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Percussion theatre – labelling who I am

Percussionist Jennifer Torrence explores percussion theatre in her three-year artistic development fellowship at the Norwegian Academy of Music (NMH). How does a woman position herself in this field dominated by men?

Jennifer Torrence

Educated as a percussionist at the Oberlin College & Conservatory in Ohio, the University of San Diego and Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. For four years she played with the Arctic Philharmonic and Bodø Sinfonietta. This fall she started her fellowship at the artistic development programme at The Norwegian Academy of Music. She will spend three years collaborating with composers in creating pieces for the stage with herself in the leading role.

Drama of the gesture

Through her studies as a percussionist Jennifer Torrence's eyes and ears were opened for composers such as Cage, Kagel and Aperghis. This visual way of making music – where the body and the voice are a part of the instrument – is what she wishes to explore in her project. Mainly she plans to create four larger solo productions in collaboration with preferred composers. In addition, she explores the idea of percussion theatre from an artistic and pedagogical perspective.

The triumph of the triangle

Torrence’s first performance production No Say No Way is a collaboration with French composer François Sarhan, and has already been performed on several venues in Sweden, Latvia, Ireland and Iceland, and at the Academy. The performance alludes to a lecture about the fantastic instrument that is the triangle, an instrument that is never permitted to sound in the show. It is a piece on expectations, anxiety, uncertainty, doubt, clumsiness, opposition, postponement.  

– When we created the piece we wanted to portray a person full of anxiety, that has no confidence or charisma. No woman is accepted if she has no charisma. Because of that, the gestures are borrowed from a man’s repertoire. Maybe the piece is about the masculine little girl that is obsessed with showing her lack of female grace?

Striking gender trouble

At the Norwegian Academy of Music all the percussion teachers are male. Jennifer Torrence’s two supervisors are also male. As a percussionist she has always had only male teachers. – I have never had a female mentor other than my mother, she says. What could a female supervisor have brought to the table?

– A woman could have enabled a richer conversation about gender politics. I consider gender and sexuality a lot in pieces that are not even about these things. But I live in a music world where those I respect the most are men. I have learned a lot by being surrounded by men all of my life. Is it a problem? It is a question of how we can find a balanced education and a balanced view of the world, when we only receive the male perspective. We lose some of the poetry in our own existence.


Torrence triangel

Last updated: 11. March 2016

Jennifer Torrence

Educated as a percussionist at the Oberlin College & Conservatory in Ohio, the University of San Diego and Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. For four years she played with the Arctic Philharmonic and Bodø Sinfonietta. This fall she started her fellowship at the artistic development programme at The Norwegian Academy of Music. She will spend three years collaborating with composers in creating pieces for the stage with herself in the leading role.