Want to know what it takes to be a percussionist on Broadway? The New York University Classical Percussion Program, under the direction of Jonathan Haas, recently hosted the fourth annual Broadway Percussion Seminar/Summit.
The event brought together an array of renowned Broadway percussionists and participants from around the world for a five-day intensive study of the skills, experience, and know-how necessary to succeed in the world of Broadway percussion.
The seminar kicked off with a joint performance by recent NYU graduate Jesse Brickel and NYU faculty member Simon Boyar.
Selections included Frank Zappa’s “Revised Music for Marimba and Low-Budget Orchestra” and several of Boyar’s own compositions.
The first Broadway percussionist to present was Bill Hayes, percussionist for the Broadway show “Promises, Promises.” He began by describing the Broadway scene and how important it is to be a well-rounded percussionist.
“One of the biggest challenges in this environment is to switch your hat back quickly, and to know when you’re the drummer, when you’re the percussionist, when you are providing orchestral color, and when you’re driving the band, and that could all be within eight bars,” said Hayes.
Other presenters for the day included James Saporito (from the New York City Ballet) and Wilson Torres (from “In the Heights”).
Tuesday’s events began with a hands-on session by percussionist Javier Diaz. To sum up the entire history of Afro-Cuban music in a two-hour session is a monumental task, but Diaz was up to the challenge and did a fantastic job of teaching the students about the culture that he grew up in.
In addition, Dan Haskins and David Ratajczak (from “Mary Poppins”) and Ben Herman (representing studio recording) all spoke, and the group took a trip to Lincoln Center for the opportunity to view a dress rehearsal for the New York City Ballet.
A highlight for many was the opportunity to sit in an actual pit for a performance. The shows included “Mary Poppins,” “Promises, Promises,” “In the Heights,” “Mamma Mia” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
In between shows, students were treated to dinner and a Q-and-A at Local 802.
Clayton Craddock, percussionist for the Broadway hit “Memphis,” briefly discussed his experience on Broadway and what the union has done to help facilitate his career.
Mary Donovan, the union’s assistant to the president, elaborated on how the union works, its many benefits, and the process of becoming a member.
The final clinician of the seminar was Kory Grossman, Broadway’s “super sub,” as Haas dubbed him. Grossman offered a wealth of information on what it takes to become an expert sub on Broadway.
The seminar culminated with a roundtable discussion featuring all participants, clinicians, theatre owner Michael Sgouros, Monty Hatch (from the New York City Opera) and contractor John Miller. The roundtable provided an incredible opportunity to hear the stories that the percussionist had to tell, to witness the camaraderie shared between them, and to catch a glimpse into the life of a Broadway percussionist.
After four and a half days of marathon sessions and performances, the discussion left the seminar attendees feeling optimistic about their futures as percussionists and the percussive family that awaits them in New York.
This article was written by Beth Faulstick, Robert Guilford, Adam Keifer and Thomas Monks, and edited by Sean Statser.