Largest collection of historical timpani in UK showcased by percussionist Adrian Bending

Adrian Bending, principal timpanist at the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, brought his extensive collection of timpani to New St Lawrence Church to demonstrate the difference between the drums

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A collection of historical timpani which is believed to be the largest of its type in the UK, if not the world, was recently brought to New St Lawrence Church in Ayot St Lawrence to be played by its owner Adrian Bending.

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Bending is the principal timpanist in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and has over 50 timpani in his collection, which he brought to Ayot St Lawrence to demonstrate to audiences.

‘It has taken 30 years for me to get to a point when I really feel that I have all areas of timpani style completely covered,’ says Bending.

The percussionist has a reason for owning such an extensive collection. Throughout history, the timpani changes every 50 years or so. With a 400-year history, that’s around 8 sets of drums – and a set can consist of 2, 3 or even 4 drums. That’s not including duplicates or spares.

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We asked Adrian Bending to answer a few questions about the history of the timpani.

Why have timpani changed throughout history?

The reason that timpani changed steadily and regularly is very simple.  It’s actually largely about the other players in the orchestra, ie. how many of them there are.  The first Baroque ensembles that featured timpani consisted of barely more than a dozen players, with one timpanist. Today, a standard symphony orchestra might consist of 60 string players, 12-20 woodwind, 12-20 brass players and a few percussionists – but invariably there is still only one timpani player. This presents huge problems of dynamics and balance.

Do timpani need restoring?

It would be impossible for anyone to assemble and maintain such a collection of timpani without working closely with a maker and restorer. I work very closely with Pete Woods of Henry Potter (a famous and traditional musical instrument company) and also of BBC’s highly popular TV programme The Repair Shop.

Pete Woods is one of the very few people in the World who is able to make timpani by hand. Over the last 25 years, he and I have restored many drums, made copies of existing instruments and even designed our own timpani.

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Where do you keep all your drums?

In a variety of storage units here and there. As a result, it is an expensive and time-consuming business keeping everything safe and organised. Like my colleagues in the OAE who all play and maintain multiple instruments, constantly switching between instruments presents many challenges, both for playing them but also keeping them in top condition, perhaps when they are not used for some time. It is a labour of love for all of us.

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