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Thamyris bangs the drum

For 13 years, Atlanta chamber ensemble Thamyris has been motivated to present 20th century music to its audiences — whether they were ready to listen or not.
"It was sort of a sacred cow back then," admits co-founder Peggy Benkeser. "I was young, idealistic and a purist. I'm not anymore. We've spent years doing hardcore contemporary music. I think our mission has evolved. Our original intent was to present the best contemporary music at the highest level of performance. We've done that."
In recent years, Thamyris has expanded its horizons, first by bringing in world music performer and composer Steve Everett as conductor and co-artistic director. The group's concert programming has also become more contextually bases, with performances that explores an issue or type of music.
Its latest exploration brings together Thamyris percussionists Benkeser, Everett and Mike Cebulski with the Atlanta Percussion Trio in their first joint concert, featuring only works written for percussion instruments.
"As a percussionist, I'm thrilled to do this," says Benkeser. "Contemporary music is complex. But you can step in and enter percussion music the first time you hear it."
During a pre-performance workshop, African drums, Indonesian gamelan and urban jungle instruments such as trash cans will be demonstrated. The program features works as diverse as Chinese folk songs, Trinidadian steel drum music, a pots-and-pans "Kitchen Samba" and an original composition by the Percussion Trio's Jeff Kershner. "It shows the breadth of what percussion can be," says Benkeser. "I can't think of any instrument that does what we do — we can do it all."
While Thamyris plans to continue its artistic vision with more so-called serious contemporary works, it has its eye increasingly on audience-friendly programming. "It's wonderful to present these works in an accessible context. It becomes music that you want to listen to instead of something you have to take. Art shouldn't be presented like it's good for you."
Thamyris performs with the Atlanta Percussion Trio at Emory University's Performing Arts Studio, Sun., Jan. 21; children's workshop at 1 p.m. (call 404-228-1544 for information) and concert at 4 p.m. (call 404-727-5050).