First percussion majors graduate this December

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Over the past four years, the School of Music has worked on incorporating percussion into its curriculum for students to pursue. This semester, Arnie Salillas will be the first student to graduate from the new  program,  as a music performance major with a concentration in percussion.

Before it became a major, percussionists could only play in various music ensembles on Southern’s campus such as the wind symphony and jazz band. However, due to the mixed nature of the field, there were challenges in how to approach building the new the degree from the ground up. The School of Music had to add practice times as well as a new class called Percussion Literature and Pedagogy, according to percussion professor Richard Henson. 

“Percussion is very different than most instrumental studies,” said Richard Henson, a percussion professor. “My curriculum for the percussion major makes sure that they are amply prepared to perform various aspects of percussion. Early on, I had to have several conversations about rehearsal etiquette, preparedness, and the importance of studying all aspects of percussion — including the aspects we don’t like or aren’t good at.”

In pursuit of the degree, percussionists learn how to play several instruments that are common in bands and orchestras such as snare drum, marimba, and vibraphone. According to Henson, this includes, learning how to handle the instruments and set them up for a performance.

“Being the first comes with lots of challenges,” Salillas said. “… It was a big struggle the first four years. I was conflicted because I loved piano and percussion very much, but ultimately I wanted to pursue percussion.”

Currently, there are 20 total students pursuing this major, according to Henson. One problem the department encountered was finding enough practice space. 

According to Salillas, the practice rooms were simply too small to play the percussion instruments, and the only alternative was to practice in open areas with other students. However, the music department has made adjustments and transformed what was previously a storage closet into a space specifically for percussion instruments.

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