Middle school and high school percussion classes, ensembles, and programs are becoming more of the norm throughout the United States, and anyone who has attended a recent PASIC knows that some of these programs are exceptional. Beyond the level of performance in an ensemble setting, however, the objective of any academic institution is to develop the individual. Be it through large ensembles such as concert band or symphonic orchestra, chamber music with percussion or mixed ensembles, and solo literature in a class or private lesson setting, seeing all percussion students progress from the first time they walk on campus until the day they graduate is the ultimate desire of every educator. What are some of the strategies that might allow that desire to be fully realized? This series of short posts over the next few months will address a few tips, tricks, thoughts, and ideas from percussion instructors in a few of the finest programs from around the country.
It has become a mantra of sorts within the percussion-education community that percussion is plural. No percussionists should complete their studies as they graduate high school and not have been provided performance opportunities on a wide variety of percussion instruments and in a variety of ensemble types. Inevitably, this requires attention to the transfer skills present between that variety of instruments and ensembles. How do you capitalize on and emphasize transfer skills within your program?
Adam Wiencken (Broken Arrow High School): Essentially, transfer skills are the heart and soul of our program. It doesn’t matter what you are playing in terms of genre, style, instrumentation, etc., but continuing to play as much as possible will ultimately influence all areas of a program. In that respect, it is important to surround yourself with better players, especially if you are branching out to an area of performance that’s unfamiliar or a weakness. Soak up as much information as humanly possible from those better players to learn about becoming proficient in all areas. Also, stretch yourself in terms of style, instrument, ensemble, etc.; getting out of your comfort zone only improves your musicianship and makes you more marketable if you choose to play at the university level or for a living.
Josh Torres (Center Grove High School): One of the best playing groups that I ever had was my 2010–11 group. That year, the percussion ensemble played at Midwest, and our drumline was the Bronze Medalist in Scholastic World at the WGI World Championships. The kids were fantastic musicians who played with an incredible sense of touch; that applies to both concert percussion ensemble and drumline! In my opinion, the better musician you are, the better player you are, on any instrument. My advice for students focuses on awareness. A heightened sense of awareness and listening skills will be the greatest crossover that exists between marching percussion and concert percussion. The more that you can get out of your bubble and be aware of what else is going on, the more that awareness is going to directly benefit your ensemble and you as a solo musician. Beyond listening, study the score, not just your part. This will help you in percussion ensemble, marching band, indoor drumline, and even solo playing. The more you can look at a piece of music to help you make informed decisions, the better of a player or ensemble member you will become!