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Percussion, Pandemic, and Perseverance: Part 4

May 29, 2020, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

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, Drumset; Brian Zator, Keyboard; and Lisa Rogers, Research & Vibraphone.

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

What were your initial reactions and challenges in this situation? 


Jon Ortiz, Doctoral Student, Performer, and Educator, Texas Tech University
The immediate challenge arose when it became evident that the Texas Tech University School of Music community would not be able to be a physical community for the foreseeable future. The rapport and camaraderie established would not be built upon. It was a true “pull out the rug from under you” moment. 

Jon Ortiz Clay Hoffner Clinton Washington

Clay Hoffner (freshman) Music Education major, Bowling Green State University
One of the first things I thought, like many percussion students, was “How will I practice?” It took some brainstorming on my part to figure out what things I had at home that I could use as practice material. I don't have a 5-octave marimba that I can go to whenever I want, so I had to put my percussion brain to the test.

Clinton J. Washington III (sophomore), Music Performance major, Furman University
I found a lot of issues with not being able to communicate with my fellow peers, teachers, family, and friends. I am a very social person by nature and I felt as if I was missing out on a lot of the parts of college that I enjoy the most. Part of my decision to be a music major was based around the idea of working with people, especially those who have a genuine care for music. I was very nervous about how I was going to thrive in this situation, especially since I started the music major sequence my sophomore year. Aside from school, my family had a very hard time transitioning financially and with the loss of a loved one. 

Taryn Marks (freshman), Music Performance major, Furman University
My first reaction was, “Oh, it won’t be that bad. We’ve had things like this happen before, and it’s contained, so no worries.” This happened during the beginning of our spring break. By the fourth day of spring break, our school said that we were going to do remote learning for about a week and extend our spring break by another week. I didn’t think much of it. I was super stressed about this semester, percussion-wise, and I just wanted to just take a break from everything, from the news to playing. However, my breaking point was when our university president said that school would be closed for the rest of the year and no one could stay on campus. When I saw the email, I started to cry. So many questions went through my mind at that moment. How was I going to practice without a marimba? How do I learn online? When will this end? When is the next time that I will see everyone? Is everyone okay? I had to take a couple days to get myself together and figure out how I was going to gather all of my personal belongings from campus, as well as adjusting to school going online.

Taryn Marks Cabot Fowler Simon Metzger

Cabot Fowler (freshman), BA major, Furman University
As a percussion student, I could foresee many challenges in continuing my education from home the same way as I would on campus. Most obviously, since I don’t own any timpani or a marimba, I knew that I would struggle to practice those areas of my playing. This was a real shame because those two instruments were my focus this semester. I also knew that online lessons were going to be a challenge. Specifically, drum set lessons would be difficult, because the instrument is quite overpowering for one low-quality microphone.

Simon Metzger, Bowling Green High School
My initial reaction to this situation was disappointment. Since the shutdown, I have not been able to play in the high school concert band and jazz band, and I miss that part of my life. One of the challenges that came about from this situation was regarding ensemble rehearsals. Since everyone is at home, ensembles can’t get together to play music, so that was the biggest challenge to face for me. Fortunately, I have a few percussion instruments at home (marimba and snare drum) that are staples in a concert band. However, most high school percussionists do not have those instruments at home, and that is a large obstacle to overcome for band directors trying to replicate rehearsals online. 


Jake Lyons, “Virtual Drum Corps” Project Creator (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
Our initial reaction to the cancellation of DCI was a stunned shock, followed by the urge to want to do something. 

Jake Lyons Sean Womack T. Adam Blackstock

Sean Womack, Freelance Percussionist/Educator (Atlanta, Georgia)
My initial reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic were to simply to follow prescribed guidelines, thinking this would last for a month or so, then we would get a chance to see the students again in the last part of the school year. 

T. Adam Blackstock, Professor of Percussion at Troy University
My first concern centered on how I could best accommodate my students, in order to support everyone’s continued success. Any studios consist of individuals who differ in many ways: from different states and geographic areas, socioeconomic status, accessibility to technology, instruments, etc. My decision was to focus on a method that was easily accessible to everyone and would not prevent any student from continuing his or her path to a successful semester.

