More than 40 student percussionists gathered for “A Day of Percussion” on May 4 at Harrisonville High School.
The event, organized by Harrisonville Assistant Band Director and Director of Percussion Ben Gervais, catered to both middle school and high school students who are active in area band programs.
The Royal Guard Band Boosters also assisted with sponsoring the event.
A majority of Saturday’s participants were percussionists from the Harrisonville School District, along with a group of students from Webb City and several from Pittsburg State University.
“It was a great opportunity for the Harrisonville students to see some world-class percussion educators and performers,” Gervais said. “There were a couple of percussion education events hosted at Harrisonville in years past, but nothing to constitute an annual event. This event, however, was started with the idea it would become an annual event. We would invite different clinicians to present over different topics over the years.”
Throughout the day-long event, students worked with a number of regional musicians who served as guest clinicians to cultivate the student’s percussion skills in a variety of hands-on exercises.
“The clinicians themselves have different backgrounds and expertise,” Gervais said. “Despite the different backgrounds however, each of the clinicians had three parts to their clinics: demonstration, presentation and participation.”
John Kizilarmut, a drummer, vibraphonist and percussionist from Iowa, talked to students about the mechanics, theories and complexities of instrumental music.
He serves as a lecturer in music at Grinnell College and as a teaching artist at Drake University.
“It would be nice if the students picked up bits and pieces of the complexities, but the mechanics of being a percussionist have a tendency to be overwhelming, so I try to balance my clinic 50-50 between giving some basic technical and theoretical information that is needed to move forward, but to also try to inspire to pursue that through fun,” Kizilarmut said.
Kizilarmut said it’s important to teach children about music when they are young, and has been inspired by a book by Daniel Coyle, “The Talent Code.”
“From reading that book I learned a lot about how identity is formed. If we intend to use music as a model how to be a good human, it’s important that we’re doing that before the students’ sense of identity is concrete,” Kizilarmut said. “If they form a complete sense of identity on their own that doesn’t include music, their process of practicing and learning music is abstract and doesn’t have a bearing on them as a person. If you teach someone as they’re developing an idea about music, then music becomes a part of their life – and a part of that identity.”
Kizilarmut said the students at the clinics on Saturday are a direct reflection on the quality of teaching that is happening at the schools that they go to.
“If there are three of them sitting in this room of their own volition to learn about jazz vibraphone, I’m amazed,” he said. “If it wasn’t for good music educators, there would be no one here today.”
Other instructors included Nick Petrella, director of education for Sabian Ltd. and an adjunct assistant professor of percussion at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music; Clif Walker, director of percussion and assistant director of bands at Blue Springs High School; and Jason Long, percussion coordinator for the Webb City R-7 School District.
“I hope they got out of the event what they wanted. As teachers, we know that students are drawn to different experiences,” Gervais said. “When it is all said and done, I hope they each student found something – even just one thing – that they found enjoyable, which would inspire them to discover more on their own.”
The event concluded with an evening concert by the Webb City Percussion Ensemble.
“I was looking for a percussion program that would be a great model the Harrisonville percussion students could be inspired from,” Gervais said.
Gervais is a former student of Long, who is the Webb City percussion director, and asked his group to put on a concert that would help bring a strong close to the day’s training.
“Percussion ensemble concerts are great because it is always entertaining,” he said.
“This is not to undermine any other ensemble or instrument, but with percussion, there are so many unique instruments and sounds that many students do not see or hear on a daily basis. Also, being able to physically watch the students move around the instruments keeps anyone interested in the performance at any given point. Jason and Webb City brought a nice musical program to the event – a variety of styles and performers – that culminated to their finale which included the use of electronic instruments and a quartet of mixed band instruments.”