Dwight Van de Vate is a percussionist based in Memphis, Tennessee. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in 2019 from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he studied with Dr. Andrew Bliss, and he received his Master of Arts degree in 2021 from Truman State University, under the direction Dr. Michael Bump. He is currently earning his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Memphis, under the direction of Dr. William Shaltis. Dwight spends much of his time performing as a steel pan soloist and arranging for steel band, teaching at the high school and elementary levels, and performing regularly in Tennessee and the surrounding areas. Some of his highlight performances include the IPEC Showcase and the New Literature Showcase at PASIC and as a solo performer at the North Star Music Festival in Kirksville, Missouri.
R!S: How do you find new pieces that you are interested in playing? What factors do you consider when seeking out and/or choosing new solo or chamber repertoire?
Dwight Van de Vate: I start by creating a list of the percussion “food groups” I would like to work on. By doing this, I ensure that I have a varied repertoire. To fill it out, I ask my colleges what they’ve been listening to or works that they have previously played, and I sift through different publishers, music stores, or composer sites until I find something that fits me. I also find works that are either written in a way that tackles some of my weaknesses or possibly a work that is in our “canon.”
R!S: What changes about the way you play a piece as you “live” with it for a while? Do you typically perform a piece once or multiple times?
DV: As I live with a work, I find I appreciate the composer more and more. While I have a tendency to worry about what I do on stage, I have come to learn to put the work before my performance. Jacob Druckman’s “Reflections on the Nature of Water” is a fine example of a composer’s ability to re-envision our physical world and produce a curated exhibition of their ideas. I am constantly trying to perform, so it is inevitable that I will perform pieces multiple times, and I find that this reinforces my ability to reproduce the works.
R!S: How involved is your instructor in your repertoire selection?
DV: As a doctoral student, my instructor doesn’t engage in my selection of repertoire unless I request suggestions. However, as an undergraduate, I find that it is necessary to have your professor guide you to what is beneficial. They will give you works that will help you develop your skills. It can be hard to wait to program some of your favorite works, but it is crucial to trust your professors and let them help you.
R!S: Do you finish every piece that you start to learn? If not, why not? If a piece seems like a poor fit or you struggle with a piece, how do you proceed? Do you “bail” on the selection or what changes do you make to allow yourself to complete it?
DV: I do not finish every piece that I work on, whether it be from not having the time to commit or if it does not fit my particular needs. However, I do not let go of a work just because it is too challenging. I will develop exercises that apply to the challenging aspects of the work or, as we have heard plenty of times, go slower. In “Merlin” by Andrew Thomas, the second movement has several articulations that need to come through. So, I would practice my scales with different accent patterns to help me learn the motions that make those specific sounds.
R!S: What is one particularly favorite piece of repertoire you’ve performed and why?
DV: One of my favorite memories is playing “Remains” by Nina Young at the Nief Norf Summer Festival in 2017. This was the first time I had been exposed to the writing for two percussionists and two pianists. Nina’s experimentation with the resonance of the instrumentation is so refined and it provides a fresh perspective on this instrumentation.