Eric Willie, Director of Percussion, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
As someone who likes to project and plan, I work from a master template for my pedagogy and overarching degree curriculum. In this current climate, I was forced to return to the drawing board to adapt my approach for these teaching challenges. At UNCG (like many university campuses, I am certain), we were initially asked to respond to a survey to answer the following questions: (1) Do we want to teach our classes online? And (2) Can we teach our classes online? My initial responses were “no” and “no.” The primary factor fueling these negative responses was that I did not want to set a precedent of teaching percussion lessons in a virtual manner. Once a precedent is set, it is easy to return to that model (I am still concerned that, because of cost savings, we may be encouraged to keep this model). For university percussion education, this is a challenging time to progress because of the multitude of instruments that must be studied.

The largest hurdle I have faced is adapting the curriculum. The undergraduate students are on a progressive path of study, so we had to stray from this model. I adapted assignments so that students could study only the instruments they have available at home, accompanied with listening and video responsibilities. However, to be completely honest, this has been a refresher and has forced me to look critically at my curriculum and how I am teaching.

Eric Willie Ana Leticia Barros

Ana Letícia Barros, Performer, Composer, and Educator, State University of Rio de Janeiro
Here in Brazil, our universities are mostly public and federally funded. We are obliged to follow the government guidelines for classes since the suspension of classes on March 16, 2020. This was the day of the first recorded death in Brazil due to COVID-19. Our first reaction to the government’s instructions of quarantine was resignation and then acceptance. Several teachers continued their contact with students in an informal manner. Many of our students live in risky areas and have few financial resources. Therefore, the close bond between teacher and student is one of great psychological support. We are still trying to care and teach beyond our professional duties. We understand the main challenge of this historical period on our planet: take care and look after each other! Taking care of ourselves and looking after our dear students has become the main mission of teachers in Brazil. 

Joe Porter, Performer, Composer, and Educator, University of Lethbridge Music Conservatory
I was shocked and saddened by all the cancelled ensemble performances. The students were working so hard, and it felt like our best year yet! I was looking forward to the concerts. The biggest challenge was what to do with ensembles, whereas moving to online lessons for individuals worked pretty well.

Joe Porter Dr. Jeannine Remy

Dr. Jeannine Remy, Performer, Composer, and Educator, University of the West Indies
My first reaction was, "How am I going to teach percussion from my computer at home?" My students really don't have instruments at home. Some of them have a drum set and a snare drum, but nobody owns a marimba or any keyboard instruments. So, it's been all battery percussion on whatever they can find to produce rhythms.


Drew Lang, Dallas, Texas
As an ensemble freelance player, basically everything just stopped.

Drew Lang Makoto Nakura

Makoto Nakura, New York, N.Y.; Japan
I was flying through the Hong Kong airport on Cathay Pacific at the end of January, and that was when I faced the scare of this virus for the first time. Although the plane was quite empty, I saw a sick passenger who was met with quarantine officers upon arrival. I was heading to Japan for a concert and some teaching, and I was going to stay with my 82-year-old mother. I really didn’t want to pick up the virus while flying and give it to my mother without realizing it. While I was staying in Japan, the U.S. imposed a stricter entry restriction for passengers who had even transited at the airport in Hong Kong, so it was clear that I couldn’t fly with Cathay Pacific to come back to the U.S. via Hong Kong. I bought a new ticket flying directly back from Japan to do so. This experience let me realize that COVID-19 would cast lots of disruptions over all of our lives. 

Stanton Moore, Galactic, Stanton Moore Drum Academy
Of course, the primary concern is the financial uncertainty; nobody really knows when we’ll be able to go back to work and what that will look like. I'm hoping that we can get back to work before things get too dire financially.

Stanton Moore David Friedman Julie Spencer

David Friedman, Berlin, Germany
My first reaction to the situation was fear. Since I belong to the so-called “risk group,” I was worried I could catch the virus and that would be the end of it. I stayed home, saw nobody, practiced, did some home recording, and watched Netflix. After the first week, I did something extremely productive: I stopped watching the news and was able to totally relax.

