Tigger Benford is a percussionist and composer,
specializing in hand drumming, improvisation and music for dance.
In recent years he has been blessed with the opportunity to compose
scores for the established and renowned choreographers, Sean Curran
and Jane Comfort, and for his colleagues at Rutgers, Randy James,
John Evans, Paulette Sears and Julia Ritter.
Benford has composed three scores for Curran, which
are performed together as a half evening length suite known as
“The Percussion Dances”. “Abstract Concrete”,
for 3 percussionists and 10 dancers, was the first to be completed,
premiering at Central Park Summer Stage in July 2000. This was
followed by “Metal Garden”, premiering at the Joyce
Theatre in June 2001. “Metal Garden” is for 9 dancers
and two musicians, playing prepared piano and a percussion set
up of various drums, bells, gongs and other metal and wooden instruments.
“Metal Garden” was also the name of a CD produced
and played by Benford and pianist Peter Jones, released in 2000
and consisting of 20 duets for prepared piano and percussion.
Curran was so taken by the CD that he asked permission to use
the same title, and made dances to five of the twenty pieces on
the CD. The third dance is “Amadinda Dances”, named
after the Ugandan pentatonic log xylophone played by three musicians
on stage. This dance premiered at New Victory Theatre in 2003.
In addition to the above three pieces, when we musicians
were able to appear live with the company, a body percussion quartet
known as “Quadrabox Redux” was added to the program.
“Quadrabox”, in its original form was created by Benford
and choreographer/musician Martha Partridge in 1989. The newer
version presented by the Curran Company at the Joyce Theatre in
2001 and the New Victory Theatre in 2003 was a second version
of this 1989 work. Anna Kiselgoff , reviewing Curran’s New
Victory season in the New York Times, had this to say about “Quadrabox
Redux”: “Mr. Curran joined these musicians ....in
a breath taking tour de force, “Quadrabox Redux”.
The visual and the aural converged as the performers played an
extravagant form of patty-cake as they accelerated their rhythmic
changes. The execution was astonishing, and the memory required
was even more so.”
In the past two years, Benford worked with choreographer
Jane Comfort to develop the instrumental and vocal score for her
dramatic multi media dance, “Persephone”. This three
part, half evening length work was premiered in parts and as a
work in progress, finally being presented in New York at the Joyce
Theatre in October 2004. The most recent performance was at Memorial
Hall at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, in November
of this 2005.
One of Persephone’s most unique aspects is
the extensive vocalization by the dancers. Benford wrote much
of the vocal material sung by a chorus of dancers, as well as
the more dramatic material sung by Aleta Hayes, playing the role
of Demeter, Persephone’s bereaved mother. The instrumentation
was for four players, and included marimba, amadinda, synthesizer,
piano, shakhuhatchi flute, alto flute, Kabuki flute, accordion
and two multi percussion racks.
The Curran and Comfort companies tour all of these
works extensively in the United States and abroad, using recorded
versions of the instrumental scores.
Benford has also actively produced music for his
colleagues at Rutgers and their professional companies.
these works are three commissions by Randy James: “View
From the Hudson”, a half evening length work for five musicians
and eight dancers, inspired by the events of 9/11/01, “Unknown
Horizon”, a raggae-ish quartet, and “Heaven’s
Dust”, in collaboration with pianist Michael Wall. Last
year Benford created music for John Evans for two percussionists
on stage performing with two dancers in a piece called “Quench”,
in which four extensive and beautiful percussion set ups framed
the stage action of the two dancers. An ambient but expressive
recorded track also played a role in this three part quartet.
Benford has released three full length CDs and a
30 minute CD of the ballet score, “Fluctuating Hemlines”(Septime
Webre/1996). “Noise of Choice” (1997) is 10 pieces
for marimba and hand drums. “Metal Garden” (2000)
is described above. “Talamalika” (2004) is a five
part suite of rhythmically related pieces for four hand drummers
and four singers. “Fluctuating Hemlines” (1996/2001)
is a live performance for five percussionists.
STATEMENT OF THE ARTIST
Playing for dance is important to me. What I value
about it most is that seeing movement helps me create music, and
it is necessary for me to create music to live life with a sense
of satisfaction and meaning. In turn, the music I play seems to
be inspiring for those who use it for movement, and this is gratifying
as well, to know that my music has found a useful place in the
Playing for technique class provides the musician
with a unique opportunity to play for people who are neither sitting
passively in (one hopes) rapt concentration, as in the concert
hall, nor are they chatting and eating as they are in clubs. They
are instead engrossed in an organized and highly demanding activity
that has great meaning to them. To be able to help in such an
enterprise is something to be valued.
Western 20th and 21st Century art holds self expression
to be a given in the act of creation. I personally feel it is
somewhat over rated. Plenty of fabulous art has been created throughout
history and around the world by people who have no inkling of
“self expression”. I prefer instead to think of the
creative process as an exploration into “what is needed
here?” This means that I tend to alter works that I may
have performed previously to fit what seem to be the needs of
that particular space at that particular time.
My interest is in generating certain responses in
listeners. If I got the wrong response it’s the wrong piece.
The meaning and nature of the piece exist in the world as a set
of responses, not as some absolute artistic entity in my own mind.
I believe that art and artists exist to fulfill
an evolutionary design. Their consistent presence throughout history
in culture after culture cannot be explained by politics or by
economics. People need a special place and time to escape temporarily
from the circle of their own lives, which are often filled with
pain and drudgery. Art and entertainment which do not have the
power to transport the audience have no business being on the
As a consumer I value both art and entertainment.
For me what distinguishes the one from the other is that art gives
me insights to bring back into my life. As a creative and performing
artist, my goal is to provide this spark for the listener, so
that they are fully engaged by the music as it happens, and come
away from it with that little something that will enhance their
lives in some small, mysterious way.
Benford’s formal training was at University
of Illinois, where he recieved his Bacheler’s and Master’s
Degrees in Percussion Performance. At Illinois he began his work
with dance and received extensive financial support from the dance
department in exchange for accompaniment and composition. Currently
he is studying tabla, the classical hand drums of North India
with Pandit Samir Chatterjee.
After graduation, Benford toured for three years
with saxophonist Paul Winter’s group, the Paul Winter Consort,
doing 200 concerts during that time. He then co-founded and performed
with Rhythmic Union, a jazz-fusion quintet that toured extensively
in the mid west. Rhythmic Union released two LPs with Inner City
Upon moving to New York City in 1984, Benford co-founded
“Partridge/Benford Dance-Music”, in collaboration
with choreographer Martha Partridge. Each piece was conceived
from the outset as a hybrid of sound and movement. The group did
many residencies and workshops at U.S colleges and in the United
Benford’s works have been funded by the Mary
Flagler Charitable Trust, Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, Meet
the Composer and the Dodge Foundation. His works for dance have
been presented at the Joyce Theatre, Kaye Playhouse, the Duke
on 42nd Street, John Jay Theatre and Central Park Summerstage,
American Dance Festival and Bates Dance Festival, as well as at
numerous universities in the United States.
He has proudly worked and taught nine summers at
Bates Dance Festival, which is the summer home of many of the
most accomplished musicians for modern dance in the world. He
is a founding member of the International Guild of Musicians in
Dance, and is an Associate Professor in the Dance Department at
Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University.