By Joe Sugarman
Percussionists get a raw deal. Sequestered at the rear of an orchestra, they dutifully keep the beat, banging their kettle drums and tinkling their xylophones, with nary a solo or spotlight. Until now.
On Saturday, May 10, the BSO presents a family concert Percussion Strikes Again! featuring the orchestra’s timpanists and percussionists, James Wyman, Christopher Williams, John Locke, Brian Prechtl and guest players Tony Asero and Derek Stults. The concert, conducted by Ken Lam, includes a diverse range of percussive pieces from Christopher Rouse’s Ogoun Badagris to Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.
In honor of the performance, we asked Locke to share a few insights about the lives of folks capable of delivering the most delicate of taps to the harshest of smacks.
So, John, how would you characterize percussionists? Do they all have something in common?
All “type A” personalities. No exceptions!
What’s the most difficult thing about being a percussionist?
Orchestral percussionists play about 30 different instruments on a fairly regular basis. There are three main instruments that utilize different techniques: Snare drum, mallet instruments (like xylophone, bells, vibes and marimba) and timpani. It is tough keeping my skills high on these all of the time—not to mention some of the other instruments like cymbals, tambourine, castanets and triangle. And don’t forget the drum set!
Have you ever had a problem with noise complaints from family, friends or neighbors while you were practicing? Do you have a special place to practice?
When I was in high school, I played drums and sang in a garage band. We rehearsed every Sunday afternoon, and no matter if it was in the garage or my parents’ dining room, the police usually showed up each week to ask us to lower the volume because of neighbors’ complaints. I now have a soundproof basement studio in my home. No more police stopping by!
If you weren’t a percussionist, what other instrument could you see yourself playing?
I’d go back to being a drummer in a rock band and compose tunes to perform. I have a lot of reservations about the state of rock and pop music right now.
And since this is a family concert, what would you tell kids to help convince reluctant parents to let them play drums? Or what did you tell your own folks?
I got my drum set when I was 11. I was taking lessons at the time, and at first borrowed a drum set from my elementary school for a summer. I practiced a lot and formed a band that fall, and I needed a set to continue after school started. I got mine for Christmas. My parents appreciated and loved music. Once they saw my dedication, along with a kind word from my music teacher, they were convinced. Their support made all the difference.