Michael Burritt is President-Elect of the Percussive Arts Society, was a member of the PAS Board of Directors from 1996–2008, a contributing editor for Percussive Notes magazine from 1991–2006, and was chairman of the PAS Keyboard Committee from 2004–2010. He is the Professor of Percussion at the Eastman School of Music and has a prolific career as a performer, having played on four continents and in more than 40 states. He is an active composer whose works have become standard repertoire in percussion. Michael’s students have gone on to have successful careers in music performance and teaching, and they have become leaders in the field.
Rhythm!Scene: How did you get started in percussion?
Michael Burritt: My father and mother were both musicians, and there was always music in the house when I was growing up. My father, Bruce Burritt, was a very successful and celebrated band director in upstate New York and known throughout the country. My mother was a clarinetist who played in the Syracuse Symphony. I would wake up in the morning to recordings—everything from Aaron Copland to Dave Brubeck. How could I not become a musician?
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
MB: Growing up, my favorite instrument was the snare drum, and later this evolved to drumset. My father took me to many drum corps shows, and I became enthralled by the great drumming I witnessed. Later, during my college years, I studied with Gordon Stout and my love for marimba started then.
R!S: Who was your percussion idol growing up?
MB: Steve Gadd!
R!S: What was one of your most memorable performances as a student percussionist?
MB: Performing a concerto with the Eastman Wind Ensemble, which was broadcast live on the radio.
R!S: Who were key or memorable teachers in your musical education?
MB: Herbert Flower (principal percussionist in the Syracuse Symphony), Gordon Stout, and John Beck.
R!S: What sort of music activities are part of your job—performing, teaching, composing, recording, engineering, other?
MB: Certainly performing, teaching, composing, and recording; not so much the engineering.
R!S: What was your introduction to PAS?
MB: I went to the very first PASIC at Eastman in Rochester, New York when I was in 9th grade. Our high school drumline, West Genesee, performed for Fred Sanford’s clinic at the convention. I was blown away by the exhibits in the main hall. I had never seen anything like it in my life, and that was probably true of most people at the time. I’m sure it was nothing compared to what we have now.
R!S: What is one thing you wish all student percussionists knew about PAS?
MB: The great educational value of the PAS journals as well as being part of a community that shares your passion for percussion.
R!S: What’s the first section you read in a new issue of Percussive Notes or Rhythm!Scene?
MB: I tend to look at the new music and recording reviews.
R!S: If you aren’t playing or teaching percussion or working for PAS, what are you doing?
MB: I love to run, read, watch sports, and spend time on my boat with my wife.
R!S: What music or station is playing when you turn on your car?
MB: ESPN or the jazz station on XM radio.
R!S: What’s the first app you open on your phone or first program you start on your computer each morning?
MB: The New York Times app.
R!S: If you could tell your 18-year-old self one piece of musical advice, what would it be?
MB: Be patient and enjoy the many stages of life in all facets.