February 27, 2019
A Q&A with Erich Rieppel
Minnesota Orchestra member since: December 2018
Position: Principal Timpani
Hometown: born in Minneapolis; raised in Marshall, Minnesota
Education: Indiana University
How did you first become involved in music?
My parents are both musicians. My dad attempted to teach me piano when I was very young, but I wasn’t very interested at first. I started drums when I was 10 but also didn’t get passionate about it until high school.
Growing up as a native Minnesotan, what were your first connections and experiences with the Minnesota Orchestra?
I heard them off and on growing up, but a stand-out memory was when they toured around the state, stopping in Marshall. I was 15 years old. There was a contemporary bass concerto by John Harbison on the program that knocked my socks off. It was my first memory of being moved by an orchestral performance.
How did you decide to focus on timpani?
In my junior year of high school, my father had a sabbatical and took me with him to Vienna, Austria, for three months. It was there that my curiosity for this art exploded. I wanted to contribute as much as I could, but noticed the very particular role the timpani played in the orchestra. I was 16 at the time, and just knew that I had to pursue this path.
What’s the most challenging thing about being a timpanist?
Knowing your role and how to communicate it when playing with the orchestra. It is, acoustically, vastly different from all other instruments, including even other percussion instruments. To communicate clearly, appropriately, and beautifully is a particular challenge with this instrument. It is not enough to just know what you want to say, but how it must be communicated in the band. The mere execution is not the difficult part.
Can you talk a bit about your career path so far?
It’s been a very bumpy path for me, but nothing out of the ordinary in this career. I have gotten close to winning many gigs, but it’s really wild that I was able to get the one in my home state! I feel very lucky, but I’ll also say that I’ve truly respected this particular orchestra, aside from it being in my home state (I attempt to be unbiased here). Some of my favorite memories are hearing Minnesota Orchestra concerts and recordings!
Some people may be surprised to learn that orchestras have a musician who plays only timpani, as opposed to the percussion section that plays a wide variety of instruments. How do you explain why it’s important for orchestras to have a musician focusing solely on timpani?
As you could imagine, it is very specialized. A timpanist requires different techniques, maintenance, tools (or mallets), and knowledge of a whole sector of repertoire that percussionists don't need to worry about. Knowing the repertoire and soundscape needed for it is a unique specialization. I can functionally play percussion and my percussion colleagues can play timpani, but I do not specialize in percussion and vice-versa.
Does a timpanist own their own timpani? And do you use different sets of timpani depending on the repertoire in each concert?
I own a set and the Minnesota Orchestra owns timpani as well. We are actually in the process of purchasing multiple sets, though. I certainly rotate different sets based on the repertoire, size of the orchestra, time period of the composition, etc.
Are there are pieces or upcoming concerts on the Minnesota Orchestra’s calendar that you’re most excited about?
All of the concerts are exciting, but pieces I am particularly looking forward to include Copland’s Third, Beethoven’s Third, Verdi’s Requiem and Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.
What sorts of music do you enjoy listening to on your own?
Classical, jazz, rock, metal, latin, electronic, hiphop. Not pop or country as much.
What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of music?
Pursuing other styles of music is a hobby! But being a Minnesotan, playing and watching hockey is a major part of my existence.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Let truth guide you. Set short and long term goals that are lofty but attainable.
Anything else you’d like to say to Minnesota Orchestra audiences?
Performance requires an audience and we are lucky to have such a respectable and passionate audience. Take pride in supporting the arts; it is a noble endeavor. Thank you for your support.