6. New England Conservatory – Boston, MA
Notable Faculty: Frank Epstein, Daniel Bauch, Will Hudgins
Principal percussionist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Frank Epstein directs the NEC Percussion Ensemble, which performs several times a year at the college’s luxurious and majestic concert venue, Jordan Hall. The entire percussion faculty at the New England Conservatory is comprised of Boston Symphony Orchestra members, which is of benefit for any percussionist aspiring to play with a major orchestra. Frank Epstein, a Zildjian-sponsored artist, has had students advance to a number of orchestras, including the symphonies of Detroit, Des Moines, and Orchestra Iowa, among many other prominent ensembles.
5. Indiana University Jacobs School of Music – Bloomington, IN
Notable Faculty: John Tafoya, Kevin Bobo, Steve Houghton, Michael Spiro
One of the world’s most renowned percussion departments, the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music boasts a world-class faculty that consistently produces prominent percussionists internationally. The department boasts some of the most impressive facilities out of any percussion department in the nation: recently, the department has moved into an 85,000 square foot building that includes 23 marimbas, 17 sets of timpani, 34 concert snare drums, and even 36 conga drums, among many other sets of fine instruments. The faculty at Indiana is comprised of exceptionally notable names, including Steve Houghton, who is a jazz and classical percussion specialist with a resume’ that includes collaborations as varied as Christian McBride and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The amount of important percussion alumni that has graduated from Indiana is astoundingly high. Some notable names you may have heard of include Peter Erskine, an acclaimed jazz drummer who has performed with Maynard Ferguson, Shawn Pelton, percussionist who performs with the Saturday Night Live Band, and even IU faculty member John Tafoya, former Principal Timpanist of the National Symphony Orchestra.
As IU is one of the largest music schools in the country in terms of student size (right up there with Berklee College of Music and University of North Texas College of Music), percussionists are never short of performance opportunities, especially considering the schools hosts six opera performances per year as well as six college orchestras and a number of wind and band ensembles.
Check Out the Faculty: Steve Houghton’s text on drum-set reading is among the most well-known, especially for people looking to perform in settings such as Broadway, big band, “combos,” and a variety of other gigs.
4. University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance – Ann Arbor, MI
Notable Faculty: Joseph Gramley
An original and founding member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, Joseph Gramley hosts one of the most impressive young studios in the nation at the University of Michigan. He teaches to his pupils principles of both traditional classical music performance as well as those in modern classical music and world percussion styles. As a performer, Gramley regularly commissions new music for percussion, and is a noted advocate for contemporary styles. He has worked with the likes of Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard, among many other notables. Appointed to the University of Michigan faculty in the latter half of the century’s first decade, his students frequently win top prizes and are active, successful freelancers and orchestral musicians.
Listen to the Faculty: Check out Joseph Gramley on this essential Silk Road Ensemble recording, Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet.