Julie Davila is a renowned percussionist, performer, music educator, and clinician. She was inducted in to the WGI Percussion Hall of Fame in 2014 in recognition of over 20 years contributing to the marching arts activity as a leader, teacher, designer, and adjudicator. Julie is currently the percussion coordinator and arranger for the Middle Tennessee State University Band of Blue Drumline and a member of the chamber percussion ensemble the Caixa Trio. In addition, she serves on the PAS Executive Committee and is a member of the WGI and DCI nationally recognized adjudication teams. Julie is the author of Modern Multi-Tenor Techniques and Solos and Impressions on Wood, published by Row-loff, and she has over 50 percussion solos and ensembles published worldwide.
Rhythm!Scene: How did you get started in percussion?
Julie Davila: I started in fifth grade. My older brother played alto sax and when going to concerts, I always watched the drummer. I knew right away that I wanted to be a percussionist. I signed up for a summer camp in between fifth and sixth grade and got a solid start with good teachers. In sixth grade, the eighth grader playing drumset in the jazz band and jazz choir got kicked out of band for an attitude problem. The teacher asked me if I had a drumset and said that if I took lessons, they would give me a chance at those spots. I convinced my parents to buy me a drumset that weekend. My first kit was a blue Ludwig Vistalite. I was hooked.
R!S: Who were key or memorable teachers in your musical education?
JD: A very loaded question, as I took a lot from diﬀerent people. Actually, not necessarily related to music, but as an educator and motivator, my high school basketball coach, Kenny Vance at Blue Springs High School, was probably one of my most influential teachers and one of the people after which I most model my teaching. His principles of holding yourself to high standards, accountability, self-evaluation, and work ethic impacted me, and these continue to be principles I live by personally and with my students. I had the pleasure of visiting with him a few months ago, and it reminded me of why my time with him was such a powerful transformation. Percussively, Bob Meunier and Dr. Bob Schietroma were two I studied from that changed my life. Additionally, Dennis Rogers, Jim Wagy, Scott Lang, JB Smith, and Mike Drake all were fantastic mentors who guided my path.
R!S: Who was your percussion idol growing up?
JD: Neil Peart and Steve Gadd were the first drumset players I remember listening to and geeking out about. I went to a lot of Maynard Ferguson concerts in high school, so I remember seeing Gregg Bissonette for the first time with that band and was blown away. At the same time, I was all about DCI, so Fred Sanford, Dennis DeLucia, and Ralph Hardimon were my idols in that genre.
R!S: What was your introduction to PAS?
JD: My first PASIC was performing with the University of North Texas Drumline in 1985 in Anaheim, California. We bused it from Denton to Anaheim, which was quite the trip. I’m sure I wasn’t fully aware of what PAS was at the time; I was just traveling with the drumline. However, that first PASIC was absolutely pivotal. I was so inspired by the exposure to the percussion community, from being completely blown away by the performances, to seeing the exhibit hall for the first time, and interacting with friends, educators, and mentors. I remember being completely star struck when passing people in the hall like Remo Belli, Armand Zildjian, and Vic Firth. These people, were really people? And, they would talk to you! The UNT Percussion Ensemble was also performing a showcase concert at PASIC that year, with Leigh Howard Stevens and David Friedman as guest artists. Not only was PASIC amazing, but the weeks leading up to PASIC, with Leigh and David on campus, were pretty spectacular.
R!S: What was one of your most memorable performances as a student percussionist?
JD: One of my most memorable performances also relates to a PAS convention, this one in 1987. I played in the UNT snare line for the marching competition, won the mallet individuals competition that year with “Marimba Spiritual,” and played lead pan in the all-collegiate steel band concert led by Cliﬀ Alexis. I remember thinking, “It doesn’t get any better than this; I am so blessed.”
R!S: What sort of music activities are part of your job?
JD: I have about five facets that make up my “career.” I teach, compose, judge, perform, and consult. Currently, I’m the arranger and drumline coordinator and teach applied percussion lessons at Middle Tennessee State University. As a performer, I perform with the Caixa Trio and freelance in the Nashville area. Additionally, I adjudicate for WGI and DCI and have had the pleasure to consult with numerous high school programs throughout the country. In terms of composition, I’ve been fortunate to have three books and over 25 pieces published for percussion ensemble, drumline, solo marimba, snare, and tenors.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
JD: That is such a tough question. I started on drumset, spent a lot of time with snare—concert and rudimental—and then fell in love with four-mallet keyboards in college. Additionally, there are so many world percussion instrument choices. Lately, I’ve been enamored with the riq. I think the appeal of riq for me is that the colors, grooves, and nuances you can create have a feel similar to drumset.
R!S: What is one thing you wish all student percussionists knew about PAS?
JD: The one thing about PAS I want to emphasize is that there is so much value to being a member outside of the once a year PASIC convention. Connecting with a community, building friendships, sharing knowledge, staying inspired, and getting involved typically produces opportunity. Stay connected, get involved.
R!S: What’s the first section you read in a new issue of Percussive Notes or Rhythm!Scene?
JD: It really depends what mood I’m in. Sometimes, I look for something I feel I don’t know anything about, and then other times I’ll read an article that a colleague wrote or I’ll go through some of the reviews to try to stay current on literature.
R!S: What is your most prized percussion-related souvenir?
JD: My marriage to Lalo and the world travel I’ve been able to experience due to percussion.
R!S: If you aren’t playing or teaching percussion or working at PAS, what are you doing?
JD: Spending time with our girls, traveling for DCI or WGI, and if there is any time left in the day, reading.
R!S: What music or station is playing when you turn on your car?
JD: I usually listen to NPR or podcasts.
R!S: What’s the first app you open on your phone or first program you start on your computer each morning?
JD: I usually check my texts to make sure that if my girls needed anything, I see it first thing. Then many times I go to Instagram to see if the girls posted anything new so I can see what they are up to. They live in Chicago and Los Angeles, so any chance I have to get a glimpse of their day is the best. After that, email.
R!S: If you could tell your 18-year-old self one piece of musical advice, what would it be?
JD: Practice slower, listen more.