Interview: Keith Terry (Crosspulse Percussion Ensemble)

Photo on 2010-07-06 at 04.36 #2.jpeg

Keith Terry is the founding Artistic Director of Crosspulse, a San Francisco Bay Area organization which since 1980 has been dedicated to creating, performing, and recording rhythm-based, intercultural music and dance.  Terry's biography is long and distinguished -- to summarize it in the context of an introductory paragraph would be unfair, and so I won't other than to say I'm glad to say that someone with his broad range of experience has, as part of Crosspulse, recorded the ensemble's first album for families, I Like Everything About You (Yes I Do) .  Terry recently answered some questions about his musical background, his development of "body music," and what difference, if any, there is between their shows for adults and those for kids. 

Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories?

Keith Terry: Music in the church (I grew up in a Southern Baptist family).  My mom played some piano by ear, but mostly my parents just really enjoyed music - big band and country, mostly.   So it was often playing in our home.  But I fell in love with jazz early on, as the result of my cousin taking me to hear Thelonius Monk and Cannonball Adderley at a jazz festival when I was 9 or 10 years old.  I began playing drums in the elementary school band, and continued through junior high and high school.  

Had you been much interested in making music with your body before you had your "body music" epiphany?  

I hadn't thought much about body music before that moment, although I often heard my Grandfather playing a simple hambone pattern when I was growing up.  

For my readers, what's your definition of "body music"?

Body Music, sometimes called Body Percussion or Body Drumming, is that music created by the sounds of the body via clapping, slapping, snapping, stepping and vocalizing.  Probably the oldest music on the planet, traditional styles can still be found all over the world.

What is notation like for body music?

I use the musical staff.  The five lines, from top down, represent 

clap and snap



bottom or hip


I write parts like I would notate any rhythm, with the addition of R or L (right and left).  If there is an accompanying vocal part, like a melody with harmony, I notate that using a separate staff.  I've tried a few different ways of notating, but I keep coming back to this.

You've been making music in front of youthful audiences for years -- why now a kids album?

Just now getting to it.  I've been busy with other projects, mostly for adults, which include performances, teaching, making CDs and DVDs, in the States and overseas.  I also founded the International Body Music Festival in 2008.  All these projects require my time.  So it just took a while for the CD for kids and their families to make it to the top of the list.

"I Like Everything" doesn't have a lot of songs that are primarily body music -- is that method of making music that is more appreciated live?  

Well, Body Music certainly has a strong visual element to it because it's also a dance.  In a way, the listener is only getting half the piece when only hearing it.  But I think we did a fairly good job at capturing the sounds of the body in a way that conveys the music.   Crosspulse performs on a wide variety of percussive instruments, so it's more about representing what the group does, overall.   The body is only one ingredient in the our repertoire.

Are kids more or less rhythmic than adults?

Perhaps slightly, but I believe, and I know this through my teaching and performing experience, that kids are capable of comprehending and playing complex rhythmic patterns.  That's why there's little difference in our shows for kids and our shows for adults.  We don't "dumb it down" for kids.  We may frame it differently or talk about it in certain ways, but the content remains fairly consistent.

KT clapping.jpeg

You've had a long and varied career -- is there anything else you'd like to tackle?

I'm currently working on "The Rhythm of Math" with my co-author Linda Akiyama.   Rhythm of Math uses body music to teach mathematical skills to 2nd through 6th graders.  This fall we'll release our first book/DVD.  We piloted the program in several public schools last spring.  We had such enthusiastic response from teachers and students, we were motivated to create the book.  We've already got ideas for the Middle School program for pre-Algebra.  I feel like we're on to something special which may possibly help a lot of kids who are having difficulty with accessing these skills through "traditional" teaching.  This excites me.

The International Body Music Festival continues to grow.  Now in its 6th year, we've begun touring a Body Music show featuring artists from the Festival.  We took one show to Lincoln Center a few years ago, and this fall we'll bring 10 Festival artists to Boston for a week to perform and teach at Wellesley and Berklee.  Because of the difficulty to obtain artists visas for foreign artists to perform in the U.S. we will likely be producing the IBMF outside the US for the next few years.  2013 will be in Oakland and San Francisco,  then Indonesia in 2014, Paris in 2015, and we're in discussion about Ghana in 2016.  I'm enjoying watching this project take flight.

I'm touring more lately in a duo with my wife, Evie Ladin.  Evie is a percussive dancer who sings and plays banjo and guitar.  I do body music, sing, and play bass and percussion.  Evie and I stretch each other in the "singing, while playing and moving " category.

I enjoy my career.  Music makes me whole and it's connected me to people and taken me places I never could have predicted.  I plan to follow it as long as I can.

What's next for CPE and kids and families?

We have some great summer shows and workshops coming up, in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Los Angeles.  [Ed.: See tour calendar here.]