Paul Buyer is Director of Percussion, Director of Music, and Professor of Music at Clemson University. Featured in Success
magazine’s Achiever’s Series, Dr. Buyer is the author of Working Toward Excellence: 8 Values for Achieving Uncommon Success in Work and Life
(Morgan James Publishing), Marching Bands and Drumlines: Secrets of Success from the Best of the Best
(Meredith Music Publications), and co-author of The Art of Vibraphone Playing: An Essential Method for Study and Performance
(Meredith Music Publications). He serves as Second Vice President of the Percussive Arts Society and Career Development Editor for Percussive Notes
Rhythm!Scene: How did you get started in percussion?
Paul Buyer: I signed up for summer band in 4th grade and was told I would not be successful playing a wind instrument because I wore braces. I rented a Ludwig snare drum in a hard, black case with a Billy Gladstone practice pad. My parents scheduled a few lessons at a local music store called The Music Lab in Lansing, Illinois, and I used a book called Here’s the Drum. In addition, I had a second cousin named Mike Balter who was always encouraging me. As I got older, I realized who he was and began taking lessons with him in high school.
R!S: So was he your percussion idol growing up?
PB: Without question! My lessons were at his house in Northbrook, Illinois, in his basement studio where his incredible inventory of instruments lived. Closets full of snare drums, tambourines, and accessories lined the walls, and his marimbas, vibes, bells, and Sonor drumset were arranged like an IKEA. Watching and listening to Michael play was mesmerizing. My lessons were always challenging and nurturing, and he always pushed me to reach my potential.
R!S: Who were other key or memorable teachers in your musical education?
PB: Erwin Mueller (Ball State University), Gary Cook (University of Arizona), and Dennis Delucia, Thom Hannum, Matt Savage, John Evans, and Lalo Davila (Star of Indiana).
R!S: What was one of your most memorable performances as a student percussionist?
PB: It would have to be my DMA solo recital at the University of Arizona. It was one of those special experiences when I was completely in the zone and played better than I ever had. I owned the stage, my hands felt great, I stayed focused and present in the moment, had fun, and felt exhilarated when it was over. I remember opening with Peter Klatsow’s “Dances of Earth and Fire” and closing with Red Norvo’s “Dance of the Octopus.”
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
PB: I am not sure I have a favorite and have always taken pride in being well-rounded because my teachers emphasized how important that was. But if I had to pick, I’d say vibraphone, timpani, drumset, and crash cymbals. I enjoy vibraphone, in part, because of the time I’ve spent with it of late, co-authoring The Art of Vibraphone Playing with Josh Gottry. I enjoy timpani because of the opportunity I had to study with two professional timpanists: Erwin Mueller (Indianapolis Symphony) and Gary Cook (Tucson Symphony). I enjoy drumset because of the experience I had playing in jazz band, pep band, and show choir in college. I enjoy crash cymbals because of how undervalued they often are, especially in marching percussion.
R!S: What sort of music activities are part of your job—performing, teaching, composing, recording, engineering, other?
PB: My job is primarily teaching and administration, though I play when I can and try to practice every day. I just finished recording with the Clemson University Faculty Jazz Quartet, playing vibraphone, congas, and accessories. When I was teaching the Clemson Drumline from 1998–2009, I arranged all their music, and I have arranged several tunes for the Clemson Steel Band as well.
R!S: What is your most prized percussion-related souvenir?
PB: It would have to be an 8 x 11-inch framed poster of Nexus hanging in my office from when they were at Clemson in 2001 for the South Carolina PAS Day of Percussion. It is signed by Bob Becker, Russell Hartenberger, Bill Cahn, Robin Engelman, and John Wyre. At the bottom it says, “To Paul, with best wishes! Clemson and Golf forever.”
R!S: What was your introduction to PAS?
PB: Mike Balter, who served on the PAS Board from 1988–2014, introduced me to PAS and invited me to work his booth at PASIC 1989, my first convention. It was an amazing experience to learn about his business, brand, and incomparable ability to build relationships. I worked his booth for almost 30 years and valued the opportunity.
At my first PASIC as a college freshman, my roommates and I were standing in line waiting to check in to our hotel when we noticed Louie Bellson standing directly in front of us. We turned to each other, star struck, and whispered, “That’s Louie Bellson!” Mr. Bellson turned around, introduced himself, and began talking to us. That defining moment—in the Stouffer Hotel lobby in Nashville, Tennessee—changed my life and set the tone for my future involvement in PAS.
R!S: What’s the first section you read in a new issue of Percussive Notes or Rhythm!Scene?
PB: New Percussion Literature and Recordings in Percussive Notes. I am always looking for new music and books that can help my students improve.
R!S: If you aren't playing or teaching percussion or working for PAS, what are you doing?
PB: I am usually writing, reading, exercising, watching sports, or spending time with my wife, April, and 5-year-old son, Jackson.
R!S: What music or station is playing when you turn on your car?
PB: Lately I have been listening to podcasts in my car, especially The Brendon Show, Finding Mastery, and Success Talks. The radio is usually on Classic Rock or Sports Talk, and the most recent music playing is Andy Narell’s new album, We Kinda Music.
R!S: If you could give your 18-year-old self one piece of musical advice, what would it be?
PB: Take piano lessons and work much harder to understand music theory.
R!S: What’s the first app you open on your phone or first program you start on your computer each morning?
PB: The ESPN app.
R!S: What is one thing you wish all student percussionists knew about PAS?
PB: I wish all student percussionists knew that above all else, PAS is about the people. The long-term relationships one can build as a PAS member by attending PASIC, serving on a committee, or becoming a chapter officer are life-changing. I also wish they knew that as a PAS member, the ownership and empowerment to make a difference in the organization is real. The question is never, “What can PAS do for you?” but “What can you do for PAS?” As my dear friend and colleague B. Michael Williams says, “The magic is in the service.”