Being a percussionist means a varied musical life - a violinist usually has one instrument, as a percussionist I can find myself playing any of at least ten different instruments. Many composers like to experiment in how they use an orchestra - often, the results end up in my section.
Sometimes this means we have to beg, borrow, buy, hire the instruments required and every now and again I feel as though I'm part of a cinematic sound effects team. The Strauss piece mentioned my last blog (Eine Alpensinfonie) is a case in point: to add colour to the Alpine scenery, we all had a pair of cowbells (try to pick them up quietly ) and two of my colleagues had to 'play' a wind machine and a thunder sheet.
Two other pieces go to extremes. In the 1950s, Malcom Arnold wrote a short piece for one of Gerard Hoffung's humorous concerts. A grand, grand overture has a starring role for three vacuum cleaners and a floor polisher to be 'played' by soloists. The vacuum cleaners theoretically have three different, defined pitches and I remember as a student at a small seaside university town in Wales wondering how on earth I was going to manage that - the answer: a fudge, as usual.
Erik Satie is a French composer best known for his piano pieces (Trois gymnopedies etc). During WW1 he was asked to write music for a ballet with a scenario by Cocteau, and set and costume designs by Picasso. Parade is a faintly bizarre piece of music if only because the percussion section is required to provide a typewriter, ship's foghorns, pistol shots, water splash and a bouteillophone. This is an instrument to be constructed out of a series of differently sized glass bottles, filled with varying amounts of water and so forming a sort of glass glockenspiel (bells in the US) only the playing surface is upright, rounded, irregular and liable to movement... I can tell you it takes forever to construct, is almost impossible to play and is needed for a minute or less of music.
If a composer wishes to include something, anything, they want, they will ...