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Water becomes music at symphony concert

Jonathan Bernard uses water to create percussion sounds in upcoming Vancouver Island Symphony concert.

Dripping, dropping, rippling and splashing – in rhythm.

Who would have thought that water could be a percussion instrument? Or a concerto? We think of percussion as drums, bells, cymbals and chimes, but since Jonathan Bernard was approached by the Vancouver Island Symphony to perform Water Concerto by Tan Dun, his music has definitely taken on an added tangent.

“Initially I was concerned that it might be gimmicky,” said Bernard, who is touring with Orchid Ensemble. “But when I viewed a video clip I was immediately convinced that it does have integrity and was excited about it.”

Bernard has been principal percussionist with the symphony since 1997 and is well known for sharing his talent and knowledge in education programs and events with children.

“I began taking formal percussion lessons at age 12 but had become enthralled with sound at the early age of three when I discovered the vibrations of the old style spring-loaded door stop,” he said. “I used to focus on the whole sound until it died away and then I would spring it again.”

Since his studies at the University of Ottawa, the Quebec Conservatory and UBC, Bernard took extensive rhythm and percussion training in China, India and Egypt.

“Percussionists have such a diverse role. They can be front and centre leading the rhythmic drive, like this year with the VI Symphony for Carmina Burana, or playing melodic instruments such as marimba and vibraphone for the Carmen-Suite.

“They can also be very subtle, just colouring a beautiful flute solo or what the strings are doing, in such a way that the listener may not even perceive the effects.”

On April 30, Bernard steps to the front and centre stage for Water Concerto and will be flanked by fellow percussionists Daniel Tones and Martin Fisk.

Tan Dun, an Academy Award-winning composer, created a hypnotic, rhythmic and intoxicating three-movement concerto that appeals as much to the eye as to the ear. It explores the musicality of water sounds by using innovative and creative techniques, water-based instruments and light, and incorporates all the instruments of the orchestra.

Imagine trickling drops, fish playing in a stream, rhythms of waves lapping or crashing to shore and around dock posts, kids splashing in a bathtub, water dripping off eaves into puddles, the songs of dolphins and whales – there is no limit to the images these sounds can bring.

“The Water Concerto is so appropriate for Nanaimo and our West Coast culture,” Bernard said. “We hear water in a thousand different shades of grey; we experience a thousand different types of rainfall. We live so intimately with water that we can relate to this piece perhaps better than people living in any other climate.”

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $46; $44/seniors; $18/students. Please call 250-754-8550.