Being a percussionist is quite an interesting thing. There is some sort of mysterious aura around introducing yourself to people as a percussionist.
I usually receive two basic responses:
A) People smile in wonder and say things like, “Oh my God. That is so fun. You must have so much fun! Good for you! Can you teach me to play sometime?!”
B) …................ What?
In 2009, Allan Kozinn of The New York Times made the bold claim that “drums are the new violins.” I believe him to some extent. With the rise of percussion solo, chamber, and art music, percussionists have been given new opportunities and chances to evolve and grow. Many composers are exploring percussion and are finally treating percussion as an instrument in its own right instead of an accessory to compliment the orchestra. Steve Reich and Paul Lansky have composed a number of percussion quartets with the help of chamber group, So Percussion, Gabriel Prokofiev, (grandson of Sergei Prokofiev) has composed a bass drum concerto that was premiered at Princeton University, and solo percussion Guru Steve Schick has recently led a two-day marathon exploration of the evolution of percussion solo music at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.
In the blog post, “Where Are We Going?” Adam Groh raises a few questions in response to Tom Burritt’s article, “Are We There Yet?” He wonders how percussionists will know if we’ve arrived if we don’t even know the location of our destination. He also wonders if by asking this question, if we are asking for acceptance from our “classical” peers.
Adam then asked another pertinent question, “Should we even care about being in the conservatory?” I received an undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree in music at Salem State University. It was a small program with 60 music major and minors. The major is currently celebrating their 10th year anniversary. Although it is not an established school of music, and it probably won’t ever be, the facilities are gorgeous and brand new. The five octave Adams Artist Robert Van Sice marimba is only two years old. The recital hall is about 7 years old, and an additional building had been purchased and made into more rehearsal spaces about 3 years ago. Students had the chance to take private lessons in tabla and sitar, teach music at the school’s preschool, and were required to take a class called Physics of Music and Voice. I think that the diversity had helped given me an open mind in regards to music.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I was faced with the decision to attend graduate school or not. I felt that I wasn’t ready to finish my formal education, but I also felt that I wasn’t ready to prepare for graduate school auditions. However, as a percussionist, I felt trapped. If I wasn’t going to graduate school and if I didn’t have a really nice teaching gig lined up, where/how/what would I practice? Unfortunately, I knew I wouldn’t have access to a set of four timpani, a marimba, a xylophone, a pair of crash cymbals, etc. to prepare for these auditions in my proposed break year.
What I am trying to say is that I don’t mind not being in a conservatory, but as a percussionist, I need to be in a conservatory if I want to continue being a percussionist.
I think that Adam was wondering how percussion will get to where it’s going if the rules of the game are changing. Perhaps it would be best if percussion didn’t arrive and, hopefully, not become accepted. If percussion is still growing and for the most part still evolving as a “new” instrument, how can anyone set rules to be followed, graded, criticized upon, or judged? How can someone teach what is still being learned?