PAS Hall of Fame

Thomas Siwe

by Rick Mattingly

Thomas SiweIt is especially appropriate that Tom Siwe be elected to the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame during the year that PAS celebrates its 50th anniversary, as Siwe played a large role in that history and his influence continues to be felt.

Siwe was first elected to the PAS Board of Directors in 1976. He served as Second Vice-president from 1980–81, First Vice-President from 1981–84 (and Treasurer in 1983), President from 1984–86, and Comptroller from 1986–88. He was honored with the Outstanding PAS Service Award in 1986 and 1989, and with the PAS Lifetime Achievement in Education Award in 2002.

In addition to his work with PAS, Siwe had a distinguished career leading the percussion department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign for 30 years. A list of his former students includes names that have become prominent in the percussion community, including Michael Blair, Michael Bump, Ian Ding, Randy Eyles, Michael Gould, Eric Hollenbeck, Kathleen Kastner, Johnny Lee Lane, John Meyers, Eugene Novotney, Glenn Schaft, Thomas Sherwood, Kristen Shiner-McGuire, Larry Snider, Michael Udow, and Gregory Zuber, among many others.

Siwe is also the man behind the Guide to Solo and Ensemble Literature, one of the most important percussion research sources of all time. He has performed with such groups as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops, and published articles in leading music journals and compositions for percussion.

“Tom’s contributions cannot be overstated,” said J.B. Smith, Professor of Music at Arizona State University. “He was instrumental in establishing PAS’s structure and mission. He selflessly elevated the scholarly and artistic growth of percussion. His students carry on his ambitious agendas to explore, discover, and share. His contributions to percussion pedagogy and literature continue. Induction into the Hall of Fame is fitting and deserved.”


Thomas V. Siwe was born February 14, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois. “My mother was a single parent who insisted that my sister and I take piano lessons while in elementary school,” he recalls. “Lessons were 25 cents per week. I eventually turned to the accordion to avoid competition with my sister—who was a much better pianist than I—and, with a neighbor who played guitar, I began doing gigs at nursing homes and parties.

“In high school, my best friend was a star football player who, during the off-season, played in the band. I approached Mr. Ivan Feldman, the school’s band director, and told him I would like to learn how to play the trumpet and be in the band. He said he had too many trumpets and asked if I would like to learn to play the drums. Mr. Feldman was an oboe player and an excellent musician who gave me my first percussion lessons, which included music appreciation and composition. After I showed some promise, he sent me to take snare drum lessons from Clarence Carlson, an instructor at the Chicago Music College located in Chicago’s Loop. Carlson wrote each lesson out by hand and used drum parts from Sousa marches for reading exercises. 

“Upon graduation from high school, my friend the football star received an athletic scholarship from the University of Illinois and drove me down to Champaign—on his Harley-Davidson—so that I could audition for Paul Price. My reading ability and musicianship carried the day and I began my college career in the fall of 1953.”

From 1956–58 Siwe was on active duty in the United States Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in California, serving as a percussionist with the marching, concert, and radio bands. After his discharge from the Marines, he went back to school, receiving his Bachelor of Music degree in 1963 from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he studied with Paul Price, Jack McKenzie, and Robert Kelly. In 1966 he received his Master of Music degree from the same university, and his teachers during that time were McKenzie, Lajaren Hiller Jr., and Hunter Johnson.

He also began an active playing career. In 1959 and 1962 he was a percussionist in the Boston Pops Tour Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. He also served as a percussionist with the Lyric Opera of Chicago (1958–68), the UIUC Contemporary Chamber Players (1960–80), and the Peninsula Music Festival Orchestra (1961–62), percussionist and timpanist with the Chicago Little Symphony in 1963, percussionist with the University of Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players (1965–69), first-call percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1966–81), percussionist with the Joeffry Ballet (1966–69) and Chicago’s Grant Park Symphony Orchestra (1966–69), percussionist and principal timpanist with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony (1969–89), and principal timpanist with the Sinfonia de Camera (1984–94). He also served as conductor of the University of Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players (1969), the University of Illinois Opera Theatre (1971), and the American Composers Ensemble (1975–77).

He has appeared on recordings by the University of Illinois Percussion Ensemble, the Gate 5 Ensemble, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the University of Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players, the UIUC Contemporary Chamber Players, Sinfonia da Camera, the University of Michigan Percussion Ensemble, and others.


