Steve Hemphill, Professor of Percussion, Director of Percussion Studies at Northern Arizona University since 1991, earned two degrees from the Eastman School of Music and his doctorate from Florida State University. He served as timpanist with the Flagstaff Symphony, principal percussionist with the Music in the Mountains Festival (Colorado), extra percussion with the Atlanta Symphony, and percussion with numerous commercial artists. Along with publishing articles in journals/magazines, Hemphill has presented at National MENC, PASIC, MENC Northwest, College Music Society, among others, and served on the PAS University Pedagogy Committee, Composition Competition Committee, and University Student Committee.
Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a university percussion professor, what career could you see yourself having pursued?
Steve Hemphill: I probably would have focused more on orchestral or freelance performance (although those opportunities exist to some extent as a university professor) or on a career in law. Even though I’m not crazy about this, some of my students would say I could have been an English teacher — ouch!
R!S: What's one thing in your institution or city/town (other than your school of music or music department) that you are proud to tell people about?
SH: Flagstaff, Arizona is a beautiful high-country landscape with four seasons, allowing for snow skiing, trail biking, hiking/rock climbing, and so many outdoor activities to enrich health and spirit. We are the home of the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world with an elevation of 7,000 feet, and we have our own mountain of 12,633 feet — all in one gorgeous package. It’s too bad that the practice rooms don’t have windows!
R!S: What's one thing about you that your students would unanimously proclaim?
SH: Perhaps that they have a great deal of access to me or my office. I’m here at our institution a lot to help, confer, and interact. I guess that being somewhat a “workaholic” is common with most percussion instructors, this life of percussion being both a vocation and avocation.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
SH: The life of a university percussion teacher is surrounded by “favorite” instruments, perhaps most influenced by the performance project or session immediately at hand. It might be like asking “Which child in your family is your favorite?” The wonderful aspect of percussion performance is the diversity of opportunity and the absence of boredom!
R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?
SH: Growing up in Rome, New York, and driving up to Potsdam to study with the inspiring James Petercsak (SUNY-Potsdam, Crane School of Music) during my high school days, before attending the Eastman School of Music, provided a fantastic onset to my percussion journey. In many ways, my vision of teaching and performing in the percussion world was based upon my three-year experience under his guidance.