Tan Dun | Percussion Concerto “The Tears of Nature”
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Nature is the only suitable illustrator for the richness of percussion sounds and instruments.


My Percussion Concerto is divided into three movements, each one representing a different color of nature; the color of nature’s thunder, the color of nature’s passion and the color of nature’s energy – each united with the human spirit.

I wrote this piece for my dear friend, a true percussion artist, Martin Grubinger.

The first movement, Threat of Nature, was prompted by my unforgettable memories and the unbearable, instantaneous loss of thousands, during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.

Photo: David and Jessie, CC BY 2.0

Threat of Nature is depicted using the timpani, which shows both the gentle and explosive power of nature. The transformation from the beginning of the movement to end employs various techniques on the timpani, from large mallets to finger flicking, symbolizes the taming of nature. This movement honors all spirits touched by the brutal force of nature in 2008.

The second movement, Tears of Nature, was born as I watched the enormously heart-wrenching live broadcast of the tsunami in Japan on television.

Photo: DVIDSHUB, CC BY 2.0

For every inhale of the tsunami waves – how many lives vanished? For every exhale how many spirits were washed away? I believe after nature’s brutality must come nature’s regret, it’s tears. The tragedy of the tsunami is represented by a sorrowful marimba solo crying for all of the victims of the tsunami. Tremolos and cascading lines mirror the images of water in nature, nature’s tears: rain, rivers, and oceans.

The third movement, Dance of Nature, comes from my awe and affection for New York City and its residents. I love New York because it does not believe in wallowing in tears. After Hurricane Sandy all of lower Manhattan and many others were without power, but New Yorkers never lost their energy and confidence.

Photo: David Shankbone, CC BY 2.0

Dance of Nature uses assorted percussion instruments, all placed in a circle. Shadowing the first two movements, I bring their motives back and mix them with the new melodies introduced. The motives dance together causing the percussionist, in turn, to whirl around within the circle of percussion instruments, symbolizing both nature and the human spirit dancing together.

Although the three movements in this concerto are about three natural disasters in different cities, they all share in the same memory, one where the human spirit stays strong. This concerto commemorates human spirit as it lives, fights and dances with nature.