In the summer of 1965 Siwe taught percussion techniques and directed the percussion ensemble at Bemidji State College in Minnesota. The following summer he served the same roles at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan. He served as a teaching associate at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois from 1965–68, an instructor at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb from 1966–68, and a visiting lecturer at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1968.

In 1969 he began the job he would hold for the next 30 years: Professor of Music at his alma mater, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Over the years, his duties included being chair of the percussion division and teaching undergraduate and graduate percussion techniques, percussion methods, graduate percussion literature, and undergraduate master classes, and leading the percussion ensemble, steel band ensemble, and marimba orchestra. In 1975, Siwe instigated a DMA program for graduate applied music percussionists. Michael Udow was the first to earn that new degree.

“Percussion students at the University of Illinois were blessed by a teacher who had an incredibly varied performing career,” said Erica Montgomery, a graduate of UIUC who is currently principal timpanist with the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. “We had the most comprehensive percussion literature course in the country, taught by someone who had seen, done, and lived it all first-hand. His affinity with the avant-garde was infectious, and his pragmatic approach ensured that students were prepared for the competitive music world. He taught lessons, conducted percussion ensemble, marimba orchestra, steel drum band, played recitals, commissioned and performed new works, and shared with us the best clinicians in the field. And in his spare time he volunteered his services to PAS in countless roles.”


“When the PAS was first proposed 50 years ago, I was already a professional musician,” Siwe recalls. “I had completed two national tours with Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops and was a member of Chicago’s Lyric Opera Orchestra. My schooling had been interrupted by Uncle Sam, but I was able to return to the University of Illinois after each opera season to work toward my music degrees under the guidance of my mentor and friend, Jack McKenzie. Jack was a co-founder of PAS, and with his encouragement I became active in the Society by attending meetings, writing articles and, in general, lending my support. I soon became a teacher as well and it was apparent to me that the information found in the PAS journal, the Percussionist, was important to my students. When it was proposed that the newsletter published by Jim Moore, Percussive Notes, become part of PAS, I strongly endorsed the action. The scholarly articles of the Percussionist and the practical information found in Percussive Notes became great resources not only for the student percussionist but also for the professional. Prior to that time, information on many aspects of the percussive arts was only available from the seasoned professionals who, for a fee, revealed their ‘secrets’ to success. The journal published by PAS soon became a forum for the free exchange of ideas and the single most important resource regarding every aspect of our profession.”

By 1971, Siwe was a member of the PAS Illinois chapter and served on its Board of Directors from 1971–87. “By judging contests, promoting the ‘un-contest,’ and advocating for rule changes and new school-level literature, the board helped make the Illinois state solo and ensemble contest a less militaristic and more musical experience for the high school band percussionist,” Siwe says.

In the 1970s, the annual meetings of PAS were held each December in downtown Chicago in conjunction with the Mid-West Band Clinic. On December 18, 1971, the Illinois chapter held a Day of Percussion coinciding with the annual PAS meeting. “It was a great success with over 150 drummers/percussionists in attendance,” Siwe recalls. “The program included clinics, lectures, and performances and became a model for similar events in the years that followed. I vividly recall the afternoon of that first day when then PAS president Sandy Feldstein addressed the gathering and asked if they would like to have a similar program the next year as part of our annual meeting. The resounding YES from the standing-room-only audience has echoed throughout these past 40 years. The Day of Percussion evolved into PASIC, and the rest is history.”

By the start of the 1980s, PAS was growing in excellence and influence, and PASIC was becoming the place for percussionists to congregate each fall. But the PAS office was in disarray and complaints from the membership indicated to the Executive Committee that something needed to be done. The first step was to move the home office from Terre Haute, Indiana to Urbana, Illinois. 

“As First Vice-president (later President), I was given the task of overseeing the Society’s business and getting PAS back on the right course,” Siwe says. “At that time, the Society’s financial resources were meager and its future looked bleak. With the help of full-time office manager Dennis Wiziecki, part-time secretary Pat McKenzie, and many of my percussion students from the nearby University of Illinois, things began to change for the better. With a grant from a local Urbana business, the office began using computers to track membership and address mailing labels for the journals. Phone calls and letters from members were answered, bills were paid on time. The office, for the first time, was run like a business. It was not all smooth sailing, but with the leadership of an expanded Board of Directors, the support of the membership, and many student volunteers, PAS avoided the abyss.”

