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HEARding Cats will start off the year with a bang

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 13, 2010 - The HEARding Cats Collective is a four-person team dedicated to bringing interesting, unorthodox and unusual music forms to St. Louis audiences. The group formed only recently, in November 2009, and one of its members, Rich O'Donnell, has recruited two other musicians for the first show of 2010 under the collective's banner. Promised is a percussive delight in the fourth floor concert hall of downtown's gorgeous Christ Church Cathedral.

"We like people to come who like things a little out of the ordinary," says O'Donnell, a retired, 43-year percussionist with the St. Louis Symphony.

A longtime creator of handmade, unique percussion pieces, O'Donnell is slated to perform under the name HaZbeeN, alongside the local percussion duo Matt Henry and Tom Zirkle, aka HaZmaT . The musicians will gather as a trio at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 15, and will perform pieces that are templated works, with much room for improvisational playing.

"For many, many years, I've been building, designing and inventing instruments," O'Donnell says. "I have used them in concerts and recordings. I've been friends of Tom Zirkle and Matt Henry and invited them to perform, saying, 'Let's explore these instruments I've made and I'll join in as HaZbeeN,' (since I'm quite a bit older).

"It's all going to be built around extremely unusual percussion. Two of the pieces are scored, which I've written. They're outlined with algorhythms, rater than notations. There's a list of things that we do, improvising along timelines, so to speak. The individual events are improvised. In rehearsing, some of the instruments are new to Tom or Matt and it's a matter of getting used to them, working with them, getting our heads together and creating that chemistry.

"There's something that happens to improvising musicians, in jazz and so on," he continues. "If you have the right people, you know what they're going to play before they do. A concert is like a good conversation, it's not random, at all. It's all about the dialogues. I'm more than exchanging phrases. Sometimes we argue, sometimes we laugh, musically. The whole social barometer happens, but we do it musically and we do it together. We'll only rehearse three times before the concert, then we'll be ready to play. We'll welcome the free association of ideas and or environment; the room, the audience, all are players in that. And as musicians or artists, we try to amplify freedom, so to speak."

Schuyler Hall at Christ Church will serve a useful role for this show, as it's a much smaller venue than the main worship hall of the Episcopal cathedral, where O'Donnell has performed before. He believes the small space and specific acoustics of the room will invigorate all three players as they toy with instruments that "come from my exploration of sonic capabilities," according to O'Donnell.

"They're all a part of me," he says. "And many of the instruments are ones that nobody's heard before."

Tickets will be available at the door for $15, or $7 for seniors and "starving artists." Though the event is on the fourth floor of Christ Church, at 1210 Locus, there is an elevator and wheelchair accessibility. For more information, see: heardingcatscollective.org.

Thomas Crones is a freelance writer.