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Percussion, Pandemic, and Perseverance: Part 1

May 18, 2020, 09:23 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

Percussion, Pandemic, and Perseverance: Part 1 Preview

At PAS, one of the ways we are coming together to support each other during the pandemic is to show that we care. In collaboration with the associate editors of Percussive Notes, we are excited to offer the PAS membership a look inside how the percussion community is responding to COVID-19. We reached out to students, teachers, performers, industry leaders, and administrators, and compiled their thoughts, strategies, and responses to four thought-provoking questions that we hope will add value and clarity during this time of adversity. 

Thank you to contributing editors Gene Fambrough, Marching; Shane Jones, World; Dan Piccolo, Professional Development; Kurt Gartner, Technology; David Stanoch, Drum Set; Brian Zator, Keyboard; and Lisa Rogers, Research & Vibraphone.

Very best,
Julie Hill and Paul Buyer, PAS Co-Editorial Directors

What adaptations and creative activities from this situation will you keep long-term? 


Mary Emmons (junior), Percussion student, University of Tennessee at Martin
I'd like to continue limiting what I do each day. Only working on half of what I'm currently learning and playing each day has really helped me grow more in each practice session, rather than trying to squeeze everything into a day. I've also been playing more music for myself, which is something I'd like to keep doing in some form or fashion. I've been playing more piano, though I'm not a pianist by any means. Playing on my keyboard has been something fun for me to do when I'm bored or to wind down before I go to bed at night. It has also been great for my sight-reading chops, which is something I want to keep doing and certainly need to keep doing.

My roommates and I started a band. We just cover songs that we like and are easy and fun to play. I feel that it’s really easy as a music student to forget that music is fun and can be simple. Therefore, being able to create fun, simple, and easy-listening music with my friends has been amazing and is something I'd love to keep doing in some capacity. Despite how much my life has changed and been turned upside down since the coronavirus pandemic, I've become more aware of what's important to me as a musician and as a person. I hope to stay aware of those things in the long-term, especially after this is all over.

Mary Emmons Matthew Sandridge Kirsten Baker

Matthew Sandridge (sophomore), Music Education major, Furman University
Going forward, I will absolutely keep attempting to finish my work early in the day in order to free up lots of practice time. I also plan on maintaining a schedule, because that has honestly been my saving grace. 

Kirsten Baker (junior), Psychology major, Furman University
I have really enjoyed sending video recordings and receiving video feedback on my repertoire. Having the ability to go back and review any demonstrations and adjusting my bad habits has been quite beneficial. I would love to continue this through the summer so that I can keep my practice habits intact while school is out. I would also enjoy taking part in other virtual percussion clinics outside of school to further increase my percussive knowledge. This pandemic may have thrown all of us off course, but it has also shown how much more creative the music world can be. Even if we must be apart for now, there are still ways that we can talk about and make music together.

Annaliese Heim (freshman), Music Education major, University of Minnesota
During this period of quarantine, I learned several things. First, I need to become more comfortable recording myself and do it more often. I hope to increase the amount of times I record myself and become more comfortable embracing the mistakes I make while practicing. This will help me become a more confident performer who can move past mistakes during a performance. Second, I need to find time to be more creative with the projects that I take on, and creativity should not just exist when the “standard” alternative isn’t an option. I am so lucky to be part of a percussion studio that is full of creative ideas, from creating a virtual percussion ensemble with objects found at home to MIDI transcriptions of vibraphone solos.

There is so much we can do at home without access to the regular equipment we have in our day-to-day lives, which tells me that we are barely scratching the surface of what we can do musically when life finally returns back to “normal.” Either way, there is one thing that has not changed during this pandemic, and that is the support and friendship in the percussion community. I love being part of this great big family, and I know that nothing can stop us!

Annaliese Heim Vedin Barve Matthew Boyle

Vedin Barve, Coppell (Texas) High School
I will try to be less rigid in scheduling and less “autocratic.” I enjoy taking on a bit of spontaneity, though I believe everything should be practiced in moderation. 

Matthew Boyle, Coppell (Texas) Middle School East
I will definitely keep my practice journal because that has helped me track my progress and improve my confidence. I will also keep the way that I practice (i.e., slow it down, break it down, speed it up). I will start making more goals for what I need to get done because those help me push myself to get whatever I need completed.


Michael Burritt, Professor of Percussion, Eastman School of Music
I have assigned many of the students to send videos of the etudes and pieces they’re working on for us to share in their lesson times. We would then listen together and I would make comments, which has turned out to be very productive and something I will continue with more often going forward. I will also continue to encourage the students to write more music. While I have done this in the past, it is not something I have required. I may add a composition requirement based on further reflection of the music written by the students at this time.

Michael Burritt Lauren Teel Farbod Yadollahi

Lauren Teel, Percussion Caption Head, Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps and Percussion Specialist at Mililani High School (Hawaii)
I certainly would like to see a continuation of showcasing our players through solo video submissions. I think what the Troopers organization has created with the video vault is a really great way to connect past and present members, as well as fans of the Troopers. I’d like to see online lessons continue on a more international level as well. Through the years, I’ve interacted via email with students from all over the world interested in marching drum corps. Being able to offer meaningful digital lessons seems to be a logical next step to me. 

