Meet the Harvard musicians turning classic songs into percussive masterpieces
A boomwhacker is a stick which, when whacked, plays a musical note – a simplistic instrument that, as you can imagine, requires many hands to make a complex tune.
The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers (THUD) have mastered the remarkable teamwork required, however, and their glorious renditions of classic tunes are a marvel to behold.
A team made entirely of undergraduate students, the university troupe’s percussive delights have garnered millions of views on YouTube, but the process from idea to viral video is a long one.
The group edit sheet music of the chosen song, pulling out notes and adding others to suit the instruments, before colour coding each note so each corresponds to a boomwhacker – with each band member commanding a small selection.
“This can be a lengthy process but it’s important to make sure no one part is impossibly complex,” THUD director and student Dody Eid told the Press Association. “The goal is to have parts make as much sense as possible to the individual person playing his or her notes.
“Sometimes this goes well, other times not so much. It’s a learning process and we are still figuring out the best way to systematise it.”
Once notes are assigned, it is time for rehearsal, and lots of it, to ensure the timings and dynamics of each part are correct.
“A lot of it really comes down to feel and muscle memory,” said assistant director Ben Palmer. “After playing the song enough and internalising it, we have a sense of where our notes come in.
“Also, many times our parts will play off each other, so we give each other cues by looking at each other just before we play. It’s really a fun and dynamic process!”
THUD’s repertoire includes songs by Journey, Toto and The Beatles and even the James Bond theme tune, but remarkably it’s a video game tune that has caused them the most difficulty.
“I’d say the hardest one to put together to date has been the Mario theme,” said assistant director Yasmin Luthra. “Although the piece is short, it involved a lot of coordination on our part to be both rhythmically precise and musical.
“This was mostly because the Mario theme had very few notes repeated in a row, unlike many other songs we play on Boomwhackers, meaning a different person was playing after almost every note.
Yasmin added: “That being said, we have a very exciting boomwhackers project coming up that will be our biggest challenge by far…”