Sunday, April 22, 2012

Music: Percussionist-isms

This afternoon I performed in my very last concert with the Bradley University Symphonic Winds.  After 12 years (wow, that went fast) performing on countless different occasions with ensembles and solo, there are a few things that have become second nature.  It's like anything: after you've mastered the basics of your career/hobby/whatever, you pick up on some of the "tricks of the trade" and come up with a few quirks of your own.  It's the little things like that that differentiate you from the other artists that surround you.  Sitting backstage at today's performance, a few different things passed through my brain:
1. Being in the back of the crowd isn't the end of the world.  Take advantage of the cards you're dealt: proper shoes and socks at a performance? Not a priority.
2. As a percussionist, at least once in your performing career, you will drop something at the worst possible moment.  Mine? ...a wooden stick on a timpani between pieces at a concert.  There really is nothing more important than learning how to laugh at yourself and forgive yourself for being human.
3. Cool kids share.  There is no faster way to alienate yourself from the rest of the section than being that guy with thousands of dollars worth of various sticks and mallets in your bag but not being willing to share any of them.  And along those lines...
4. The most expensive equipment in the world won't make you a better musician.  I'll always remember this thing my dad used to tell me when I played softball and whined about wanting a cool, new softball bat: "A good batter can hit the ball with a broomstick."  No one understands this better than I do after 8 years in poorly-funded public school music programs followed by 4 years in Bradley's financially-retarded music program.  Knowing how to work with what you've got makes you an infinitely better and more versatile musician.
5. Be aware of your own presence.  I've attended countless performances and walked away not remembering how great or terrible the playing was, but gushing about how RIDICULOUS the performer looked while playing.  Excessive movement and overly-emotional expression just isn't necessary, and my opinion has always been that it detracts from the performance.
6. Shit breaks. Sometimes it's your fault. Life happens.
7. Talking about how great you are impresses no one.  In reality, someone who gushes about how fantastic he or she is is usually enough to convince me of their insecurities and lack of confidence.  I probably take it too far to the other extreme.  People tend to pre-judge me as being a sub-par player because I don't say much.  I just play... and I don't do it to impress anyone.
8. Music people are weird.  Anyone who has spent any time around groups of musicians knows it's true.  When you spend countless hours with the same group of people in varying degrees of stressful situations, people's true colors always shine through.  There's no shame in being weird, though.  I don't consider myself exempt from this point.
9. Triangle beaters need some type of mitten-clip-esque anti-loss system. I think at least 10 have been misplaced during my career at Bradley.
10. Blisters suck.  Blisters are nature's way of punching you in the face for waiting until the last minute to cram and learn your part.  Multiple Band-Aids sliding around on your fingers during a performance because the blisters they're protecting are so slimy and oozy is usually enough to learn from.  Usually.
11. Vocally matching the pitch when the rest of the band is tuning is infinitely entertaining.
12. No matter how gifted and talented you think you are, or your parents tell you you are, or the world tells you you are... you are not too good for manual labor.  Being a percussionist means spending extra hours setting up, tearing down, and moving stuff and moving stuff and moving stuff.  You're not a seasoned percussionist until you've almost fallen down the stage elevator hole or you've mastered the art of tearing down, transporting, and reassembling a 5-octave marimba.


  1. Maybe you'll find a community group so that you can continue to be a part of an ensemble. I miss that part of my grown-up life.

  2. This Saturday wll be my last concert with the BU Jazz Ensamble :( ! I started in 5th grade and I agree with you, it goes by super fast.