The look of shyness a student may have during their first lesson. An eye-shining smile when they find, "I can really do this!" Or, the pride exuded just moments after performing successfully in front of an audience for the very first time. These moments feel strikingly similar to what I've experienced as a father, having raised two lovely daughters. These feelings are also part of what feeds my passion as a percussion instructor.
Fast forward a bit.
A musical soul is forming deep inside a high school percussionist. Music is becoming a serious subject — a passion. He's journeying into a new territory known as artistic discovery, and realizes the lesson books that have been telling him what to play are becoming secondary to his own creative ideas. He's beginning to develop his own “voice” on various percussion instruments, and has begun to express and perform these musical “thoughts.” This percussionist is blossoming into a musician.
Throughout high school, I'd helped Bill Repavich through countless musical subjects: improving music reading skills, learning how to practice properly, mastering different drumstick grip techniques, performing in several successful school band solo and ensemble competitions, learning how to record drums so his own band could make a CD, figuring out how to audition for his first professional band experience, and creating an effective drum set solo. I'd even had him sit in on drum set and perform with my own band — at a club. Seemingly, a lifetime of topics and experiences were squeezed into those four short years.
Then, Bill went off to college to further his music and percussion studies, ending my role as his instructor. Still, he would call me occasionally to say, “Hi,” bend my “percussionist's ear,” or email me to ask my opinion on drumming equipment he might purchase. And, because my wife and I had befriended Bill’s parents during those lesson years, I’d hear how he was doing in his studies, and the different projects or challenges he was taking on.
Bill had become the principal drum set player for the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Jazz Ensemble, principle percussionist for UWO Wind Ensemble, and played timpani and other percussion for UWO Symphony Orchestra, in which he also performed as a marimba concerto soloist. Last year, he was UW-Oshkosh's Honors Recitalist as well as the university's Concerto Competition winner. Bill was keeping busy!
If those accomplishments weren't enough, he found time outside of class to be Guitar Center's Drum-Off district finalist in 2008 and 2009, and play in a few different bands.
This past Friday, my wife and I drove to UW-Oshkosh to attend Bill's college senior recital, as he'd just graduated cum laude and received a bachelor of arts degree in music with emphasis in percussion performance. His recital performance included a marimba and vibraphone duet, a multi-percussion duet, a percussion ensemble composition, and a four-mallet marimba solo. He'd been studying percussion with Dr. Alison Shaw.
Bill was focused and performed with precision. What beautiful technique, passion and emotion! He clearly communicated his love of playing through the sounds he created. Witnessing Bill's abilities filled me with a father-like pride. He'd taken the foundational skills I'd instilled in him, furthered them with Dr. Shaw's guidance, and was now placing his own musically mature voice into the world. My eyes welled up a few times. I was so happy for Bill!
Afterward, the recital attendees were invited to a local nightclub to be entertained by some of the bands Bill has been playing with: a disco funk band called Men in Suits, a steel drum band called Pandora's Groove, a rock band called The Smack, and the UW-Oshkosh Jazz Ensemble. What a wonderful treat, as all bands seriously grooved!
This August, Bill will be leaving the Oshkosh area to pursue a master's degree in jazz studies with emphasis in music production at the University of Central Oklahoma. There, he'll be studying with David Hardman, director of percussion activities.
Bill, I'm so proud of you. As you venture into your next pursuit, I'll be thinking of you often, and praying for you. My wife and I both wish we could re-live last Friday. My friend, thank you for a wonderful and unforgettable evening.