Mysterious Barrier

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Kirk J. Gay

General Info

Year of Publication: 2016
Publisher: Tapspace
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Duration: 00:05:45
Cost: $25.00


The Mysterious Barrier is a timpani duet written for nine drums. The timpani are arranged in a circle, facilitating easy movement of the players between two sets of four drums which are joined by a single piccolo timpani. This is Kirk J. Gay’s follow-up to "Fear Cage" which uses the same timpani setup.

The thematic material for the piece is taken from François Couperin’s harpsichord work Les Barricades Mystérieuses, which comes from Ordre de Pieces de Clavecin, a collection of harpsichord works by Couperin. The two timpani parts work together to recreate the melodic and harmonic structures from Couperin’s work. In addition to working together in overlapping harmonies, the timpanists also split complex and fast rhythms to imitate arpeggios and runs on the harpsichord. There are also sections where the two players trade phrases back and forth, which creates different harmonic movements than the other techniques in the piece.

This virtuosic and showy piece will give percussionists and timpani afficionados a great vehicle to entertain crowds, and create something unique with two sets of drums.


Marcus D. Reddick's Writing: Kirk Gay wrote this work as a sequel to his popular duet “Fear Cage,” with the setup of nine timpani (two sets of four drums with one piccolo timpano joining the two sets) being the same for both pieces. Although there are no pre-recorded tracks with “The Mysterious Barrier,” or other ancillary percussion for that matter, there is still plenty of excitement to carry the piece.

Overall, the composer did an excellent job at splitting the melody between the nine drums and two players, and has the performers moving comfortably around each. It is obvious, in these sections, that this composer is adept at writing for the instrument. Unfortunately, these moments of beauty and clarity are interspersed with episodes of technical indulgence, where the timpani are treated more like tonal bass drums in a DCI show and difficult rhythmic splits (in the spirit of Robert Marino’s “8 on three and 9 on Two”) are presented. During these moments, the musical intimacy of the piece is lost. Because of these periods of rhythmic density, playing this piece in a resonant hall will not yield the most desired results, despite being marked to play with hard mallets, as the sustain from the drums will blur rhythmic clarity. I would have liked to see the thematic material, which is taken from François Couperin’s “Les Barricades Mystérieuses, ” developed, explored, and expounded upon more.

There are no pitch changes throughout the composition, and the lines of demarcation as far as which performer plays which drums are stated very clearly. All markings in the score are clear and easy to understand. The piece would work well for a junior or senior percussion recital, or in a concert with diverse musical compositions [1]

Recent Performance

Performed by Mitchell Gribbroek and Wesley Strasser

Books for Percussion by this Composer

Gay, Kirk J. Pedal to the Kettle. Portland, OR: Tapspace Publications, LLC, 2009.

Works for Percussion by this Composer

Fear Cage
Mysterious Barrier
Overture for Timpani


  1. Percussive Notes Volume 55 No.2 ,2017