Help with timpani writing

Are there any timpanists on this forum? I'm reviewing the timpani part for a piece I'm working on, and I'm having doubts about whether it's either impossible to perform, or requires too many retunings or too many drums, etc.. I googled around for more information on timpani writing, and the general advice I got was to minimize the number of distinct pitches, and allow plenty of time for retuning.

What remains unclear to me, though, is how fast a modern instrument equipped with tuning pedals can be tuned to a different pitch? At a tempo of, say, 115 bpm in 6/8 time, how practical is it to retune from say C (below middle C) down to B flat in the span of 2-3 bars?  What can be done in a frequently-modulating passage where there are very few common pitches that might be usable as a tuning?

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  • Was watching the Copenhagen SO playing bolero in a railway station. Towards the end the timpanist is banging away and then the pitch goes up a semitone, to D# I think. Just the press of a foot peddle. Spoke to our player one time and he showed me the peddles around the bass.

    I can remember in the 80s watching a timpanist with his ear on the skin and a tuning fork tightening the drum getting ready for key change.
  • OK, so I did a little more research, and the recommendation is that it's safer to tune the pitch up rather than down. Is that right? What happens after the change to D#, can it easily come back down to D again, or the player has to switch to a different drum or play a different pitch?

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