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For The FoCo Symphony, The Treble With The Timpani Is That It's Rented

Courtesy of Fort Collins Symphony
Fort Collins Symphony timpanist Mike Tretreault has been known to 'overplay' the rented drums the symphony currently uses, according to FCSO Music Director Wes Kenney.

Why rent when you can own?

That’s the question the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra is asking after spending decades renting several of its larger, more expensive instruments. In fact, the only instruments the symphony truly owns is a bass drum and a tam tam, said FCSO music director Wes Kenney.

“Anything else either belongs to (our venue), the Lincoln Center, or we're having to beg, borrow or rent it,” Kenney said.

A professional symphony renting its instruments may sound a little strange, but it’s not as uncommon as you might think.

Both the Boulder Symphony and the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra borrow or rent most of their percussion sections, although the Phil does own a set of timpani drums.

“But they are in rather poor condition and we mainly use them for rehearsals,” said Executive Director Kevin Shuck. “For performances, we use timpani belonging to the University of Colorado, where our principal timpanist is on the faculty. We rent all of our other percussion equipment on a weekly basis.”

The Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra also has arrangements with the University of Northern Colorado and Union Colony Civic Center to use their timpani drums and grand piano.

The size and cost of the instruments both play a factor, said Stephen Coppick, Executive Director of the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra.

“I think it is rare for an orchestra our size to own those instruments,” Coppick said.

A good timpani drum costs $4,000 to $5,000 per drum and a complete set is four drums, Wes Kenney said. The Fort Collins Symphony budgets up to $10,000 a year for rentals.

The symphony has been renting its instruments for a long time. Just how long? Even Kenney isn’t completely sure.

“It’s a little unclear – at least to any current staff – exactly when the acquisition of the timpani and the xylophone were made, but it’s long before I got here in 2003,” he said.

Since then, the symphony has outgrown those instruments.

“I think that the symphony has grown to a point that the percussion instruments really need to be at the level the musicians themselves are playing at,” he said. “We have a fabulous timpanist in Mike Tretreault, who can - in fact - overplay the drums that we have at this point, and so I would like to find some instruments that would also be worthy of him.”

Now the symphony is working toward becoming owners rather than renters.

In 2015, its booster, Friends of the Symphony, raised funds to purchase music stands, which they had been renting. Next up is a fundraiser for some percussion instruments. The symphony has its eye on a vibraphone, xylophone and timpani – all of which, it rents from Lincoln Center.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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