Chris Hanning is Dean of the School of Music at West Chester University (WCU) in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Chris is the author of Island Grooves
(Panyard Inc.), an educational drumset DVD that focuses on playing drumset in the steel band. He is an active freelance percussionist in the Philadelphia region including 12 years as a recording artist for NFL Films. He serves as President Elect for the Percussive Arts Society and has been a member of PAS since 1982
Rhythm!Scene: How did you get started in percussion?
Chris Hanning: I played on my neighbor’s drumset when I was 9 years old and was hooked for life! My parents bought a drumset for me when I turned 10, and I would spend countless hours playing along to any records I could get my hands on. After a year of being self-taught, I took lessons during the summer between 6th and 7th grade; we worked out of the Haskell Harr Drum Method book. After that summer of lessons, I joined the middle school band, and the rest is history.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
CH: I always joke that my favorite instrument is the one I’m getting paid to play at the moment, but if I had to choose one, I couldn’t live without playing my first instrument: drumset. To this day, after 40 years of playing drums, I still have to stop and stare every time I pass a music store window with a drumset prominently displayed.
R!S: Who was your percussion idol growing up?
CH: The first musician that I began to focus on as a young drummer was Peter Erskine. I would run home from school and put on Maynard Ferguson’s recording of “Airegin” from New Vintage and feebly attempt to copy what he was playing. I could listen to that recording all day long. Another influential moment was seeing Cloyd Duff perform with the Cleveland Orchestra when I was in high school. Attending his workshop years later was one of the most amazing experiences of my career.
R!S: What was one of your most memorable performances as a student percussionist?
CH: When I began studying at the University of South Florida I was fortunate to play as an extra percussionist with the Florida Orchestra. Playing snare drum on Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” in front of a crowd of twenty-thousand people in Clearwater Florida on the 4th of July was pretty amazing. My hands still sweat thinking about it!
R!S: Who were key or memorable teachers in your musical education?
CH: I have been blessed to have amazing mentors and teachers throughout my career: Robert McCormick from the University of South Florida, Larry Snider and Bob McKee from the University of Akron, and Doug Walter from the University of Colorado. They all continue to be an inspiration to me. In the early ’90s, I performed many percussion duo concerts with Drew Lang. Drew is an inspirational performer and I learned a great deal about playing percussion and chamber music from working with him.
R!S: What sort of music activities are part of your job—performing, teaching, composing, recording, engineering, other?
CH: My goal since I was 23 years old was to land a teaching job in a metropolitan area where I could be an active player. I am lucky that in 1995 I landed near Philadelphia. I perform regularly with Opera Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra, and many other chamber ensembles and orchestras. One of my favorite things to do is play drumset with the Philly Pops and record at NFL Films. Recently I recorded all of the percussion for the NFL Experience Theater in Times Square, which was a blast! Serving as a Dean has been a recent job that has allowed me to make an impact on all of our students at WCU, not just the percussionists. So, like a lot of my colleagues in the business, I wear many hats and stay very busy making a living in music and music-related activities.
R!S: What was your introduction to PAS?
CH: Bob McCormick introduced me to PAS when I began studying with him in 1982. I would frequently go to our university library and sit for hours reading articles in Percussive Notes. I did not attend my first PASIC until 1992, but I have attended every PASIC since 1995.
R!S: What is one thing you wish all student percussionists knew about PAS?
CH: There is truly a sense of community with PAS; there is no better place to feel connected to people who have the same interests as you. Through PAS I have made professional and personal relationships that would not have been possible without this organization.
R!S: What’s the first section you read in a new issue of Percussive Notes or Rhythm!Scene?
CH: I always read the index first to see what is in the journal, but I usually start at the beginning of the magazine and work my way through every article. I enjoy learning about new repertoire and especially new gear!
R!S: What is your most prized percussion-related souvenir?
CH: I wouldn’t call my first professional drumset a souvenir, but I’ll never forget the first time I tuned it up and began playing; what a great memory. I don’t play on that kit much any more, but I’ll never sell it, so I guess you could say my first drumset is a souvenir.
R!S: If you aren’t playing or teaching percussion or working at PAS, what are you doing?
CH: Besides spending time with my family, I would have to say golf. Even though I only play a handful of times a year, I really enjoy the feeling of being out on the golf course. There are a lot of similarities between playing drums and golf.
R!S: What music or station is playing when you turn on your car?
CH: Typically, I am playing so much that when I’m in my car I don’t really want to hear music. So, typically I am either listening to public radio or the local sports station in Philadelphia.
R!S: What’s the first app you open on your phone or first program you start on your computer each morning?
CH: As a recent full-time administrator, I’m sad to say that the first program I open is my Outlook email account. However, the second is usually Spotify.
R!S: If you could tell your 18-year-old self one piece of musical advice, what would it be?
CH: Appreciate every day you have the opportunity to make music; what a gift it is! After playing thousands of gigs, I still get excited when the phone rings or I receive an email asking me if I’m available to play. I believe performing music with others is a privilege, one that I’ll never take for granted.