RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • Five-Question Friday: Brian Graiser

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 15, 2021

    Brian GraiserDr. Brian Graiser is a contemporary percussionist, composer, and teacher who serves as the Adjunct Instructor of Percussion at Sam Houston State University, where he directs the University Percussion Ensemble and Bearkat Drumline, and teaches applied lessons and percussion methods. While his musical exploits are highly diverse, he is best known for his work with the vibraphone, highlighted by such efforts as his DMA Project, "Concerto No. 1 [Lulu]: Creating the World’s First Concerto for the Four-Octave Vibraphone," and his service as President of The Vibraphone Project. 

    Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a percussionist and educator, what career could you see yourself having pursued?

    Brian Graiser: I could probably see myself as a writer of some kind. I entered college as a double major in music and journalism, but that didn’t last more than one semester. I really do enjoy writing, but the honest truth is that I can’t envision myself being truly happy and fulfilled in any other field but music. I may never make enough money to live in a mansion or own a yacht, but I’ve also never gotten up in the morning and said to myself, “I wish I didn’t have to go to work,” and that’s pretty fantastic!

    R!S: As a freelance artist, what's one of the weirdest gigs you've taken or oddest jobs you've had outside the industry?

    BG: My wife and I (as the REFLECT harp+percussion duo) went on a national performance tour in the summer of 2019, and one of our concerts was at a Tibetan Buddhist center which, to my amazement, was led by a monk hand-picked by the Dalai Lama! He watched me load in and set up all of my gear for nearly two hours, pleasantly observing and smiling the whole time. I eventually felt pretty awkward and broke the silence by saying to him, “I guess this is sort of like a mindfulness meditation,” to which he responded, “Oh, lots of mindfulness!” To this day, that exchange has helped me feel a bit less frustrated whenever I have to schlep my gear around; maybe I’ll achieve true enlightenment if I set up enough cymbal stands!

    R!S: What's one thing about you that your colleagues or students would unanimously proclaim?

    BG: I took a risk and actually passed this question along to my students, and the one common word that they shared in describing me was “understanding.” I’m pretty happy with that; it’s important for teachers to remember that our students are real people. It wasn’t that long ago that I was on the outside looking in, working a warehouse job while preparing for graduate-school auditions. It makes me appreciate the diverse backgrounds and tenacity of my students; we all have obstacles we need to overcome, and theirs are just as valid as mine.

    R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?

    BG: Without question, my favorite instrument is the vibraphone—especially the extended-range, 4-octave vibraphone. For one thing, the instrument’s cool, pure sound has always resonated with me. For another, and I know this is going to rile some people up, when you objectively consider all of the additional possibilities and responsibilities created by pedaling and mallet dampening, the vibraphone is more technically demanding and has greater potential for expressivity than any other keyboard instrument, including the marimba! I used to be shy about making that statement, but it’s proven to be true time and again. I’m absolutely willing to publicly debate this point!

    R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?

    BG: I grew up in Marietta, Georgia, a northwest suburb of Atlanta, and was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when I was five years old, which led to a boatload of social problems. One of the biggest reasons I chose to pursue a career in music was that being a percussionist in high school had an enormously positive impact on my life. Not only did it help me to find my footing socially, but the physical act of hitting instruments was literally therapeutic and helped to reduce my symptoms. I have since learned that playing percussion is a form of “proprioceptive therapy,” but all I knew at that age was that it felt good and calmed me down. That’s powerful stuff!

  • Five-Question Friday: Matthew Bronson

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 08, 2021

    Matthew BronsonAn active performer and educator, percussionist Matthew Bronson has carved his way into the world of music with a unique skill set and background. A New England native, Matt received a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Western Connecticut State University and a Master of Music degree in Percussion Performance from the University of Minnesota Duluth. This diverse background finds him both at home as a dynamic performer and teacher. Matt serves as an Adjunct Professor of Music at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he directs the World Percussion Ensemble, co-directs the University Percussion Ensembles, and instructs a private studio of undergraduate students. Together, Matt and ECSU's Director of Percussion studies, Jeff Calissi, create the percussion duo Confluence. Matt also serves as a Percussion Specialist for the South Windsor Public School District, teaches privately out of his home, and is the Vice President of the Connecticut PAS Chapter. 

    Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a percussionist and educator, what career could you see yourself having pursued?

    Matthew Bronson: I think I would likely have gone to trade school. Especially after purchasing my first home, I see such an amazing advantage that someone with these types of skills has. Hindsight is 20-20, but everyone always needs a reliable electrician! 

    R!S: As a freelance artist, what's one of the weirdest gigs you've taken or oddest jobs you've had outside the industry?

    MB: Following the completion of my graduate work, I reached out to anyone and everyone in Connecticut to find work playing or teaching. I began running drum circles for corporate team-building events when I was approached by an individual about a gig that person considered "out of the ordinary." That gig was playing steel pan to backing tracks at a nudist event in North-West Connecticut. I know what you're thinking; no, I did not have to perform naked!  

    R!S: What's one thing about you that your colleagues or students would unanimously proclaim?

    MB: If you were to ask my students at ECSU about their experience with me, they would likely unanimously proclaim that just one cup of coffee before rehearsal is all it takes for the most entertaining hour of their day. I am sensitive to caffeine and like a high-energy rehearsal. Combine that with the hard-working students in our percussion ensemble and you have a recipe for some serious fun.   

    R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?

    MB: My favorite percussion instruments are the ones that become a labor of love and I don't often gig on. I've spent the last five years learning North Indian tabla with pt. Sandeep Das. He is an amazing teacher, and learning from him has become part of my life. Playing and learning tabla is something I do for the feeling of joy it brings me, not to supplement my career.

    R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?

    MB: I grew up in a small town called Wethersfield, Connecticut. It is just outside of the state’s capitol, Hartford. After many years of school and living out of state, I settled back there two years ago. Everyone says they'll never come back to their hometown, but here I am. An interesting fact about my childhood is that I skipped almost every drum lesson in elementary school because I hated it!

  • Five Question Friday: Steven Hall (Marshall University)

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Nov 20, 2020

    Steven HallSteven Hall serves as Coordinator of Percussion at Marshall University, directing the Percussion Ensemble, African Drumming and Dance Ensemble, and teaching percussion and world music. Active as a percussionist/drummer in a wide variety of settings, he has performed recently with Teatro Lirico D’Europa, Cirque Musica, Marc Martel, and Michael W. Smith. Professor Hall recently collaborated and toured with composer, clarinetist, and video artist Brigid Burke, and guitarist and composer Mark Zanter on the recent Innova release Total Harmonic Distortion by BHZ: Burke, Hall, Zanter. Steve has studied African music with J.H.K. Nketia, Pascal Younge, and others at the University of Ghana, Legon, West Africa. His teachers include Professor Frank Oddis, Dr. Robert Schietroma, and Donald Miller.

    Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a university percussion professor, what career could you see yourself having pursued?

    Steven Hall: I did consider being a veterinarian, since I have always loved being around animals, and I entertained the idea of studying archaeology as well. Before accepting my first college teaching position as Assistant Band Director/Percussion Instructor at Cumberland College in Kentucky, I was trained to be an Ophthalmic Assistant.

    R!S: What's one thing in your institution or city/town (other than your school of music or music department) that you are proud to tell people about?

    SH: The Tri-State area (West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio) produces amazing international-level talent including musicians, dancers, visual artists, writers, and folk artists.

    R!S: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

    SH: I have a large collection of plants including many bonsai trees I've created. It's good therapy!

    R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?

    SH: I truly fell in love with the marimba in my undergraduate years. The challenge of attempting to play music in a legato manner on an instrument that is struck with a mallet is a bit of a paradox.

    R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?

    SH: I grew up in the coal fields of Southeastern Kentucky, and I vividly recall sitting beside my grandmother Evelyn, on the piano stool, while she played piano for the Methodist church we attended. She claimed she didn't read music, but she could play all the hymns in the book. It turned out that she was reading from hymnals using shaped-note notation, which is a bit of a lost art these days.

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