Justin Ramirez has served as the PAS Membership Services Manager since 2011. A graduate of Indiana University with a degree in Music Education, he also continues to teach as a member of the percussion staff at Avon High School in Indiana. Justin currently resides in Avon with his wife and son, their two dogs (Lucy and Linus), and two cats (Gizmo and Gigi).
Rhythm!Scene: How did you get started in percussion?
Justin Ramirez: There was always music playing in my house, whether it was the radio or my mom playing the piano, so I always enjoyed listening and making my own music. My mom started me on piano, but I didn’t have the patience to keep it up. Not long after I started school, I found out that my older cousin played drums and was in a band. My parents would go see him play and would bring home recordings of him performing. I would watch these religiously and eventually started drumming along. As soon as I was in 4th grade and school band became an option, I took up percussion and jumped into private lessons.
R!S: What was one of your most memorable performances as a student percussionist?
JR: Performing with the 1998 All-Eastern Band, under the direction of Peter Boonshaft, in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, Maryland. The performance was great, and I clearly remember an amazing moment of resonance following the last notes of “To Tame the Perilous Skies,” after which the audience erupted. My grandmother actually gave me a hard time after the concert, teasing me by saying that if I was going to keep making her cry at my performances, she was going to stop coming.
R!S: Who were key or memorable teachers in your musical education?
JR: Jeff Ward, Steve Breffitt, Tom Sabatino, Tom Alderson, Stephen Pratt, Gerry Carlyss, and Jim Bailey.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
JR: Timpani. At first, it was because of the ability to contribute tonally to the performance of the ensemble while still playing a drum. It also didn’t involve counting as many rests as other percussion parts. Over the years, I came to love and appreciate the versatility of the instrument, from being low-end support, to the challenge of more melodic parts and tuning changes, to the energy of bombastic passages. While I enjoy timpani as a solo instrument, being part of an orchestra or other large ensemble is where my heart is.
R!S: What sort of music activities are part of your job?
JR: While I get to engage with a lot of musicians for my job at PAS, there isn’t much in the way of actual musical activity going on. However, I do get to work with the drumline at Avon High School and still do some arranging and composing for a few other groups.
R!S: What is your most prized percussion-related souvenir?
JR: For the past number of years, my graduating students have done a group photo together and framed it for me. A few years ago, they put together a small album featuring a number of hilarious candid photos and whatnot from the previous season. I love that thing!
R!S: What was your introduction to PAS?
JR: I joined PAS my freshman year of college, which was the first time I had heard of PAS. I also attended a Day of Percussion held at Indiana University around that time.
R!S: What’s the first section you read in a new issue of Percussive Notes or Rhythm!Scene?
JR: I usually start with the Society Update and plow straight through—unless something really interesting catches my attention in the Table of Contents.
R!S: If you aren’t playing or teaching percussion or working at PAS, what are you doing?
JR: Cooking or going out to eat. My wife and I are huge foodies, and we have gotten our son into helping with our garden and cooking. We have eight raised beds, plus raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry bushes, so we have a good amount of fresh produce throughout the summer and fall. Here’s a simple recipe we tried recently: sliced pink lady tomato, with drizzled olive oil, splash of white wine vinegar, topped with chopped fresh basil and goat cheese. Maybe we should we start a column for recipe suggestions in Rhythm!Scene.
R!S: What music or station is playing when you turn on your car?
JR: Usually classic rock, unless it’s the morning and there’s nothing but talk shows. In that case, I’ll put my James Brown Pandora station on. It’s always a good morning when you go from JB, to Tower of Power, to Stevie Wonder, to Galactic, to Curtis Mayfield, to Maceo Parker, and on and on.
R!S: What’s the first app you open on your phone or first program you start on your computer each morning?
JR: First app on my phone is AccuWeather; I’m so boring and practical! The first program on my computer is Chrome so I can open the Pandora website.
R!S: What is one thing you wish all student percussionists knew about PAS?
JR: I wish I could let them all know how much money is available in scholarships and grants through PAS, both for school and to attend PASIC.
R!S: If you could tell your 18-year-old self one piece of musical advice, what would it be?
JR: Listen to as much music as possible. Ask your teachers what they listen to. Ask your family. When you get to college, ask your new friends, then go listen yourself. Keep searching for new genres and sounds. You might not like all of it, but you’ll definitely learn more about your own tastes and a heck of a lot of music history.