Meet the Musicians!
Bill Shaltis, Timpani
By Ellie McKinnon
The Right Mallet is Important
When Dr. William Shaltis selects a mallet to play in his role as a percussionist in a performance, he may choose from a selection of mallets each designed for a different instrument including the marimba, the vibraphone, the snare drum, and the timpani (kettledrums). He can play all of the instruments. But when he is playing with the Boise Baroque Orchestra, he uses a pair of hard mallets and plays on Baroque-style timpani: Drums made of copper bowls with a stretched membrane atop. Drums first played by his teacher, James Grimes, and given to Bill prior to his teacher’s death. The drums were a significant gift as Mr. Grimes was a leader in the Historically Informed Performance Practice Movement in the United States and played for numerous decades with the Boston Baroque and the Handel & Haydn Society Orchestras in Boston, MA. When Bill plays these drums, he feels he honors his former teacher. And what about the sound these instruments make? Bill says, “I would describe these drums as having a leaner, more transparent and more percussive sound than their modern counterparts.” He adds, “The mallets also add to the sonority.”
Playing timpani, according to Bill, involves considering which mallet to use that would execute a particular phrasing which, he reports, “may or may not be written down.” During the Baroque Era, he notes, the drums, which previously were used primarily in military music and for celebratory events, were slowly integrated into the orchestra along with the trumpets until both trumpets and timpani became permanent members. Bill states that trumpeters and timpanists learned a large number of embellishments, though little evidence exists on the how and when of such ‘rhythmic flourishment’ because the timpani was generally taught rote from a master to an apprentice.
Bill, a master himself, is the Director of Percussion Studies at the University of Memphis in Tennessee and frequently performs with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. But he’s no stranger to Boise. He was the Principal Timpanist of the Boise Philharmonic from 2011-2017. When he comes to Boise to perform, he is among former colleagues including members of the Boise Baroque Orchestra and the Boise Philharmonic (many of whom play for both orchestras) and, of course, Maestro Robert Franz.
While he was performing in Idaho, he was living in Kansas City and commuting. During this period, he decided to pursue his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Missouri - Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. Bill has enjoyed the opportunity to wear many musical hats during his musical career. In addition to his professorial and orchestral responsibilities, he’s performed with diverse and eclectic ensembles including a Janissary Band (music based in the Turkish military style music) in Boston, a Mexican marimba group in Kansas City, and before an audience of thousands in the Kansas City Chiefs Drumline.
Interests Outside of Music
While he loves music, Bill is also an avid sports fan who follows the New England Patriots in the NFL and the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA. And he is an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys running, hiking and fishing. While he enjoys most outdoor activities, he also pursues hobbies as a fully urban man. He loves learning about and sampling coffees, bourbons and beers. Living and performing in Tennessee and performing with the Boise Baroque Orchestra provide opportunities to enjoy the flavor of all of these interests and activities. As he shares his talents in both states, fortunate audiences can hear the rhythm of his drums woven into the music at live performances, and as they listen to the Boise Baroque Orchestra’s Digital Concert Series available for purchase now at boisebaroque.org for download until August 31, 2021.