Pat McKenzie (wife of the late Jack McKenzie) recalls her time working with Siwe when she served as PAS secretary. “For seven years I was witness to Tom’s consuming dedication to preserve and expand the Society through very difficult times,” she says. “I watched Tom nurture the growth of the Society from the era of 3x5-inch file cards into the computer age. He fulfilled a dual role of Professor of Music and Chair of the Percussion Department at the University of Illinois concurrently with being President of the Percussive Arts Society with utmost efficiency. I observed him as he came into the PAS office early, working during his lunch hours, and working many long hours into the evening, tending to PAS duties.”

To better lead PAS, and in the midst of his duties to the Society and to his school, during the 1980s Siwe took courses in business law, marketing, small business administration, business mathematics, and principles of management at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois. During Siwe’s tenure as PAS president, he initiated a newsletter, Percussion News, to better communicate with the membership, began an endowment drive to help stabilize the financial picture, and started collecting instruments for a proposed PAS museum.

“Tom led the adoption of a business model that allowed PAS to evolve from a college-based fraternity to a diverse educational organization that catered to an expanded community of musicians, manufacturers, and educators,” said J. B. Smith in a letter he wrote supporting Siwe’s nomination to the PAS Hall of Fame. “Had Tom not initiated PAS’s move from Terre Haute to Urbana, the Society’s history might have played out much differently. Tom’s stewardship led to improved quality of publications, elevated scholarly inclusion, increased corporate involvement, and sound management practices.”


An important and useful percussion research tool is Siwe’s Guide to Solo and Ensemble Literature, which is now part of the PAS website and has been integrated with years of Percussive Notes literature reviews and programs submitted by PAS members. Siwe began collecting information about percussion solo and ensemble literature in 1954, starting with a list he got from Paul Price.

“Paul had a small wooden box on his desk with 3x5 cards that listed all the percussion ensemble pieces he performed or was planning to perform, with the composer’s name, title, and instrumentation,” Siwe said in a May 2011 Percussive Notes article.  “One night I copied the data from his cards. I believe he had almost 30 titles on file. I continued to acquire data over the years, upgrading to 5x8 cards and two files: solo and ensemble works. In the ’80s I purchased one of the early Macs and began to digitize the data. I felt that it was time to share my files with the membership, so I purchased Media Press with the idea of making the list available in catalog form. I began to contact composers asking to confirm the information I had about them. The forms I sent out included a section where they could add additional percussion works that I had not listed in my printed questionnaire. The returned forms corrected a lot of the data, contributed new biographical information, and added volumes of new works to my list.”

Percussion Ensemble and Solo Literature was originally a single-volume work with 661 pages. “The first printing in 1993 quickly sold out,” Siwe said. “I continued to collect information and the data base grew too large for my program and my printer to handle. I decided to split the publication into two catalogs: solo and ensemble.” Percussion Solo Literature with 519 pages was introduced in 1995, and Percussion Ensemble Literature, having 556 pages, in 1998.

“Donating my list of works to PAS in 2001 was a gesture to help PAS and its fledgling website as well as a way for me to continue to support the growth and performance of our literature,” Siwe explained. “One of my former students, Michael Bump, is now adding to and correcting the PAS database.”

Siwe also composed “Duet for Snare Drum and Timpani,” published in 1954 by Music for Percussion, “Sextet for Percussion,” published in 1955 by Music for Percussion, and “10 Hall of Fame Snare Drum Solos,” published in 2009 by Media Press. He is the author of Percussion: a Course of Study for the Future Band and Orchestra Director, published in 2002 by Media Press, and he has authored numerous articles for Percussionist, Percussive Notes, Percussive Notes Research Edition, The Illinois Music Educator, and Band Directors Guide.

Siwe says he is “humbled and honored” to receive the PAS Hall of Fame award.  “I thank my colleagues and friends who nominated and voted for me. When I look at PAS today, I feel like a proud parent, as does each of the Society’s past presidents. We have helped nurture PAS for 50 years from its beginnings, through its adolescent growing pains, to a mature and responsible organization whose influence and prestige is acknowledged throughout the music world. To be recognized, in part, for my work with PAS gives me great joy.”

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