Grainger tells us that Arrival Platform Humlet conveys the sense of “Awaiting the arrival of belated train bringing one’s sweetheart from foreign parts; great fun! The sort of thing one hums to oneself as an accompaniment to one’s tramping feet as one happily, excitedly, paces up and down the arrival platform.”
Genre: Percussion Ensemble | # of Players: 14
Level: 5 | Duration: 3:00
Staff Bells (Handbells)
Battery (4 players)
Percy Grainger Suite: In a Nutshell, is a group of four pieces (Arrival Platform Humlet; Gay But Wistful; Pastorale; Gum-Suckers’ March) composed between 1908 and 1916 for several settings, including solo piano, 2 pianos 4 hands, and as a “Suite for orchestra, piano and Deagan percussion instruments.” Grainger tells us that Arrival Platform Humlet conveys the sense of “Awaiting the arrival of belated train bringing one’s sweetheart from foreign parts; great fun! The sort of thing one hums to oneself as an accompaniment to one’s tramping feet as one happily, excitedly, paces up and down the arrival platform.”
The piece contains “next to no chords…, it being conceived exclusively in ‘single line’ [unaccompanied unison or octaves, with only an occasional open fifth, ed.].
Grainger continues, “There are likewise no ‘themes’ (in the sense of often-repeated outstanding motives), as the movement from start to finish is just an unbroken stretch of constantly varied melody, with very few repetitions of any of its phrases.”
As the piece is essentially monophonic, Grainger also arranged it for solo instruments, including viola, violin and oboe. An early setting is also scored for resonaphone, a sort of bass glockenspiel, though Grainger also specifies that a marimba may be used in its stead.
Grainger had a close and admiring relationship with the J. C. Deagan family of Chicago, the world renown inventor and builder of a vast array of conventional and lovely tuned percussion instruments, which Grainger referred to as the “tuneful percussion.”
One of the unusual instruments used in “In a Nutshell” are the “staff bells”, designed by Grainger and executed by Deagan. It is a rack of up to 4 octaves of handbells removed from their handles, hung in a keyboard style configuration, and played with mallets. Deagan even attached small resonators like those used on a xylophone to amplify the sound of the instrument.
This edition of Arrival Platform Hamlet uses a large instrumentation, with 14 musicians, including a strong pianist, a skilled harpist, a celesta player, and a solution for the use of staff bells.
The harp and celesta parts could be played on a synthesizer. Grainger on several occasions expressed support for the notion of substituting instruments, “so long as the balance of each of the lines is maintained,” and was always interested in the latest technology (on the other hand, he also wrote an article called “The Stupidest of Stupid Abuses” decrying the tendency of some conductors to omit elements of his carefully considered orchestration, so there’s that…).
The staff bells part presents a bit of a challenge. Crotales played with soft mallets (hard rubber) so as to emphasize the lower harmonics and suppress the upper harmonics are a decent substitute.
Having been intrigued with Grainger’s staff bells for many years, and having researched the options, I found an incredibly realistic handbell “patch” available from Bolder Sounds in Boulder, Colorado (with which I have no relationship, other than to have bought and used the handbell “patch”). It includes samples of handbells played in a number of ways, including struck with a variety of mallets. So, with a laptop computer, a music application designed for use in live performance (like Apple’s MainStage), a playback system and a MIDI controller, you can have your own virtual set of Percy Grainger’s staff bells! www.boldersounds.com