The Minnesota Percussion Trio (MPT) has been performing since 1987. In that time the trio has had over 1,500 performances in schools, libraries, museums, and community fine-arts series. The trio consistently earns the highest marks for innovative programming and successful audience rapport.
They were awarded the Zildjian Family Opportunity Grant, a prestigious industry award, allowing them to perform for over 2,000 students in schools located in St. Paul and Minneapolis. The Trio also collaborates with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on their Start the Music series as well as their Xplorchestra music concerts and CONNECT programs. Additionally, the MPT were artists in residence at the Minnesota State Academy of the Blind (January/February 2008), in May 2010 were awarded the Jim Dusso Award given by COMPASS acknowledging their excellence and longevity in the Twin Cities Arts scene, named 2012–13 Artists in Residence with Minnesota Public Radio, and in 2016, collaborated with and premiered Katherine Bergman's “Land of Cloud – Tinted Water.” I am fortunate to have had one of my pieces included in an MPT program, and I was able to recently interview the trio via email regarding the ensemble, their backgrounds, and how COVID-19 has shaped their present and future opportunities.
Josh Gottry: Can each of you introduce yourself and briefly describe what else do you do besides MPT?
Bob Adney: I have been teaching percussion at MacPhail Center for Music for 45 years, and I am the timpanist for the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra as well as Principal Timpanist for the South Dakota Symphony.
Erik Barsness: In addition to playing with MPT, I actively perform throughout the Twin Cities including theater shows, dance companies, orchestras and choirs, and churches. I am the percussionist for the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra, and I maintain a private studio of about 45 high school-aged students throughout the metro area.
Paul Hill: Up until recently, I’ve been an adjunct percussion instructor at one or more of the area’s smaller colleges, but I have moved to teaching entirely privately. For the last few years, I have been playing drum set full time at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre and playing shorter runs at other local theaters. I also sub regularly with the Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Opera and play for touring Broadway shows and ballets. I’m in the process of re-launching my website, where I will be oﬀering a new way of online teaching and bringing back my custom drum and mallet making ventures.
Gottry: How did each of you come to percussion, and what are your educational paths in percussion studies?
Adney: My path began with a bet as sixth grader with another sixth grader as to who could be the better drummer after six months of lessons. Thanks, Kevin Lee, for making the bet with me; I won! I enjoyed band from the get-go and in particular enjoyed my band directors; they were inspiring to me, and during my school day there was no more favorite place to be than the band room. College was at a small school that allowed me a lot of flexibility in how I studied music.
During college I studied with a couple of people who were symphony based: Morris Alan Brand, who was a top-notch freelance artist in the Twin Cities, and then Paula Culp of the Minnesota Orchestra. I began subbing with the Minnesota Orchestra and consequently received many, many lessons about music with the other members of the percussion section: Marv Dahlgren and Elliot Fine.
Barsness: I always knew I would be a drummer from a very young age, always tapping along to songs I would hear. I started with piano lessons at age five and started percussion in sixth grade in my elementary school. I took private drum set lessons right away and eventually played in the marching band and winter drumline at my high school, as well as in jazz bands and concert bands. I also played in punk bands while in high school, complete with a mohawk! At the end of high school, I actually started taking lessons with Bob, with whom I would later become a good friend and colleague. I completed my undergrad at the University of Minnesota (where I met Paul) and did my Masters at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden. I received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Sweden and was there for three years.
Hill: My parents say that I was the typical drummer kid, always banging on pots and pans. When we were signing up for instruments to start band in fifth grade, they weren’t surprised that I chose percussion. The only hitch was that the band teacher required all percussionists to have two years of piano experience in order to sign up, but I didn’t have any. The teacher and my parents made a deal that I would take percussion lessons from him privately during the summer before fifth grade in order to get up to speed, and I’m truly grateful that he gave me that chance! We were lucky enough that we always had great band directors in our small (population 1,500) town, and being in band was an amazing experience. I originally started college at University of Wisconsin-Superior as a photography major, but as one of my electives I signed up for the jazz combo, even though I had never really played in a small group and never played more than the typical high-school-level jazz band music. I was really challenged and loved it, and the instructor, Dave Hagedorn, was also the percussion instructor, so I switched majors the next year to Music Ed and Percussion Performance. After graduating, I spent the summer on the Mississippi River with the infamous American Wind Symphony. After a year of working in a music store, teaching, and freelancing in the Duluth-Superior area, I went to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cites to get my master’s degree.
Gottry: How did MPT come to be?
Adney: The Minnesota Percussion Trio began at the request of the Women’s Organization of the Minnesota Orchestra, WAMSO, in 1987. They sponsored small groups from the Minnesota Orchestra to present concerts to schools in the Twin Cities. In the beginning, we were often doing 30–40 school dates during the school year. Often, those school dates included a concert late in the morning, then we would go out for lunch, and then another concert early afternoon. Sometimes the concerts began at 8 a.m., but no matter what, almost any performance included us getting together for lunch, and that was a ton of fun. Marv Dahlgren was the principal percussionist with the Minnesota Orchestra, and during those lunches we got to hear all the stories of his orchestra life as well as the building of the Minnesota Orchestra, which at that time was known as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Gottry: Talk a bit about the different programs you present.
Barsness: We have three main programs we oﬀer: "Click, Clap, and Clunk," where all the instruments fit into a five-gallon bucket and we talk about small percussion instruments, "Around the World in 80 Beats," where we explore percussion music from throughout the world, and "The Beat Goes On!" which is the original MPT program. "The Beat" introduces the main percussion instruments that students might encounter when starting percussion. We also have worked closely with other organizations such as Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in their education programming. In addition to the educational side of things, we are often asked to do larger scale performances for fine-arts series throughout the area. We've worked with many composers on commissions as well.
