Flowerpots are Instruments too!

by beewack

Learning about Wagner’s commissioning of new instruments in order to fill his orchestra got me thinking about other strange instruments in orchestration. As we learned in class Wagner was very full of himself and believed that the sound wasn’t complete enough without the “Wagner Tuba” or the bass trumpet. Using this queue I decided to do some research on other composers that use strange instruments in their compositions.

One of the earliest forms of encompassing strange instrumentation into the orchestra is done by Beethoven in his ninth symphony. As we visited earlier in the class the rise of Janissary music changed the style of western music all together. These janissaries played military music that was unlike the music that was typically heard at the time. The end of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, Ode to Joy, features the instrumentation of a janissary band complete with triangles and cymbals, which were not typical of western music at the time. At about 6 minutes you can see the cymbal player.



As my search continued I came across the composer Lou Harrison who was known for incorporating the music of non-Western cultures into his work. While his early works feature experiments with different instrumentation his later works are more experimental with musical style. For percussion Harrison often used “junk” like trash cans and brake drums to get unique sounds.

There’s a guy that plays the aluminum foil and big stove pot in this check it out:



This one has flowerpots and coffee cans:



Last year Oscar Bettison’s chamber concerto “Livre des Sauvages” was performed as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella music series. As stated on his biography Bettison likes using, “Cinderella instruments (i.e. instruments that, for one reason or another are ‘off-the-beaten-path’), either by making percussion instruments, by re-imagining unconventional instruments and by writing for less-than-standard ensembles such as six pianos or four drum kits”.

The piece below features two tenor saxes, a trombone, electric guitar, piano, and percussionist playing a variety of instruments. Some percussion instruments include a brake drum, a ship’s bell, three metal mixing bowls, “hard sounding metal container struck with foot pedal”, a “Wrenchophone” (12 differently sized Metal Wrenches arranged like a keyboard), a hammer, three terracotta flower pots, a pillow, three cardboard boxes, four anvils, and a large ratchet.

Check out this expert: