Shared Space, Almaty + a poem

PASIC 2015 was incredible. Our community is filled with amazing people and musicians. It was inspiring and rejuvenating.

I was fortunate that two of my new percussion ensemble pieces were premiered this year; Shared Space and AlmatyThese pieces are now available if you’d like to program them on a concert. Thank you to Matt Ehlers and McCallum High School Percussion, as well as Michael Burritt and the International All-Star Percussion Ensemble for such beautiful performances of these works.

I also recited poetry for the first time! That was fun. And scary. Here’s the poem I read for my piece Almaty:

I found a place that appreciates music,
for what it is, not what it appears to be, or seems to be.

I found a place where art prevails over money, 
where art prevails over subscribers and followers.

I found a place that is cold in temperature, but warm in humanity,
where people love to be enlightened.

I found a place where people dress like hipsters, and hug like parents.

I found a place that feels pure.

PASIC 2015!

Hey percussion people. I’m happy! PASIC 2015 is almost here. I’ve got a few things going on at PASIC that I hope you’ll mark your calendars for:

  • World Premiere: Almaty for Percussion Octet. The PASIC 2015 International All-Star Percussion Ensemble will give the world premiere of my new piece Almaty, a percussion octet inspired by my visit to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Friday Nov. 13 @ 2pm.
  • World Premiere: Shared Space for Seven Percussionists. I’ve written a new piece for McCallum HS Percussion Ensemble, a winner of the HS percussion ensemble competition this year. The piece is called Shared Space. It features the shared instrument concept of my piece 2+1 but for seven players + vibes + percussion. Friday Nov. 13 @ 9am.
  • Panel Discussion: Successful Entrepreneurship in College Education. I’m sitting on a panel to discuss new ideas for the traditional college curriculum. I don’t plan on holding back. You should come. Thursday Nov. 12 @ 2pm.
  • Marching Percussion Show: Yes, you read that right. I know nada about the marching percussion world. NADA. But my friend Dr. Eric Willie knows a lot. Eric has created a marching percussion show of my music called Flow: The Music of Ivan Trevino. It features music from my pieces Flow, Into The Air, 2+1, Song Book, Vol. 1 and Catching Shadows, scored for snares, tenors, basses and front ensemble. Here’s a SoundCloud clip to give you an idea of the arrangement, which I think is stellar:
  • Eric, you’re awesome. Thank you.
  • Sheet Music for AlmatyShared Space and the marching percussion show will all be available at PASIC. Check the Lone Star Percussion and Steve Weiss booths. You’ll also find some of my newer works there, like Hold Fast, Electric Thoughts, This Too Shall Pass… and more.

I’m going to get back to this coffee / taco thing and contemplate a new piece for snare drum + tape. I’m really grateful for all of your support. It means so much to me. See you soon in San Antonio.

– Ivan

New Release: Hold Fast + free album

Luis Rivera and Justin Alexander’s duo Novus Percutere recently released Symmetry | Reflection, a new album that includes a wonderful recording of my piece, Hold Fast. They led a consortium of over 28 percussionists and colleges around the U.S. to have me compose a duo for vibraphone and drum set. Take a listen:

Their album is GREAT and is currently available free of charge! Simply contact Luis Rivera at and request a copy. Sheet music is now available as well.

Thank you Luis and Justin for such a wonderful album. It’s a great addition to the percussion world and I so appreciate you bringing my music to life! Congrats guys.



New Release: This Too Shall Pass…

I recently released This Too Shall Pass…, my first composition for solo vibraphone. I wrote this piece for someone who was going through difficult times, and hope it reaches anyone feeling the same way. 

The piece is part of a three movement suite for percussion soloist called Crossed Wires, which was commissioned by a consortium lead by percussionist Phillip O’Banion.

Sheet music for This Too Shall Pass… is available here. Check out Phillip O’Banion’s wonderful video performance below.

New Release: Electric Thoughts

Sheet music is now available for my piece Electric Thoughts! The piece is scored for solo marimba (5.0 octave) and a pre-recorded audio part. Click here to learn more about Electric Thoughts / purchase sheet music.

The piece was commissioned by a consortium lead by Dr. Christopher Lizak, who is a performer and educator in Austin, TX. There are a few recordings on YouTube by some of the consortium members. Enjoy!

Music can be our interpreter

Music is powerful. It can bring people together, even those of us living worlds apart. When we cannot communicate with words, music can be our interpreter.

It can even bring together a singer from Kazakhstan and a music group from the U.S. to do something like this:

Here’s the story.

Earlier this year, my band Break of Reality traveled to Central Asia on a music diplomacy tour for the U.S. State department. We performed concerts, taught at local schools and collaborated with local musicians. We performed with many wonderful collaborators, but one in-particular left a lasting impression on us: Galymzhan Moldanazar, a singer-songwriter from Kazakhstan.

Galymzhan sings in his native Kazakh language and speaks virtually no english. Despite the language barrier, we immediately connected with his wonderful, indie-pop influenced music. His voice is so pure and beautiful, and he is such an endearing person and musician. Here’s a photo from our first hang:

with Galym

After a few concerts in Kazakhstan, a collaboration was planned to bring Galymzhan to the U.S.

In May 2015, we flew Galymzhan to New York City to collaborate on a new music video for Akpen Birge, one of Galymzhan’s original songs now arranged for Break of Reality. It was the first time Galymzhan had traveled to the U.S., or outside of Kazakhstan for that matter. Even though Galymzhan was in a new place, he brought his good nature with him. He gave each of us a beautiful, hand-made wallet from Kazakhstan as a token of thanks for bringing him to the states. And on the inside, a Kazakh coin. How sweet is that?!

For me, collaborating with Galymzhan on this video was a truly special moment. It’s unbelievable to think that we were brought together because of music; he is now a collaborator and friend for life.

I hope people in the U.S., Kazakhstan and beyond enjoy this video and his wonderful music. Even if you don’t understand his lyrics, I hope his music speaks to you as it does to me.

Break of Reality in Turkmenistan

The thoughts and ideas expressed in this blog post belong to the author and are not in any way affiliated with American Music Abroad or the U.S. State Department.
Turkmenistan is considered by some to be the “North Korea of Central Asia”. My band Break of Reality traveled there as music ambassadors for the U.S. State Department. Here’s what happened:

When I received word that American Music Abroad, a U.S. State Department program, was sending my band Break of Reality to Turkmenistan, my immediate reaction was “Where is that?” Probably a common American response, as most of us are pretty unaware of the country, its policies and its culture. So I looked at a map. Turkmenistan is located in Central Asia and shares borders with Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan.

As I did more research, I became a little worried. Turkmenistan has serious human rights issues. Almost everything in the country is government owned, like newspapers and television stations. Speaking out against the President can get you in serious trouble. Being gay will get you thrown in jail. Many internet and social media outlets, like YouTube and Facebook, are not accessible. Things like “Asia’s Other North Korea” and “The North Korea you don’t know about” popped up in my Google search. Now, I was really worried.

On February 20th, my bandmates Patrick Laird, Meta Weiss, Andrew Janss and I flew into Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan to begin our music diplomacy tour.

City of Marble

Ashgabat at night.
Ashgabat at night.
When our plane landed in Ashgabat, things were much different than what I imagined. I was expecting dry desert terrain, something I’d seen in Homeland. Instead, we noticed an incredible amount of colored lights, sculptures and buildings in the distance. It reminded me of the Las Vegas view from the desert. One far away building caught my eye. It was shaped like a water droplet, lit in various tones of blue, set on a hill overlooking the city.

The airport visa lobby was like a five star hotel, filled with luxurious furniture and spotless marble floors. The people there were just as nicely adorned. Men wore sport coats, nice shoes, were clean shaven, every strand of hair perfectly combed. Women wore nice jewelry and perfectly done makeup. The airport workers were hospitable too, treating us to complimentary tea and candy while we waited for our expeditor to help with our visas. He was a middle aged man who was kind and formal. He kept referring to me as “Mr. Trevino” instead of Ivan.

As we secured our paperwork, I noticed a large photo portrait hanging in the lobby of the airport. It was of a man in a suit.

A van pulled up to take us to our hotel. It was 3am, and before we could lift a finger, at least seven workers from the airport came outside to load our luggage and instruments into our van. Hospitality was a common trend in Turkmenistan. We were guests, and guests are to be taken care of.

Driving through Ashgabat was surreal. It really was like Las Vegas, but much classier. Gaudy buildings, bright lights and beautiful parks at every turn. Each building was made of white marble, and I later found out that Ashgabat holds the world record for the highest concentration of white marble per square meter. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

There was absolutely no trash or litter to be found, anywhere. Later in our trip we would see street cleaners; women who swept the streets with large brooms. Literally people cleaning the streets by hand.

We pulled up to the water drop shaped building that I noticed from the airport. It was our hotel.

Two gigantic glass doors opened as our car pulled up to hotel entrance. Our driver, along with hotel staff, unloaded our gear as we entered. The hotel was exquisite, unlike any I’d ever seen.  A long, crystal chandelier hung at the top of the hotel lobby. It ran directly through a large spiral staircase that led to the second floor’s tea room, where we would later rehearse. The floors and walls were also made of marble, and everything from the floor to the ceiling was absolutely spotless.

We walked towards the reception desk past another set of luxury sofas, where I noticed the cover of a local magazine. It was the man in the suit. He was actually on the cover of three separate magazines and a newspaper, all lined up next to each other on a coffee table. I turned towards the check-in, and sure enough, there he was again. A 15 x 10 foot picture of the man in the suit hung above the reception workers, overlooking the hotel lobby. His name is Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, and he is the current president of Turkmenistan. His picture was hanging everywhere we went. On planes, in restaurants, and even on the stages of the concert halls we played in.

Patrick, Meta and The President.

“This Is Like Jazz!”

During our week in Turkmenistan, we traveled around the country to perform concerts and give educational presentations for music students. One presentation at a music school in Ashgabat is especially memorable.

We walked into a beautiful concert hall filled with music students from 1st through 10th grade, all dressed in traditional Turkmen gowns and hats. This was the first, and maybe the last time they’d see, hear, or interact with an American in their lifetime. As soon as we walked in, they all stood up in unison, and didn’t sit until we gestured for them to do so.

We began to play, and they loved it. They clapped and cheered after every song, were constantly filming on their smart phones, asked great questions through our translator, and even brought us huge bouquets of flowers. After our presentation, a group of six high school aged cellists performed some traditional Turkmen music for us, and we also heard individual performances of Popper etudes and Bach, which we didn’t expect. When our workshop was finished, we asked if they had any final questions before we left. One girl raised her hand and said one word, in English:


We demonstrated and talked about improvisation ideas, and eventually improvised a song with them. Their eyes lit up. We could tell they had never improvised before. For me, this was nothing new. Some music students in the U.S. don’t improvise. But this was different. We talked about trading solos and one girl got so excited. She sort of hopped in her seat and said, “This is like jazz, this is like jazz!” It was really cute. “Yeah, this is kind of like jazz!” I responded. But then she got quiet. “We can’t play jazz.” “Yes you can! You just did!” Meta said.

Our translator jumped in and said, “No, they don’t play jazz here.”

I suggested they improvise a song at their next concert, in a non jazz style. Our translator turned to me and in English said, “they won’t be able to do that, but I’ll tell them anyway.”

After our clinic, I asked our translator why these kids can’t improvise, who said Turkmenistan is all about control and order. I’m not sure how true this is, but a local said something to the effect of: “When a music student is not playing a piece “well enough” for a performance, music schools will sometimes play a recording of the piece and have the student (and accompanist) fake their way through the performance.” Lip sync. For them, this is a better alternative than showcasing a “raw” sounding student.

We were shocked.

We realized our session made an impression on these kids, perhaps stirred some ideas or feelings they may not have experienced before. We realized how important it was for these kids to see us perform, improvise, make mistakes, smile on stage, etc. We realized right then why we were there.

Meta and Patrick sharing a laugh with a student during our improv session.
Our improv crew.
On a few occasions, we did some sightseeing. We visited the Silk Road city of Merv, ate in a traditional Turkmen hut, tried new foods with funny names (Grub, Male Salad, Herring with a Fur Coat), and even ate some familiar foods (Patrick doesn’t recommend the quesadillas in Turkmenistan). It was fun and we felt welcomed and safe wherever we went.

We were well taken care of too. We were escorted us to all of our functions and had translators everywhere we went. We even went shopping at a bazaar, where we bought traditional Turkmen things like carpets, silk, and jewelry.

