WHAT IS A TIMPANI?
Pronounced tim-puh-nee, the instrument has four suspended drums that resemble kettles, which is why they are also known as kettledrums. They are played using sticks with soft felt-tipped heads and tuned with foot pedals. “Originally, it was a Turkish instrument played on horseback during the Crusades to scare the approaching army.”
WHY PLAY THE TIMPANI?
“It’s a very powerful instrument and a great position in the orchestra. It’s also a very visible piece — something people tend to notice from the audience. With it, there comes a lot of responsibility for pitch and tempo. The timpani is capable of being one of the loudest instruments so you have to be careful not to overdo it. It’s a very expressive instrument that’s fun to play. Plus, timpani parts to classical and romantic repertoire are very exciting.”
ARE THERE MANY PIECES THAT INCLUDE PARTS FOR A TIMPANI?
“It’s very rare that I’m not playing. Because the timpani is so loud, you have a responsibility to set the tone in the orchestra. Every now and again there is a second timpanist in the score.” According to Every, dual timpanists are employed more in Europe than in America. “Orchestras have a lot more funding there so it’s common for them to split the position between two players. But the schedule is very intense so you need a break.”
DOES HE COME FROM A MUSICAL FAMILY?
“No. My father is a lawyer and my mother is a school principal. I had a lot of energy [as a child] so they tried to channel it. I felt I had a lot of talent [for music].”
LITTLE DRUMMER BOY
Although he can play any percussion instrument, Every grew up playing swing music on the drums. He switched to studying classical music in junior high to ease his mother’s fears of him joining a rock band. After three years with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, he received a full scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music. “Curtis is a world-renowned conservatory with rigorous auditions. They only accept enough students to have a full orchestra, an opera department, piano department and a couple of conductors. You would walk in the school and hear music out of every door. I went to the conservatory to study with their timpanist.”
WHO ELSE HAS HE PERFORMED WITH?
Every performed for several years in Italy with the Radio Symphony of Turin. Back in the United States, he served as the principal timpanist with the New World Symphony in Miami. “They have the top players from all over the country. All the players live together in a dormitory-type arrangement. We toured and made CDs. It was very intense music making.”
HOW TOUGH IS IT TO GET THESE POSITIONS?
“The competition is so intense to get any job.”
For the past 12 seasons, Every has performed at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Musicians from all over the world are selected to play. People take it very seriously.” There’s also time for fun, too. Every and his wife usually hike, camp and do other outdoor activities while they’re there.
Some years after earning a bachelor’s degree in music from Curtis Institute, Every continued his studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music. “A master’s degree just gives you more time with the teacher. The teacher’s reputation can open doors to auditions.”
WHAT’S MOST CHALLENGING?
“The timpani is not like any other instrument. You have to really work to get a beautiful, sustained sound. Playing the timpani is like golf or tennis — the stroke itself is very important. Many of us make our own timpani sticks so every timpanist has their own sound. To the untrained ear, it is sometimes hard to hear the difference from a great to a mediocre timpanist. I still go back for lessons when I can because there’s always something to learn and always something to work on. It’s a challenge trying to play your best every day and keep up that level, that standard.”
WHAT’S REWARDING ABOUT HIS JOB?
“To be able to play great works of art is such a privilege. You can gauge how you’re doing on a spiritual level by how you’re playing. It’s most rewarding to be able to do what you want to do and it’s never boring.”
Every resides in Avondale with his wife Sofia, a cellist for the JSO, and their two small children, Miles and Elena, who was born Oct. 10. The couple was married four years ago by the orchestra’s principal tubist, James Jenkins. A number of their friends from the symphony played at the ceremony.
Yoga and gardening. He also enjoys dining at India Gate or Casbah.
— by Monica Chamness