Alison Mitchell graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern State University in Louisiana with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. During her time at NSULA, she was an active performer in a variety of ensembles, including the Spirit of Northwestern Marching Band, the Wind Symphony & Wind Ensemble, the Natchitoches-Northwestern Symphony Orchestra, and the NSU Percussion Ensemble. Upon graduating in 2016, she served as the Assistant Director of Percussion for the Rockwall High School cluster in Rockwall, Texas, where she stayed for two years before accepting an internship with PAS. She later accepted a full-time position with PAS as the Programs Coordinator, where she works on programs such as Group Memberships, Days of Percussion, Competitions, Scholarships, and PASIC.
Rhythm!Scene: How did you get started in percussion?
Alison Mitchell: Honestly, percussion was never my first choice; I wanted to play the clarinet like my older brother. However, someone had jokingly told me that I wouldn’t make a very good percussionist. I was an extremely competitive kid, so in my eyes this was a challenge. As a result, I ended up testing on both clarinet and percussion. Looking back, I’m really glad I was placed in percussion, considering I wouldn’t be where I am today otherwise, and also because I still cannot produce a great sound on clarinet no matter how hard I try.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
AM: For me, it depends on the setting. Snare is my favorite marching instrument, considering I marched snare for eight years. In a concert setting I really enjoyed playing bass drum or chimes, probably because I ended up with a lot of fun parts for these instruments.
R!S: Who was your percussion idol growing up?
AM: I have always admired Keiko Abe and Evelyn Glennie. Both of these women have accomplished so much and are truly inspiring.
R!S: What was one of your most memorable performances as a student percussionist?
AM: Playing “Crown of Thorns” for the last time on Family Day at NSU. We had just performed it at our percussion ensemble concert that same week, but we were not ready to be done with it. We managed to convince our director, Mr. Ken Green, to let us perform it one more time. It was an extremely emotional performance for all involved, as it is such a fantastic piece and we put so much work into it.
R!S: Who were key or memorable teachers in your musical education?
AM: My high school band directors, Jeff DuBose and Jeff Johnson, had a large impact on me as both a musician and person. They pushed me to be the best version of myself and provided me with opportunities to grow. In addition, the Creative and Performing Arts faculty at NSULA is full of professors I admire and look up to, including Dr. Oliver Molina, Assistant Professor of Music. I can truly say that I would not be where I am without the support and guidance of Dr. Molina.
R!S: What sort of music activities are part of your job—performing, teaching, composing, recording, engineering, other?
AM: Every now and then I have the opportunity to lead tours in the museum, Rhythm! Discovery Center. On tours, I’m able to teach kids a little about some of the instruments we have in the museum, as well as lead them in a drum circle.
R!S: What was your introduction to PAS?
AM: I had briefly heard about PAS in high school, but it wasn’t until I started at NSU that I learned what PAS was from my percussion professor. He encouraged us to go to PASIC, and my first PASIC was all it took for me to be hooked.
R!S: What is one thing you wish all student percussionists knew about PAS?
AM: There are so many benefits to being a member of PAS that I never even knew about as a student. By being a member of PAS, you have access to a variety of scholarships, competitions, educational resources, and valuable networking opportunities. I highly encourage student percussionists who wish to stay in this field to get involved with PAS as much as possible and reap all of the benefits that you can. You only get out as much as you put in.
R!S: What’s the first section you read in a new issue of Percussive Notes or Rhythm! Scene?
AM: I wouldn’t say that there is a specific first section that I read; I browse, and if there is something that catches my eye, then that is what I read.
R!S: What is your most prized percussion-related souvenir?
AM: All of the memorabilia I have received from percussion students I have taught over the last couple of years. I’ve kept and cherished every little thing that my former students have given me, aside from the large number of Whataburger ketchup packets that they loved to bring me after finding out about my Whataburger obsession.
R!S: If you aren’t playing, teaching percussion, working, or volunteering for PAS, what are you doing?
AM: In my spare time, I’m either playing a game on my Xbox One or Nintendo Switch, watching something on Netflix or Hulu such as The Office or Bones, or playing with my 2.5-year-old Boston Terrier, Charlie. On occasion, I’ll also get hooked on a series of books that I typically can’t put down until I have finished them all.
R!S: What music or station is playing when you turn on your car?
AM: I use Spotify a lot, so it can vary depending on my mood. Some artists that I play a lot include Panic! At the Disco, Taylor Swift, John Mayer, Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, The Smiths, blink-182…
R!S: What’s the first app you open on your phone or first program you start on your computer each morning?
AM: Lately I have been opening Facebook first thing on my phone in order to look at my memories. I really enjoy looking back on my memories because it reminds me of how far I have come, both personally and professionally, and pushes me to continue to better myself. Once I settle down at my computer, I typically check my email first thing.
R!S: If you could tell your 18-year-old self one piece of musical advice, what would it be?
AM: You’re not going to play anything perfectly, but you can play it to the best of your ability and be proud of that—if you’ve put the work in, of course.