We also visited a small local music store to rent equipment for our tour. This was the best music store experience I’ve ever had. The owner served us cakes, coffee and tea as we looked through his catalogue of equipment, and he even gave us a traditional Turkmen stringed instrument called a guijak before we left. (Guitar Center: STEP UP YOUR GAME!)

The speakers and drums from this music store would follow us around the country, as the music store workers were also our traveling roadies and audio crew. Despite our language barrier, we became fast friends with the crew.

The concert halls were beautiful in certain cities, but we also noticed some very poor regions during our travels. In some parts, houses weren’t really houses. They were more like shacks. It seemed like the complete opposite of Ashgabat in every way, except for the hospitality.

I couldn’t help but think about our five star “water droplet” hotel with 15 guests in it. I thought to myself, “Couldn’t the funds used to build that hotel be used for something better, like funding some of the poor regions we traveled through?”

An acquaintance told me “That hotel is not a water drop. It’s a tear drop that looks over the city.”

It made me sad to think about.

During our travels, we noticed men in black suits who were always around. I asked our crew who they were. “They are government minders; they work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and are making sure everything goes according to plan.”

We nicknamed them the “Men in Black.”


The Men in Black showed up everywhere, accompanying us wherever we went. Black suits, white shirts, black ties. Turkmen versions of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. They were at sound checks, at restaurants, and even at our concerts. At first, I felt like we were being spied on, but after a while, we got used to having these guys around. In a weird way, they became part of our crew too. They helped with pre and post concert loading and unloading, drove us to dinners, and were perfectly cordial.

They would surprise us from time to time, though. For example, they showed up in Merv with two white mini-buses while we were sightseeing. They started moving all of our gear into these new vehicles and sent our drivers away. Someone decided the Men in Black should drive us the rest of the way, and so they did.

“They’re just doing their job–doing what they are told,” a local told us. Part of it was making sure everything goes smoothly for us. Again, that whole hospitality thing. And, that whole control thing too.

After a concert in Mary, things got crazy with crowd control. A large crowd of audience members waited for us outside of our tour bus and just went crazy. They wanted photos, autographs, hugs, handshakes, anything. I’ve done post show autographs before, but this was different. We were being pulled in all directions. Arms, hands, clothes; whatever they could could get their hands on. “Picture please! Picture please!” echoed throughout the loading area.  It began to get even more crowded as people realized where we were, and more dangerous too. It was just too many people in such a small space.

I felt a sharp pain as one of the Men in Black gripped my arm and pulled me away from the crowd, towards the bus. All the band members were being pulled away too as police showed up to dissolve the crowd. Yep, police. It was that crazy.

The Men in Black did their job. They ensured our safety, and we were grateful. As our bus drove away, a group of teenagers began running alongside our bus, shouting, waving and taking photos. We opened the window, waved back and shouted, “Thank you!” A true rock star moment, in Turkmenistan of all places.

Last Show

Our last concert in Turkmenistan was back in Ashgabat. It was one of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever played. We collaborated with a local orchestra and played a traditional Turkmen piece and some Break of Reality arrangements too. This orchestra was REALLY GOOD. Like, really good:

Back to the concert… The ambassador of Turkmenistan gave the opening remarks and introduced us to the stage. The crowd was beyond enthusiastic, and the hall was filled over capacity. There must have been 800 people in this 700 person hall. People were standing in the aisles for the entire show, a fire code violation in any American concert hall.

The crowd was unlike any I’d ever played for too. If they heard something they liked, they cheered and clapped, right in the middle of a song. The peak of a phrase, the end of a musical section, etc. They were completely into the music. It was special.

During our last song, many of the audience members took out their cell phones, turned on their flash lights, and started waving them in the air. The view from the stage was so beautiful, like a night sky filled with moving stars.

Audience members wave their cell phones to the beat during the last song.
Audience members wave their cell phones to the beat during the last song.

I’ll never forget that moment, and will never forget Turkmenistan. The people are beautiful, welcoming, and were sincerely thankful that we visited their country. Audiences love music. Every concert hall we played was filled to the brim. We learned so much from the musicians we taught and performed with, who seemed so grateful that we were there, and so eager to share their culture with us. It truly was an exchange of music and life.