Gottry: What's the impression or response you hope to create in the kids who attend your performances?
Hill: Two of our main goals are to spark curiosity for percussion and music and to create a sense of wonder and excitement about making music. Our programs typically end with a Q&A session, and it still amazes me how many kids ask about how we started playing percussion or music in general. When I was in elementary school I had no idea that being a musician was a career! Before we finish our program, with something fast and exciting of course, we encourage them and their parents to go to our website to listen to more percussion music and see some of our videos in the hopes that it leads them and their families to start exploring music together and seeking out types of music they had never heard before.
Gottry: What's a highlight experience for the group?
Adney: A highlight that stands out for me is when were in an elementary school about seven years ago. One of the pieces we played is “Marimba Music” by Eckhard Kopetski. One of the reasons we played this piece is because you can do it on a 4-octave marimba and I could cart around a Musser 4-octave Kelon instrument easily. It also has minimal drum requirements. The piece begins with an exciting drum intro, then the marimba comes in with a great sounding phrase, and the students—mind you, elementary age—started hooting and making positive audience sounds in appreciation of what they were hearing. We felt like rock stars, and it was so exciting to be playing during this audience reaction.
Barsness: One of the highlights for me has always been when we are invited to perform for the Minnesota Children's Hospital. They have a closed-circuit TV station for the kids, many of whom are there for very serious reasons and can't leave their rooms. These performances are shown live in both the Minneapolis and St. Paul hospitals. We perform in front of a green screen and they have a host named "The Dude" who interviews us throughout the performance. The kids call into the studio with questions, which we can then answer. We've done this several times, and it really is a great experience. To be able to give them this live performance is truly one the highlights of my time with MPT.
Hill: I agree with Erik; it’s really tough to top performing at the Children’s Hospital!
Gottry: What have you been doing the last several months while assembly and library performances aren't possible?
Adney: During COVID, my teaching load has increased, and I have thoroughly enjoyed preparing for all of my students’ lessons and taking the time to practice their rep as well. Other than COVID-19 being a terrible, terrible virus that is aﬀecting the entire world, it has given me the chance to look very directly at my teaching and hone that part of my musical life. The trio itself, of course, is not really doing anything. However, we have an opportunity to work on a virtual residency, and it looks like that is going to happen. I am hoping we can build from that work and then do other virtual residency work with the trio.
Barsness: Mostly right now I've been continuing with my teaching schedule, although via Zoom, and I bought a practice-pad drum set, so I'm working through The New Breed by Gary Chester. We’re also all bracing for the upcoming Minnesota winter; COVID will make it tough this year.
Hill: In between helping my wife run a non-profit that finds creative ways to give back to the community [TheSpreadSunshineGang.org], I’ve been digging into Tommy Igoe’s Great Hands for a Lifetime, revisiting Ted Reed’s Syncopation (you’re never really done with that book), and trying to expand my private teaching studio. There have also been countless hours listening to new music and watching YouTube videos of great musicians and groups. In early October, I was lucky enough to book a few outdoor gigs, a few days of recording sessions, and a video shoot, all done very safely! Those were my first gigs since March 13 when I was playing third snare drum for Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony with the Minnesota Orchestra.
Gottry: What are important things you did or learned in college that led you to doing what you are today?
Adney: I began work as a busboy at the IHOP when I was 14, and have always had a job since that time. Those jobs, in addition to my lessons and work with various band directors and other teachers and my parents, taught me the life skills that you need to be successful. Be nice, listen, and do your job! It’s also critically important to have goals; I grew up with “you can be who you want to be.”
Barsness: It is so important to make sure you are both able to play at a high level and be the kind of person people want to be around. It doesn't really matter how well you can play if you're not enjoyable to work with. Also, I learned that I would never have as much time to practice as I did while in school. Don't waste your time kids; practice now while you still can!!
Hill: I learned that it’s about first impressions, both musically and personally. You not only have to be playing at a high enough level that you get hired, but that you will get rehired. You also need to be the kind of person people want to be around and hire. Even though the Twin Cites is a fairly large area, word gets around pretty quickly if someone is diﬃcult to work with, even if that someone is an amazing player. Be the kind of person and musician that you would want to hire and perform with.
Gottry: What has MPT got planned for the next 12–18 months or further in the future?
Hill: We are currently communicating with an elementary school about doing a multi-program, multi-class package of videos, Q&A sessions, and virtual performances, so hopefully that will all work out. Even if those programs don’t work out, they’ve prompted us to think about preemptively putting together some programs and videos that we can get out to the schools and libraries.
Adney: Ideally, I would love to see the trio do a young audience-styled concert once a week or so with a community fine-arts concert monthly! It would also be nice to have some small tours into outstate Minnesota and Wisconsin. Our group is portable and compact, so we can travel with good concert repertoire and not be bogged down trying to move large instruments or even require a moving truck. I would love for our group to do some guest work with various bands and orchestras in our area as well.
Discover more about the Minnesota Percussion Trio at minnesotapercussiontrio.com, and explore the individual member websites at bobadneystudio.com, erikbarsness.com, and paulhillpercussion.com.
Josh Gottry is a respected educator, accomplished percussionist, and internationally recognized composer who has been working with, and creating music for, the next generation of percussionists for over twenty years. He has served on the music faculties of college and university campuses around the Phoenix metropolitan area, works regularly with ensembles and students at all grade levels as a clinician and within his private lesson studio, and his performance record includes professional orchestras, musical theater, worship teams, jazz combos, community and chamber ensembles, as well as solo performances and recitals. Gottry is an ASCAP award-winning composer whose works have been performed at universities, junior high and high schools, and multiple national conferences, and he serves as editor for Rhythm! Scene.