Farbod Yadollahi, Master Udu Musician and President, Peace Rhythm Academy in Iran
In general, I believe that life goes on and we have to go back to normal life, because otherwise human beings will be both spiritually and economically disintegrated.

T. Adam Blackstock, Professor of Percussion, Troy University
Being forced to think “outside of the box” has provided me with a new way of thinking, especially with regards to distance learning. This applies to not only summer lessons, but also to online students from other parts of the world. Technology is a wonderful thing; as long as the accessibility is there, the possibilities seem endless. 

T. Adam Blackstock Eric Hollenbeck Liam Teague

Eric Hollenbeck, Professor of Percussion, Colorado State University
I have had my students provide recordings and videos for several years as part of their weekly development, which provides me with a much more objective product with which to evaluate their progress. I will probably rely a little more on digital submissions rather than face-to-face instruction, as it often is more objective and allows me to see the self-expectation of students. When students have the choice of redoing something before they submit, it allows me to evaluate their determination in getting it right. This isn't as apparent in real-time, face-to-face settings. Requiring and using outside digital clinics and performances will be continued as it also appears that there will be more availability as a result of COVID-19, which in turn helps to supplement limited guest-artist funding.

Liam Teague, Professor of Music and Director of Steelpan Studies, Northern Illinois University
I’ve always tried to be cognizant of the fact that though students’ understanding of the steelpan’s history is extremely valuable, the majority of steel band classes/rehearsals need to be dedicated to learning and performing repertoire. As such, I would normally present historical information in smaller doses. However, based on the students’ responses to the material that was sent during this semester, it seems that they’d love to be more informed. I was elated about this! Therefore, I am definitely going to integrate history and musical analysis into my teaching of steel band on a larger scale.


Sean Connors, Chicago, Illinois
Digital Third Coast Percussion (TCP) will definitely remain as a vital part of what we do for the long-term. We've also really enjoyed interacting with students through activities like online masterclasses, collaborative Zoom workshops, internet composition readings, etc. Through these online platforms, I hope that we'll be able to continue to reach new audiences and engage with students to whom we physically can't travel. TCP certainly saved a lot of time from packing suitcases with percussion instruments! 

Sean Connors Beverley Johnston

Beverley Johnston, Toronto, Canada
I am thankful that I have been “forced” to use more online platforms for teaching and communicating with other people. I will perhaps continue to use this as an alternative teaching method in tandem with the normal private lesson/class format. I will also try to remember the relaxed feeling I have had with my music making in isolation. Therefore, during a busier time, when things get back to “normal,” I will try to maintain that feeling, which I think can be achieved from quieting my mind amidst the usual buzz! I definitely miss the interaction and communication with an audience one gets from live performances; hopefully, we’ll return to that soon! I don’t think live performance can ever be replaced with technology, hence the American Federation of Musicians slogan, “Live Music is Best!”

Valerie Naranjo, New York, N.Y.
I’d like to hang onto the fact that I have grown out of my reticence towards having “24/7 open forums” with my students (I have the best students in the world!). This had to do with having an insanely busy schedule and being a driven person. During this pandemic, I have slowed down while keeping a productive and creative daily regimen. I would like to keep that balance.

Valerie Naranjo Walfredo Reyes, Jr.

Walfredo Reyes, Jr., Chicago, Illinois
After getting my home studio ready for lessons in the future, I personally will keep adapting our lives with hand sanitizing, face masks, and stocking up on food, water, and first-aid materials. Life for all of us has changed once again, just as 9/11 changed our lives. We have to keep “Rock ’n’ Rollin’” with the changes, good and bad. Don’t lose your groove in music and in life, no matter what!


Rich Holly, Executive Director for the Arts, North Carolina State University
By virtue of putting so many courses and events online, we’ve learned a great deal more about the possibilities of several technologies. We have added two new YouTube channels and 360-degree walk-through videos of our museum exhibits. Additionally, we have a few people who have become adept at video editing and had great Zoom interactions with several noted professional artists. I am sending a weekly message to our patrons and donors (a mailing list of ca. 25,000 people). We have received a great deal of positive feedback from our colleagues, students, and patrons about these additions and changes. We plan to continue with these as much as possible once we get back to campus and to making artistry together and for each other.

Rich Holly Thomas (Tony) McCutchen

Thomas (Tony) McCutchen, Music Department Head, Jacksonville State University
We have all learned from this process. I think many of us will use online learning to our advantage when possible. However, there is no substitute for live, one-on-one lessons and classroom interaction/discussion. 


Garwood Whaley, Meredith Music Publications
We will be increasing the number of digital PDFs we produce as well as online marketing. Since at this time future conventions are questionable, we’re not sure how we will fill the void of clinic presentations. Unfortunately, there’s nothing like a live clinic with interaction between clinicians and attendees. We are looking into webinars and other means of communication using technology. We’re hoping that when testing and a cure is found, things will return to normal. The real challenge is what do we do until that time; that’s where the creativity comes in.

Garwood Whaley Jason Edwards

Jason Edwards, Prologix
We are working on strengthening our virtual presence by helping support our artists with online educational classes and events in the future; Prologix wants to encourage daily practice for all percussion students worldwide and continue to provide support to our team of artists as they go forward into what has now become our new era of virtual education.

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