Many of the things I read about Turkmenistan are true, and can’t be ignored. The human rights issues are there in plain sight. That’s why programs like American Music Abroad are so important. I believe these cultural programs can foster positive change in places like Turkmenistan, and also make Americans more aware of what is happening outside of ourselves. That is really important too, I think.

And maybe we planted a seed for improvisation for those high school musicians. Maybe they will improvise at a concert one day. That alone would make the whole trip worth it.

– Ivan Trevino, March 2015

First Listen: Hands Up

Hands Up was composed to encapsulate the 2014 protests in Ferguson, MO. The words used are not my own; the text comes from numerous interviews and twitter hashtags from protesters at these events. Given the ongoing events in Ferguson, I’d like to make it clear that this work is intended to capture the protest feelings in Ferguson, which in my opinion, hold significant historical and societal value. I am opposed to violent protests and police violence, and believe the best course to create change is through peaceful discourse.

The piece is scored for 10 players total: drum set soloist, four percussionists who rhythmically vocalize text (ala Cage’s living room music) via amplification / megaphones, two marimbas, piano, xylophone, and crotales. It’s art / rock / rally music; perhaps my Zach de la Rocha and Rage Against the Machine influence comes through. Take a listen:

Thank you to Dr. Colin Hill at Tennessee Tech for taking the lead on this commission, as well as consortium members Justin Alexander at Virginia Commonwealth University, Chad Floyd at Campbellsville University, Bob Breithaupt at Capital University, Jeff Moore at University of Central Florida, Jesse Willis at Coastal Carolina University, Brian Mason at Morehead State University, Wayne Bovenschen at Oklahome State University, Charlotte Mabrey at University of North Florida, Julie Hill at University of Tennessee at Martin, and Jordan Kamps at University of Illinois at Chicago. I will be premiering Hands Up alongside the Tennessee Tech percussion ensemble on April 23, 2015 at TTU.

-Ivan Trevino, 2/3/15


Studio Recording: Catching Shadows by FSU Percussion

Percussionists at Florida State University have released an absolutely stunning studio recording of my percussion sextet, Catching Shadows. Not only is the playing top notch, but the recording is equally impressive thanks to Dr. John Parks, who has become one of the most sought after engineers for percussion. Thanks to Sabrina Peterson, Glenda Lopez, Andrew Bockman, J.t. Forrester, Tripp Gwaltney and John Thomas III for their stellar playing and to Dr. Parks for his engineering wizardry. Take a listen!

New Mallet out now!

UPDATE: My mallets are now available at Mostly Marimba, Lone Star Percussion, and Steve Weiss Music!

I am excited to announce the release of my new signature series marimba mallet! I’ve spent the last year with Malletech designing my ideal “go-to” mallet, one that speaks in all ranges of the marimba. The mint green “IT13” mallets made their debut at PASIC 2014.

I wanted to design a mallet that covered the sound spectrum of my marimba music; fat low sounds, clear melodic sounds, and delicate soft sounds. To do so, I decided on a rubber core with synthetic blend yarn, creating a subtle two-tone sound. I’ve been using my mallets on the road lately, both in solo and small chamber music settings, and the feedback has been great which is SO EXCITING to hear!

Not only did Malletech and I spend time getting the sound just right, we also spent time on how the mallet feels in the hand. The mallets are of medium weight and have a slight rebound to them, making faster passages feel easier and more fluid to play.

If you’re going to PASIC this year, plan on stopping by the Mostly Marimba booth to check them out! I think you’ll dig what we came up with.


I LOVE DRUM SET! I’ve been composing more for the instrument lately, like Heat Stroke, a new piece for drum set solo + tape that I wrote for Aaron Staebell’s Solo Drum Solo project. Hold Fast, a duo for vibes and drum set, was also recently premiered by percussionists Luis Rivera and Justin Alexander, who will record the piece this summer.

I’m currently writing a large scale piece for DRUM SET SOLOIST w/ PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE. This one is going to rock!! The consortium is organized by Dr. Colin Hill of Tennessee Tech University, who is currently looking for a few more people to support this project to make it happen. If you’d like to join the consortium, support me and this new piece, and have exclusive performing rights before the piece is made available to the public, contact Dr. Hill at The piece will be appropriate for both a college percussion ensemble concert or recital, FYI.

I’m really looking forward to PASIC and hope to see you many of you there!