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The multi facets of Rich O'Donnell span 60 years as percussionist, improvisor, composer, designer and builder of percussion and electronic instruments, teacher and writer. He is director of the Electronic Music Studio at Washington University. He has encouraged and facilitated the growth of independent contemporary music in the community for 49 years as music director of the St. Louis New Music Circle, which he left in 2009. He retired in 2002 after 43 years as principal percussionist of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. In 2009, he co-founded HEARding Cats Collective, an artists collective working to keep St. Louis strange and wonderful.
O’Donnell has invented a revolutionary playing technique with new type sticks and new pedals. On May 1, 2000 he presented the world premiere of SeeSaw Drumming at City Museum in St. Louis under the auspices of New Music Circle and on May 11, 2000 the New York premiere at Merkin Hall by World Institute of Music. SeeSaw Drumming is based on reciprocal motion, which allows him to play twice as fast as his normal technique. While speed is fun, pros know that it’s not most important. The ability to create complex layers of polyrhythms gives him new insight into rhythmical structures. He no longer thinks in terms of downbeats and bars, but rather convergence and overlays and cycles of the various layers. This technique can be fast and dense, but it can also be elegant and in the pocket. He enjoys playing now more than ever. He has published 3:4:5, a book on SeeSaw Drumming. A second book with 3 accompanying CD’s illustrating the technique is near completion.
He is also creating interactive computer/ synthesizer software to accompany live percussion performances. He continues solo performances with other performer/composers in the US and Europe.
O’Donnell has explored music for instruments and electronics with his colleagues in the St. Louis Symphony, including Chris Woehr, Steve Balderson. He performs regularly with Asako Kuboki and Tim Myers as the Symprov Trio. He has received NEA and Mid-America Arts Alliance/Meet the Composer grants for his work. As an instrument builder, he has developed refinements in traditional percussion instruments, producing timpani, talking drums, bell trees, and triangle beaters that are used by many other percussionists. His many innovative and mysterious original instruments - sphrahng, aqua-lips, koto-veen, tubalum - echo a parallel interest in his work with visual artists. His music for George Greenamyer’s burning ice sculptures were featured in annual events at Laumeier Sculpture Park. His sound sculpture Trephonia, with artists Bill Severson & Sandy Schultz, was installed in Plano, TX, and he has combined large wooden sails with electronics to form an outdoor installation and performance environment in St. Louis. Rich O’Donnell’s many collaborations with other artists, including poet Anna Lum, Burning Feet Dance, Atrek Contemporary Dance, sculptor Blane de St. Croix, dancer Anne Patz, have formed a continuing thread of cultural activity in St. Louis for over 4 decades.
In perhaps his most satisfying collaborative work to date, O’Donnell and other artists from St. Louis - including Bill Kohn, Anna Lum, Randall Hyman - traveled to Peru in 1996 to experience, absorb and create a multi media event. The images, texts and electronic musical score that resulted were then integrated into a moving visual event by lighting designer Dale Dufer, and titled Machu Picchu/Sacred Light.
As a virtuoso percussionist, O’Donnell has premiered compositions that have been written especially for him by many composers including Jocy d'Oliviera, Eleazar de Carvalho, Walter Susskind, Robert Wykes, Carlos Santoro, Tom Hamilton, J.D. Parran and Michael Hunt. His recent publications on D’or Music recordings include the CDs “Fire and Ice: The Music” and “Machu Picchu/ Sacred Light” and two percussion books, “Fourth Camp,” and "3:4:5 Some SeeSaw Drumming Rhythms."
Grants & Awards
•52nd City's Kick Ass Award, 2013
•NEA Composers grant
•Mid-America Arts Alliance Meet the Composer grant.
•Ritenour High School Hall of Fame, 2002
•Regional Arts Commission St. Louis Artist Fellow, 2016
North Texas State University, Denton, TX, 1957-1959, One O’clock Lab Band
St. Louis Institute of Music, 1955-1957
Ritenour High School, St. Louis, MO, Diploma, 1955