The Responses (part 2)


Part two of the responses from the timpanists contributing to my research. Click here for part one.

What do you feel are the advantages / disadvantages of using each tuning system?

(Go to the drums page to see what type of pedal (or otherwise) is used on each set of timpani)

Fausto Bombarderi - Ringer is not so precise, the better is the Dresden system. For faster changes there is a risk to noise in the structure.

David Corkhill - It allows me the essential permanent contact with the instruments' intonation.

Dieter Dyk - Direct, you feel the skin working, gives an orientation about the condition of the skin, by experience you know approximately quick where to go in a fast-blind tuning.

Gerald Fromme - Everybody knows, that 2 pedals and 2 screws are the quickest method for tuning - the left and right placed timpani with screw allows you to tune the timpani quickest. (Two feet, two hands!? Or?)

Jim Gordon - I like the Dresden pedal because the clutch is very secure on the Adams drums. It can be disadvantageous for quick changes downwards. The Premier pedal was not my choice as the drums belonged to another colleague and were inherited by my orchestra. I don’t use them very often.

Peter Offelder – It works well for a long period of time.

Guido Rückel - Berlin Tuning system I feel most comfortable with, so for me it’s the best.

Wolfgang Schuster – Hands are more sensitive than feet.

Maarten van der Valk - Advantage: Fine tuning all the time-hand tuned - Disadvantage: slower tone changes.

Nick Woud - The sensitivity with the Dresdner system works for me better than the Berlin one. But both are valid and ok. Sometimes the machine tuned drums are fine, especially for changing notes, but to correct a wrong intonation with eg roll’s or a virtuoso passage, is a big problem.

Does the tuning system have an affect on the way you play this drum?

Fausto Bombarderi - Slow tuning

David Corkhill - It gives me the freedom to play in the most appropriately musical way

Dieter Dyk - No

Gerald Fromme – I don’t hope so.

Jim Gordon - The way I play the drum has more to do with repertoire, stick choice and colour and the tuning system

Peter Offelder – No

Guido Rückel - No

Maarten van der Valk - Sometimes, when for instance. experiencing dry air, while playing you notice the pitch is getting higher, you have to wait for the 1st possible break or short pause to adjust.

Nick Woud - Yes, the pedal system has an effect on the playing position and more important on the position of the hand. For example, with the Berlin system the position will be more v-shaped , because of the knees interfering. Also because of the pressure with calf heads we normally sit a bit more on the edge of the chair , to have some counter-pressure.

Do you use tuning gauges on your timpani? Do you think they are necessary?

Frank Aarnink - Yes, they are a great help if you don’t trust them to much.

Fausto Bombarderi – I tune by ear.

David Corkhill - Yes, I use them, but they are not absolutely necessary - the player's ear and pedal technique (developed it is hoped from Conservatoire study without gauges) should be sufficient in most cases. Nevertheless gauges are extremely useful guides. 

Dieter Dyk  - Not really necessary, but helpful: helps to remember where the last tuning stopped, without touching the skin

Gerald Fromme - I do hope for all the timpanists, that they are not dependent on it.

Jim Gordon - I have gauges and I use them from time to time

Peter Offelder – They are not often necessary

Mike Quinn – Yes and yes

Guido Rückel - On the “normal” Timps there are the typical tuning gauges, and I need them!!!

(Wagner, Bartók, R. Strauss, 20Th century without tuning gauges? Never!!!) 

Louis Sauvetre - I do. They help a lot, but I trust more and more my ears and every time I can adjust a note, I do it. At least I keep the pedal open when possible. Actually I feel more secure like this and it is very easy with the old ringer pedal.

Maarten van der Valk - Playing in a symphony orchestra, for instance Strauss' "Rosenkavalier" it is useful during the scale changes. In general I prefer without, but in today's modern repertoire it is very handy and practically necessary, unless you have "absolute hearing". Teaching pedal Timps, I cover them as much as possible for my pupils.

Nick Woud - Yes absolutely. First responsibility: they have to be in tune! They will help to tune faster, and so give more space to count, change sticks, etc. Also is it possible to see the actual tuning on the drum in pieces with a lot of changing. Never trust them though. Keep the ears open all the time, also with plastic. In some fast tuning passages it is better to feel than to look.