Julie Spencer, Bingen, Germany
Months before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, I began thinking about what the world would look like if the virus continued as it had from the beginning. When the studies were made public, confirming the contagion factor, human-to-human transmission, and finally surface and airborne transmission, it was clear that it would engulf human society. It became difficult to imagine what my place would be as an artist, in the transformation the world was about to undergo. Music practice was meditative, but composing felt emotionally raw, and teaching felt urgent, to give as much encouragement and optimism to the students as possible, as long as people were still gathering as usual, in normative educational and capitalist structures of interaction, while most societies believed they would not be affected. I made plans like all of us did, for the next performances, concert series, festivals, recordings, private and public engagements, commissions, and lessons, but with a growing awareness of the inevitability of a tsunami of global proportion on the horizon.


Kwesi Woma, Director of Dagara Music Center and Saakumu Dance Troupe, Ghana, Africa
Our initial reaction to this global pandemic as a dance company was the fear of not being able to run our study-abroad programs this year. It has been extremely frightening, since this is the only source of income for the upkeep of the center and the staff as a whole. It has been a huge challenge as to how we are going to support our staff financially through this lockdown period, and most importantly not being able to do music and dance for some time now since that is the only way we entertain ourselves at the center. 

Kwesi Woma Dr. Thom Hasenpflug

Dr. Thom Hasenpflug, Chair of Music, Idaho State University
Our art forms require connectivity above all else. Now we see that there are a large number of ways to engage group activity using social media, but this is often an individual recording something in a room, and then sharing to a master set of uploads that are synced together. The connectivity is artificial, and thus the challenge is how to get a sense of performance accomplishment through distance media, without a master figure acting as “compiler” for a virtual ensemble. I think these virtual compilations are fun maybe once or twice, but are basically gimmicky and are just being done because we don’t know what else to do with ourselves.

Initially we did not have any problem envisioning turning history, theory, even methods into a fully online format. But ensembles were, and continue to be, a whole other matter. We did not see the ability to continue with wind ensemble, choir, percussion ensemble, etc. We didn’t try to formulate “alternate assignments” for performance ensembles. The students had enough alternate learning to come in all the other classes. Applied lessons for most instruments were much more practical to transition than percussion, since our students don’t own the gear, and couldn’t access the building. I should say that’s the same for me; my marimba is at school, and so is my drumset. I have comparatively little gear at home. So, lessons (other than snare drum) are a huge challenge, and can’t survive a long-term adjustment in this format.


Andy Zildjian, Sabian, Inc.
We had taken notice of what was happening to our customers in China, and then in other parts of Asia, and anticipated a drastic change in the market. Being in Canada, we had the luxury of an official government warning about two weeks before anyone in the States, so we started taking action early on. The Canadian government let us know that they would take care of our workers, and the way to ensure that was by laying them off for the time being. To give everyone enough time to get the applications in, and for bureaucracies to catch up, we gave everyone a two-week paid vacation before layoffs were in effect. Everyone still gets their full healthcare and retirement benefits, no changes there. We have seven people working at the factory filling orders from inventory and what they craft on a daily basis. Sales and Administration is down to a skeleton crew. Orders are down to about 40% from normal. We’re learning a lot about what we need for manpower and how to be more creative with work cells and better workflow. As a sage friend once said, “When the tide goes out, we see who is swimming naked.” Which is funny, but true in that we can see our own foibles and fix them since we have the time and opportunity.

Andy Zildjian Jason Edwards

Jason Edwards, Prologix
Once it was official that there were COVID-19 cases in the United States, we knew it was a matter of time until we would be forced to shut down our production facility as the virus continued to spread. It soon entered Ohio, and I immediately cancelled all my gigs with various bands until further notice. My wife is a Respiratory Therapist and advised that it would be a wise decision to cancel so I did not increase the risk of exposure to the public at the clubs while keeping ourselves safe as possible. Prologix immediately prioritized our production schedule so we could ship as many quick-pay orders before our last day on March 20. Ohio Governor Mike Dewine issued a stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses starting March 23. The main challenge for Prologix was for us to keep our cash flow moving so we could pay our expenses as they became due during shutdown.

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