Napier’s Bones

Chamber ensemble (2-7 players)

Arranged for 6 virtuoso percussionists and improvising pianist

The first performance of this arrangement of Napier’s Bones was given by Judy Bailey (piano) and the New Zealand Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Kenneth Young, in the Wellington Town Hall during the 1996 New Zealand Composing Women’s Festival.

About the work

The original version of Napier’s Bones was written in 1989. It is scored for 24 percussionists and improvising pianist.

Napier’s Bones

I wrote this version to involve the improvising talents of pianist, Judy Bailey during the Composing Women’s Festival.

The title has many resonances, but the Napier referred to is Sir John Napier, the inventor of logarithms, and Napier’s bones in Africa were strips of ebony and ivory used for calculating, suggesting to me both rhythmic complexity and the layout of a keyboard.

The piano part is almost entirely improvised, although the pianist is given basic material to work with. There are various forms of interaction with the ensemble for the soloist — call and response, elaboration of harmonic patterns, decoration of percussion textures, improvised duets with percussion instruments, free solo improvisation. The details will vary greatly from performance to performance, although the shape of the piece, which encompasses many speeds, moods and textures in its single movement, remains constant.


This version of Napier’s Bones is scored for piano and percussion as follows:

  • Percussion  1 — vibraphone, antique cymbals, rototoms
  • Percussion  2 — vibraphones, timpani, 3 triangles, 3 metal plates, 3 brake drums, 3 almglocken.
  • Percussion  3 — marimba, glockenspiel, tubular bells, timpani, rasp, bell tree
  • Percussion  4. — rasp, marimba, glockenspiel
  • Percussion  5 — celesta, bell tree, glockenspiel, 2 bass drums
  • Percussion  6 — piano, drum of fluctuating pitch, 6 cymbals, 2 gongs, 2 tamtams, large tamtam.


Contact me if you want to see the score.