In what order do you set up your timpani?

Frank Aarnink – German

Fausto Bombarderi - German

David Corkhill - International

Dieter Dyk – German

Gerald Fromme - German

Jim Gordon – International

Peter Offelder – German

Mike Quinn – International

Guido Rückel - German

Louis Sauvetre – German

Wolfgang Schuster - German

Maarten van der Valk – German

Nick Woud - German

Is this set-up one of personal preference or influenced by other factors eg. the design of the timpani?

Frank Aarnink - I played the other way around in Holland, but the set here were like this.

Fausto Bombarderi – The pedal.

David Corkhill - UK tradition and common sense lead me to this set-up - after all, all keyboards have their 'high' notes on the right

Dieter Dyk - Following the German tradition, but also my personal preference because of the leading by the left hand, which opens more the heart-side and with that puts weight on the emotional soft playing rather than the dictating strength of a right hand.

Gerald Fromme - It depends on historical reasons, design surely not . To explain here, space is too little.

Jim Gordon - Its the way I was taught to play, design has no influence.

Peter Offelder – I learned the traditional style of Vienna and Berlin.

Mike Quinn – In Italy they play with the high timpani on the right

Guido Rückel - It’s the German (Swiss, Austrian) way of playing timpani, and the way I learned it

Louis Sauvetre - I changed. I used to play the French way, now I play the German way because of the instruments (pedals). This is absolutely no problem to change, and I think it is the same one way or the other.

Wolfgang Schuster – The tradition.

Maarten van der Valk - Influenced by the way I was taught, the German way. But I have played the other way around in a few orchestras, all together 5 years and I think it is necessary for all learning, to be able to play both ways.

Nick Woud - Both and of course tradition (part of our profession)

Do you have any thoughts on the advantages or disadvantages of each setup, in what ways does it influence performance?

Frank Aarnink - It doesn’t matter at all. Some times I play both ways in one concert (2 sets of timps of course)

David Corkhill - I can see no advantages to having low notes on the right, however much European timpanists may try to justify this system.

Dieter Dyk - Of course, on pedal timpani you can tune and play even with two hands at the same time. Through the technical advance there also is a musical advance. With machine timpani, quick tuning it is not possible. With pedal tuned instruments you have more time to put your attention to the musical flow, instead of being busy with the tuning proceedings!

Gerald Fromme - As I said: The goat skins are “devils”. Tuning them in the right way is hard. But the comfortable way is always the worst. The success is the result! (Or reverse!) Further the tuning range by Hochrainer is more than an octave on each timpani.

Jim Gordon - In Germanic countries players prefer the small timp left. Its illogical to me and probably has something to do with the position of the basses (see old 19th century orchestra prints) . If you have a piano background playing German style is very odd.

Guido Rückel - Just a matter of the way you learned it…there should be no advantages

Maarten van der Valk - The way you are sitting in the orchestra can be important. If high drum is on left and basses are on left, it has a different outcome on the sound. In our orchestra I sit left on stage (looking from behind) with the trumpets, and basses right of me, in the middle. For instance, “The Seasons by Haydn”, I sit in the middle in front of the choir. Basses right, down a bit.

Nick Woud – No advantages or disadvantages.

Do you perform sitting or standing? If sitting, is the stool in a high or low position?

Fausto Bombarderi - sitting

David Corkhill – sitting, middle position

Dieter Dyk - Sitting with the big instruments (sometimes tuning with both legs at the same time, more comfortable) chair relatively high. Standing with the small instruments. Also depends on the timpani-drum-technique (wooden sticks, double stroke roll different position etc.)

Gerald Fromme - Sitting on high position with feet on the ground, not on stool.

Jim Gordon – Sitting on a high stool

Peter Offelder – Sitting

Mike Quinn – sitting in a high position

Guido Rückel – sitting, low

Louis Sauvetre - Both, depends what I have to play. I like better to sit then I can keep my feet on the pedal. It is also more comfortable. If I have to move a lot, I like better to stand.

Wolfgang Schuster – Sitting in a high position.

Maarten van der Valk - Sitting, stool is in a medium position.

Nick Woud - Sit, in a rather high position. This will create generally a better sound, because the distance of the drums will take out the aggressiveness of the sound.

