through the character and culture of music and percussion.
The Sun Valley Center for the Arts presents Ethos in a weeklong residency, with two opportunities to hear their work live. The timing of this first in the Winter Music Series coincides perfectly with the Jan. 26 opening of the new exhibition, "Confluence," which explores the merging of Middle Eastern cultural traditions with contemporary Western art.
On Saturday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood, Ethos performs for the first time this year playing a brand new program consisting largely of new pieces written for the ensemble.
"We've been very fortunate over the past six or seven years to have been able to commission pieces funded by the Jerome Foundation grant," said member Trey Files.
"We're very interested in traditional music. There's not a lot of literature, but we wanted to play music that reflected our interests," Files said. "We all started out with a classical background."
Indeed, the ensemble's credits are legendary both as soloists and together. They have had major performances at the Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall, Philadelphia Museum of Art, U.S. Military Academy, American Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Hall. They tour a total of three months, spread out over a year, and participate in a number of residency programs at schools during the tour. Last year, Ethos played in Sun Valley and delighted audiences with their spirited playing, hip attitudes and virtuoso musicianship.
Michael Sgouros founded Ethos Percussion Group in 1990, after graduating from The Juilliard School in New York City. He has also performed with the American Symphony, Philharmonia Virtuosi, Long Island Masterworks Chorus Orchestra, and the Broadway productions of "The Secret Garden," "Falsettos," "The Goodbye Girl," "Sunset Boulevard," "Miss Saigon" and "The Phantom of the Opera." He also was in the national tour of "A Chorus Line" and a Singapore tour of "Anything Goes." He has played professionally with an assortment of renowned singers and performers.
Yousiff Sheronick brings his interest in the music and culture of the Middle East into play. He's played with such musicians as Yo-Yo Ma, Pandit Samir Chatterjee, Sonny Fortune, the Pacifica String Quartet, David Krakauer, Steve Gorn and Alessandra Belloni, and has made numerous festival appearances around the world.
A student of the North Indian tabla drum, Eric Phinney studies with Indian tabla master Pandit Sharda Sahai of Beneras and Pandit Samir Chatterjee of Calcutta. He is also a member of Chandayan, an Indian musical organization based in Calcutta. In addition to Hindustani studies, he is a student of West African drumming and is studying the West Africa xylophone precursor, the Gyil.
Files is a rock drummer at heart and has toured the world with various bands, as well as productions of the Who's "Tommy," the national tour of Stephen Sondheim's "Company" and "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway. Currently he is working with Guinea drums such as the Djembe.
"It's nice," he said about Ethos. "The group is about half of what each of us does separately. We pursue interests and bring that back into the ensemble."
Beginning on Monday, Jan. 24, the residency program will encompass work at each of the county's schools.
"We're so excited to come back there. Katherine Maguet (Performing Arts Director Sun Valley Center for the Arts) is making very efficient use of our time," Files laughed.
Each day the group is in the area they are booked either together or separately giving workshops and demonstrations in the schools. Files will work with four percussionists from the Wood River High School on a piece he composed, called "Sea Chance." Phinney is working with Silver Creek Alternative School on African drumming, Sheronick is doing Middle Eastern Project at the drum circle and at Hemingway, Sgouros is working with Sun Valley Summer Symphony Music Conservatory students.
"They are so good with the students," Maguet said. "It'll be really fun for these school kids. We try to match up the right groups with the right project."
The two-visit residency is an unusual sort of treat for Ethos. "It's great to make an impact but better to have follow up. Outside of New York we haven't been able to follow up and dig a lot deeper than we normally would be able to."
On Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m. at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Sheronick, who is Lebanese, will lead a brief lecture with Jennifer Ladkani Fryns regarding Middle Eastern music and how the drums are used in the culture. Then Ethos will lead a Planetary Percussion Drum Circle.
According to Files they'll be sampling "some really sophisticated instruments like the riq, the doumbek which is the belly dancing drum, and a beendir, which is a frame drum with a string across that makes music.
"We're really excited to work with Jennifer during the opening of 'Confluence.'"
Maguet wanted to "incorporate something with Youssif, who is one of the leading global music specialist in the world. I was talking to Jennifer, (who works with Ethos' managers) about 'Confluence,' when she said, 'That's what my graduate degree is in: Ethnomusicology.' She spent year in Jordan as a Fulbright Scholar. It seemed like a happy coincidence or great karma that the elements for the whole project jelled like that.
Files said there will be 15 drums of varying origin for people to play, but people should feel welcome to bring their own. "We're going to try and get 100 percent participation. The drum circle is anything goes. It's not about virtuosity, or who has the fastest chops. It's about a community of people playing music together. Everyone with any experience is welcome."
The opening night party of "Confluence" follows the drum circle.
Ethos Percussion Group will be in residence Sunday, Jan. 23 through 29. This residency is co-sponsored with Sun Valley Summer Symphony and Music Conservatory and is made possible through the support of Western States Arts Federation and Atkinsons' Markets.
The Planetary Percussion, a participatory drum circle with Ethos Percussion Group, is Wednesday, Jan. 26, 7 p.m. at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, free of charge. Ethos Percussion Group is in concert, Saturday, Jan. 29, 7:30 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood. Tickets are available at the Center: $25 non-members, $22 members, $15 balcony. Call 726-9491.
Ethos returns for a second week in April.