“El Silencio” — New Edward Harrison Project for Maracas

Edward Harrison talks about his "El Silencio" project — featuring maracas, together with his students at Roosevelt University, as well as other projects with the Lyric Opera.
Edward Harrison maraca

Have you carried out any projects with the vibraphone during the confinement?

I’ve done everything from playing every Tuesday night at a little club in the neighbourhood to just waiting it out and picking and choosing between gigs. We have an exciting group at the opera that I’ve done a couple of shows with. There are a few musicians, such as Bill Denton, that are excellent jazz players as well members of the opera orchestra.

I performed with my wife during the pandemic when we couldn’t play with others. My wife is a violinist in the Chicago Symphony, so we got together and created a series of duets. We did a driveway concert in front of our house. We put up a sign, and we probably had about a hundred people show up. We had a few guests come and play from the Chicago Symphony and the Lyric Opera. It happened to be Charlie Parker’s birthday, so we had to play some of his tunes. We’ve been enjoying that a lot, and it’s been a great outlet.

We also did some virtual performances for Covid patients in the hospitals (just my wife and I). The Chicago Symphony sent us, and several others, out to retirement homes around the city.

I try to teach my students to do a little bit of improvising as well. First of all, the vibraphone is a beautiful instrument, and it has a lot of technical issues that are different from the standard instruments that we play. Improvisation is very useful for phrasing; it helped me to phrase any kind of music. Suddenly it wasn’t about just playing accurately; it was about communicating. That was beneficial for auditioning as well as playing timpani musically. It helped free me up so that I could get out of the etudes and play something meaningful.

Are there any current projects you would like our readers to know about?

There are a couple of things, but I can’t go into too much detail at the moment. We just finished a piece I wrote for maracas soloist and percussion ensemble. When I came out of college, I took a job in Caracas, Venezuela, and stumbled across a unique system of playing the maracas. It’s helped me in a lot of ways, especially rhythmically. There’ve been several concertos written for me, one for orchestra and several for percussion ensemble. I wrote this piece called El Silencio which has a double meaning — it means “the silence,” but El Silencio is also a section of Caracas (the old section) where I used to hear the virtuoso maraca player Máximo Briceño Teppa play. I learned to play maracas by watching and studying with this great man. In the 1980s, Venezuela was a different country; it was a democracy. You’re probably aware that it’s not democratic anymore. In 2002 in the area of El Silencio, there was a protest against the government. There wasn’t a lot of news coverage. It started as a peaceful protest; however, pro-government forces came out, violence ensued, and as a result, 19 people were killed, and 127 were injured. I wrote El Silencio to memorialise the event, and we recorded it with the Roosevelt University Percussion Ensemble.


Full Interview: “The Vibraphone Is an Instrument That Has Been Close to My Heart for Many Years”

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