Could you please give your thoughts on how playing position affects the sound of the timpani?

Fausto Bombarderi – Depends on which character I want.

David Corkhill - Briefly: 1. the stick head must strike the timp head when the stick becomes parallel with the timp head  2. the player must sit upright and relaxed in order to have overall control of all the instruments and preserve a good flow of oxygen to the brain and body.

Dieter Dyk - If too high, danger of digging the sound in to the drum, because the wrist can- not go away quick and complete enough to let the skin vibrate. There are basic differences also depending to the stick holding position and the intention of what the stroke should effect. Staccato, legato, full sound, depth, hard, soft etc.

Gerald Fromme - The best position is behind the strings (eg. Second violins), because the sound is more integrated in the orchestra and you can better control the timing between strings, woodwinds and brass.

Jim Gordon - I’m always aware of how much stick is striking the head and I want to be able to control or change the angle according to my musical decisions during performance. If I sit too low I can’t do this, but with the stool at the right height  I can control things pretty well.

Guido Rückel - If you are sitting too high, the angle between the Stick and the head is not correct [Herr Rückel at this point included a diagram indicating that he prefers the stick to be flat when striking the timpani, not angled downwards]

Louis Sauvetre - I think I get more easily involved when I stand, more dynamic.

Maarten van der Valk - In general I would say, very natural; the best way you feel comfortable; with certain definite importance’s like straight back, not too much arm length away or too close from the Timps. Very important to lean a bit forward, feet on pedals or if without on the ground; for better moving and rotating body during action (so stool not too low!)

If your orchestra were to hold a timpani audition, what drums would auditionees be asked to perform on, for what types of repertoire?

Fausto Bombarderi - All kinds of timpani. Available and free choice for the musician.

David Corkhill - Ludwig Professional Symphonic (or for my colleague Andrew Smith, Premier) Bach, Beethoven, Bartok, R. Strauss, Janacek

Dieter Dyk - Up to romantic such as Schumann, small instruments goat skins, wooden sticks. All furthers: big instruments, felt or flannel and wood, if prescription

Gerald Fromme – They can choose what they want.

Jim Gordon – Adams Philharmonics

Peter Offelder – Same timpani for all repertoire.

Mike Quinn - Depends where the audition is held

Guido Rückel - They would be asked to play on the Ringer/ Aehnelt.

Wolfgang Schuster – Only on the Viennese style timpani.

Nick Woud - The Schnellars for the older repertoire and the Adams for the later.

Please describe the bowls of your timpani, what is their shape?

David Corkhill - hemispherical

Dieter Dyk - Dresden and older: half bowl with a cylindrical collar. Ringer: more conical. Viennese: egg shape (elliptic) , very deep

Gerald Fromme - Hochrainer is like a vase or dome. The sound is darker. The other shape of bowl is known as well.

Jim Gordon - Hand hammered parabolic bowls

Peter Offelder – Traditional

Mike Quinn - Ringers/Dörflers – flat bottom, hard rim   Lights - flat bottom, round rim   Kolberg - round bottom, flared kettle

Maarten van der Valk – George Potter & sons - Hoop diameter and depth almost equal. (straight smile bottom?)

Baroque timpani (German make) - Deeper than hoop diameter. (slightly "disappointed" smile bottom?)

van den Hoek - "drop" shape- pointy in the bottom.

Nick Woud - Schnellars almost v- shaped, Adams : parabolic, V.d. Hoek : very shallow

In what ways do you think the shape of the bowl influences the sound of the timpani?

David Corkhill - I'm not sure, but I like the sound they make.

Dieter Dyk - Round: full warm sound. Conical: more focused tone, bright. Egg: focused and dark

Gerald Fromme - Vase or dome = darker sound. (Dark is beautiful!)

Jim Gordon - The parabolic bowls give a somewhat darker sound, not always ideal

Peter Offelder - The form and the hardness of the kettle make the sharpness of the tone. Also the hammering!! It is the same by the brass instruments about material and mensur of the natural horn.

Mike Quinn - Flat bottom – darker sound   hard rim – better definition

Maarten van der Valk – George Potter & sons - is very bright, clear and direct. Baroque timpani - heavier, dryer sound. van den Hoek - clear, deep but bright at the same time.

