Hunter Gross is an American percussionist, chamber musician, and educator based in Jacksonville, Florida. He has collaborated and performed with some of the top ensembles around the world including the American Modern Ensemble in New York and at the Toolbox International Creative Academy in Hong Kong. Hunter has also received first prize in multiple American competitions, most recently in the Keyboard Division of the 2020 PASIC Solo Competition. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Oklahoma and is pursuing a Master of Music degree with Dr. Andrea Venet at the University of North Florida.
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?
Hunter Gross: One of my earliest methods of finding new music was just going down the YouTube “rabbit hole” on whatever topic I was interested in. For example, I would spend hours watching all the recommended videos of drum corps or percussion ensembles. As I progress through my education, I’m making new musical friends every day, and interacting with what they put out on their social media has shown me so much undiscovered good music.
When choosing new repertoire, I first determine what audience I’m going to be performing this for (e.g., a competition, a degree recital, a jazz club). Then, I simply ask myself if I would enjoy playing said repertoire. I also consider the difficulty level of the piece; I’ve found that if I’m learning a piece that is challenging to me, it pulls me in even more and causes me to focus on the smaller details that are sometimes missed. Some of my favorite pieces I’ve played have been the ones I’ve spent countless hours dissecting in a practice room.
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?
HG: I find that “living” with a piece causes me to develop a deeper understanding of what the composer is trying to express through the music on the page. It creates a stronger sense of familiarity, especially when memorizing, which then improves how I perform the piece. I’m a strong believer in performing as much as possible in front of everyone and anyone who will listen, as well as performing while you practice. The more you perform a piece, the better you will feel about performing.
R!S: How involved and in what ways is your instructor involved in your repertoire selection?
HG: My current professor allows me to have full control of my repertoire selection as long as it is beneficial to my growth and knowledge as a young percussionist.
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 unusually 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?
HG: If I finished every piece I ever started, my repertoire list would be out of this world. It is completely okay and normal to quit learning a piece if the technical challenges or current situation becomes too demanding. My number-one rule for these kinds of situations is to ask for help. If I’m having a hard time learning a section of a piece, or if my plate becomes too much to handle, I’ve found that reaching out to my instructor, friends, or colleagues immediately clears my mind and allows me to make the best decision possible.
R!S: What is one particularly favorite piece of repertoire you’ve performed and why?
HG: My first exposure to Japanese marimba literature was “Mirage” by Yasuo Sueyoshi, and it changed how I think about marimba as a melodic instrument. The influence that Japanese marimba literature has had on the development of solo marimba is immeasurable, and it has inspired so much of what we love about playing the marimba and the special connections that are made with it. Playing “Mirage” changed how I approach the marimba, and it’s one of my favorites to date.