New professor leads WSU Percussion Ensemble

Sam Bryson, the new director of WSU's Percussion Ensemble plans to take the Ensemble down a new, wider, diverse path.
Sam Bryson, the new director of the WSU Percussion Ensemble, said he plans to take the ensemble down a new, diverse path.

The Weber State University Percussion Ensemble, under the direction of Sam Bryson, has been practicing since the beginning of the semester for its big performance next week. As new leader of the ensemble and a new adjunct professor at WSU, Bryson has infused some new features into this concert. African drumming with special-ordered African costuming, an authentic Haitian piece and Bryson’s own participation are all part of what the audience can expect in addition to traditional percussion.

“We try to make it a really fun performance,” Bryson said. “One of the great things about percussion — it’s so visual, (so) it’s really good for our era . . . (and) in an ensemble you really get to play. It’s not the same as being in a band or orchestra.”

Bryson started teaching at WSU at the beginning of fall 2012, and will teach next year as well.

“It looks like I’ll be teaching some world music classes next year, and trying to get some new percussion instruments in the fall, if we can work it out as far as finances,” Bryson said. “. . . I borrowed these African drums — some of these are hand-made here. The Africans consider it an art, and these other borrowed ones are just hollowed-out logs. . . . I’d really like to get more of our own. That’s my ideal goal. . . . They’re really fun; they can get communities involved, which I’m really excited about. I’d like to get troubled kids involved — it keeps them out of trouble.”

Bryson teaches a percussion methods course, which teaches grips, reading percussion music (where the note-heads change to show the way the drum is hit), and getting ready for music education courses or careers in performance.

Byrson’s own introduction and “hook” into percussion came early in life.

“When I was in sixth grade, my grandma took me to a concert — the work of Carl Orff, ‘Carmina Burana.’ He (the guy on the drums) just blew my mind. He was tall, and looked so cool. He was playing timpani (kettle drums), and he just blew my mind. I was hooked.”

Bryson said he has three big goals for the ensemble.

“I want to get an African drumming group in here, a steel pan group, and a taiko group (Japanese drumming). . . . Nowadays, they (percussionists) have to have exposure to world music and drumming of different cultures, including marimba (wooden xylophones), beyond just traditional snare drum.”

Bryson said it takes time to learn all these new percussion instruments and styles, but that he believes that’s a good thing.

“One of the things I love about (learning) music is that it isn’t fast food. You can’t get it in a hurry. You can’t go through a drive-through or learn it on Amazon. You have to spend time with it.”

Though percussionist wannabes have to go through all the same music theory classes as any other music minor or major, Bryson said he likes to break in new percussionists by assuring them they do have a strong sense of rhythm or can find it.

“I like to point out to them (that) everything we do is in rhythm: We walk in rhythm, we talk in rhythm, our hearts beat in rhythm. The only hard part is accessing that. . . . But as soon as they’re exposed more and more to (realizing) what they already know, anybody can learn to play drum if they take the time to do it.”

The WSU Percussion Ensemble will perform April 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the Garrison Choral Room (Browning Center Room 136) and is free to the public.