Professor and Director of Percussion Studies
What year did you start working at NIU? 2004.
Where is your hometown, and where do you live now?
I grew up in Janesville, Wis., and I live in DeKalb now. My folks still live in Janesville, so I appreciate being able to be close to family.
Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
I earned a Bachelor of Music degree at Lawrence University and both a Master's and Doctorate of Musical Arts at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.
What do you like about working at NIU?
I love working at NIU. I am surrounded by inspiring and collaborative colleagues who care about providing excellent experiences for our students, and I am able to share what I love most in the world with talented, curious and motivated students who are eager to grow and to become their best selves.
What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
You are here, the moment is now. Stay focused and enjoy the learning process, one day at a time. Keep a journal and make reasonable, attainable goals, as success builds upon success. Work hard and balance both workfulness and playfulness. Always remember where you come from as you continue to pursue where you want to go.
Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
In addition to my role as the Director of Percussion Studies at NIU, I run the nonprofit organization Arcomusical. In this organization, I am surrounded by NIU alumni and current graduate students who are dedicated to spreading the joy of the berimbau musical bow. We have released two albums to critical acclaim and are in the process of recording a third album. Thanks to a Fulbright Scholar opportunity in 2015, we have a sister ensemble in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and colleagues and community in both Brazil and Africa. The mission is ongoing, and it has been a pleasure to build community ties through excellent music making.
What do you hope students take away from your class?
I want my students to understand that their music making is powerful, that they possess great magic to make the world a better place through their dedication to their craft. Through the rituals of their daily work, I want my students to come to speak their chosen languages of music with clarity, diction, poise, and most of all, passion. If they themselves are moved in their own music making, they will be capable of moving their communities, which is exactly what makes music such a powerful expression of the human spirit.
What is your favorite campus event?
I really like the NGOLD fundraising awareness day in the MLK commons every May. It is a fun gathering with puppies, cookies, music, and more, and provides a nice break for students in the week prior to final exams. Twice I have taken students over to perform at the gathering.
What is your favorite memory of NIU?
There are so many excellent memories. Taking the award-winning NIU Percussion Ensemble to perform at the Percussive Arts Society International Conventions in 2009, 2013, and most recently in 2018 were all incredible experiences. Most recently, we celebrated the lives of two peaks of NIU's percussive mountain range, G. Allan O'Connor and Clifford Alexis. Although their passing is incredibly heartfelt and sad, the manner in which community gathered to show solidarity has been incredible. The memorial concerts of 2019 have been particularly poignant events.
Who has influenced your professional path?
My aunt gave my uncle his childhood dream for Christmas when I was 13 — a drumset. The instant he showed that to me, that was it. Losing myself in music and drumming became and has remained the central focus of my life. The drum and percussion teachers I have had over the past thirty years have all been particularly positive influences. Of special note, Dane Richeson at Lawrence University, and Christopher Lamb and Steven Schick at the Manhattan School of Music, were profoundly influential in my development. I continue to think of them often in my own teaching and performing. From Dane I learned passion, from Chris I learned precision, and from Steve I learned about the power of the intellect in perpetuating the fire for music making and sharing it with community.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
My very first professional ambition was to play baseball! But after I found the drums at age 13, there was no turning back. Even when I was in high school, I had several students of all ages in the neighborhood where I grew up, and received praise for my patience and articulation as a teacher. Meeting and engaging with my professors in college and graduate school provided me with excellent models for what I knew I wanted to become. So, yes, what I like most about NIU is that it has become a home to realize my personal vision.
Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I am the President and Artistic Director of Arcomusical, a DeKalb-based nonprofit organization with a mission to spread the joy of the berimbau Afro-Brazilian musical bow. This organization has become the professional platform through which I share my deep-seated passion for this musical instrument with my students and our community. Running this ensemble and sharing its responsibilities with my intelligent, capable, and talented students and alumni has given me the opportunity to deeply involve NIU percussion students in what it takes to run a non-profit, and how to share with community. In our county, we perform at the Ellwood Summer Festival, the DeKalb and Sycamore Public Libraries, the Egyptian Summer Series at the Farmer's Market, as well as annual performances at NIU.
What community organizations are you involved in?
I am a member of the Grossman Ensemble, a professional contemporary music chamber ensemble based at the University of Chicago's Center for Contemporary Composition. On occasion, I am able to play timpani with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in Wisconsin's capitol.
What do you do to relax or recharge?
Since becoming a homeowner in DeKalb in 2016, I have developed a passion for gardening and basic forestry maintenance. I live alongside a wooded tributary of the southern branch of the Kishwaukee River, and I like to make certain the trees are happy and healthy, annually removing deadwood and invasive vines. I've also built a modest English-style shade garden on the bank of the river behind my home. It has become a sanctuary for peace and keeps me in touch with the fact that most of my percussion instruments were once trees and remember what it feels like to have the wind blowing through their branches. I hope my music making gives them a chance to recall that sensation.
Is there anything else you'd like to share about your NIU Huskie story?
NIU is one of the finest higher education institutions in our region, and its leadership has never been more thoughtful, caring, and forward looking. I believe that for NIU the best is yet to come.