Doctor of Musical Arts Dissertations


Creative Musical Improvisation in the Development and Formation of NEXUS Percussion Ensemble

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


Contemporary Music

First Advisor

Roger Schupp

Second Advisor

John Sampen (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Katherine Meizel (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Gregory Rich (Committee Member)


The percussion ensemble is a vital contemporary chamber group that has lead to a substantial body of commissions and premieres of works by many prominent composers of new music. On Saturday May 22nd, 1971, in a concert at Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, NEXUS percussion ensemble, hailed by many as the world's premiere percussion ensemble, improvised the entire program of their inaugural, 120 minute concert as a newly formed group, while using non-Western instruments that were unknown to the majority of the audience.

NEXUS percussion ensemble has been influential in helping create new sounds and repertoire since their formation in 1971. While some scholarly study has been focused on new commission for the medium, little attention has been given to the importance and influence of creative improvised music (not jazz) in the formation of NEXUS and its role in the continued success of the contemporary percussion ensemble.

This study examined the musical and cultural backgrounds of past and current members of NEXUS percussion ensemble, and the musical traditions they represent and recreate. The author conducted and transcribed telephone interviews with members of NEXUS percussion ensemble, examined scholarly research related to drumming traditions of the world and their use of improvisation, researched writings on creative improvisation and its methods, and synthesized the findings of this research into a document that chronicles the presence of creative improvisation in the performance practices of NEXUS percussion ensemble.

The combination of a collective interest to express musical ideas in a non-traditional way, paired with an abundance of sound sources and instruments that would fall under the exotic category, an atmosphere of social and political change, the lack of written music for their newly-formed percussion ensemble, and the fact that one of the founding members did not read music, came together in unison to make up the NEXUS sound.