Nick Woud - I’m not sure, all the drums sound excellent, with all different shapes so the construction and the tension of the sides of the bowls are more important than we think.

Are there any special features about the bowls, for example the lip of the bowl or thickness of the metal, that also may contribute to the sound of the timpani?

Dieter Dyk - Sharp shoulder: exact shape of tone. Round shoulder: softer shape of tone. Thin material: more sensitive in p and pp passages, not so strong in ff. Thick material: stiff in p, no good attack up to mf, very strong in ff. Copper: warm and lively, even when hammered. Brass: rather cool and stiff, but also bright. Plastic (fibre-glass): dull, no strength, no real power. With frame: closed vibration. Without frame (eg. Schnellar): free ringing, like baroque instruments

Gerald Fromme - Thin metal sounds thin. The lips of Hochrainer-bowls don’t hang in a rim, they move up and down while tuning. There are no unnecessary materials like push-rods or other things around the bowls therefore they sounds free and friendly.

Jim Gordon - If the drums are moved a lot, its a good idea to check if the bowls are symmetric after a while (stage hands are often careless) I use Teflon spray on the bowl before putting on a new head

Wolfgang Schuster - The intention [with the Schnellar design] was to improve the sound's quality, especially in the fortissimo, what actually succeeded. This effect can be described as following: Regarding the dynamics (starting from forte) the timpani of Viennese system stands above the sound of the Timpani of the Dresdner system, which are covered by calf or synthetic heads. The Dresdner Timpani covered with calf skin, has a much more clearer sound in the fields till mezzo piano, because the full harmonics series don't attain to swing. I want to point out, that this is the subjective opinion of those, who play the Viennese timpani. The fundamental difference to the Dresdner Timpani consists in the circumstance, that the skin is not draw down over the kettle at the tuning, but the free swinging kettle is moved up an down. Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss did appreciate these instruments very much, both also knew Schnellar personally. Mahler transported two pairs of the Schnellar timpani to New York; also he wanted to engage Schnellar as guest-timpanist in New York as well as in Amsterdam.

Maarten van der Valk - I believe so. The above question I think explains a lot in this matter. The lip has an influence by how the skin folds over the whole Timp. My experience with this is not much. But I believe that with goat skin for instance a thicker lip works better for the sound, rather than a thin lip.

Do you use specially designed timpani to obtain notes in extreme registers?

Gerald Fromme – We use the Aehnelt timpani for the lowest notes like Mahler etc. It’s our biggest timpani

Nick Woud - Yes, a 41” v.d. Hoek timpano for the notes below C and an 18” piccolo Schnellar timpano for the notes above d

Of what material is the frame constructed?

Dieter Dyk - Dresden: Cast iron and steel, Ringer: Cast aluminium and steel, R. Ludwig: Cast iron and iron, Schnellar: Cast aluminium, Kolberg: Cast aluminium

Gerald Fromme – Cast iron

Jim Gordon – copper

Mike Quinn – Cast steel

Maarten van der Valk – metal

Nick Woud - Mostly iron or copper

What is the weight of each timpani?

Gerald Fromme – from app. 30 – 60 kg.

Jim Gordon – 60-80 kilos

Peter Offelder – Dresdener timpani are very heavy with an iron frame.

Mike Quinn - Enough to make the stage manager complain constantly.

Maarten van der Valk - a) appr. 30, 28, 26 and 24 kg.  b) app. 25 and 23 kg.  c) app. 40 and 45 kg.

Nick Woud - Adams around 85 kilo’s, The Schnellars/ v.d. Hoek maybe 40 or so

Do you think the weight of the drum is an important consideration when purchasing new timpani?

Frank Aarnink - Yeah, for our roadies!

David Corkhill - Yes: they need to be well built and not light - light material absorbs energy.

Dieter Dyk – Yes

Gerald Fromme - Yes. The better the connection to the stage, the better the sound. The most important is: the stage must be of softwood!!!!! The difference is amazing!!

Jim Gordon – You must have been a stage hand at some point in your career.

Peter Offelder – No

Mike Quinn - Only for the stage manager…

Nick Woud - Yes, although never the most important. Also important are the height, sound of course and comfort.

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