main navigation bar - top row

main navigation bar - bottom row

main menu

Percussion Studio FAQ


What do you think sets the U-M Percussion Program apart from others?

A few reasons, actually.

#1) Our graduates.
A consistent and demonstrated history of student success. Our graduates have consistently entered the field (in all areas), have made meaningful impacts and achieved sustained success. View the "alumni" page for a comprehensive listing of U-M Percussion graduates.

#2) Our facilities and equipment.

Our brand-new percussion facility has few, if any peers. Twelve acoustically-isolated, locked, dedicated practice rooms for percussionists, including dedicated multi-percussion space, chamber music rehearsal space and additional locker/storage space. These percussion practice rooms are all clustered together which helps to promote an atmosphere of community and support. Our equipment inventory is one of the best in the world. A vast array of both new and vintage instruments are available for students' use so they can make the best sounds they can on the best equipment.

#3) The studio "vibe."

We value teamwork and collaboration and work hard to accept students that are not only great musicians, but also great artist-colleagues. Like any program, there is always peer-to-peer competition, but at Michigan there is a distinct environment of shared ideas, working together, and peer-to-peer sharing and collaborating. The interaction between percussionists is very positive and can often be a significant supplemental part of a students' education outside of their weekly private lessons with their professor.

#4) Personal Attention.

The ability for each student to find a their own artistic voice and explore areas of personal interest. We featured a broad-based curriculum, but every student is unique in their artistic interests and career goals. We work hard to create an environment where individual areas of interest can be explored and fostered. This diversity of personalities and musical interests is also what helps create a very engaging studio environment.

#5) Our Faculty.

Our faculty are all active performers, connecting students to a 21st century performing world.

How many percussion majors are in the U-M Percussion Program and what is the breakdown of their degree programs?

Currently (2017-18) there are 27 students in the U-M percussion program -- BM: 19, MM: 7, DMA: 1.

What is the difference between a "university" music school like Michigan versus that of a conservatory?

As far as curriculum is concerned, none. The performance opportunities and degree requirements are at their base, exactly the same as a conservatory. Michigan however, has the ability to offer additional performing opportunities not offered at other top schools. In particular, our world percussion offerings are comprehensive in scope and invigorating in practice. Also, our collaborations with performing arts technology and musical theatre give real-world experiential learning opportunities to our students. The U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, is a high-level conservatory environment, but with the additional advantages of being housed within one of the world's leading research institutions. The school's setting as a part of a leading university adds to the complete student experience. Students have access to a conservatory curriculum, yet also are able to take advantage of limitless academic opportunities in addition to numerous other resources (international study/travel support, a professional audio and video recording studio, and other research/collaborative opportunities, etc.)

Do students study any world percussion?

YES.The study of world percussion is an important part of our curriculum. The World Percussion Ensemble, is co-directed by Professors Ovalle and Gramley with the assistance of a dedicated graduate student instructor. The World Percussion Ensemble focuses its efforts on a multiple-semester rotation of content that currently includes Afro-Cuban popular music, Caribbean Steel Band and West African styles. Students are required to roatate through all content areas. Separate from the World Percussion Ensemble, the Brazilian Ensemble - Vencedores - is a high-energy samba batteria and is another world percussion performance opportunity for percussion students. The Brazilian Ensemble is student-led, and performs frequently at events both on and off campus.

What opportunities are there as a percussionist for chamber music playing? Both percussion chamber music and mixed chamber music.

We value the importance of chamber playing and chamber musicianship. There are always plentiful opportunities for chamber playing in the U-M Percussion ensemble and we are always programming chamber percussion repertoire. Because of the vast number of high-quality students in all the piano, vocal and instrumental studios, opportunities for mixed-chamber collaborations are numerous and there is a plethora of top-notch players of which to collaborate with. Aside from many student-led chamber opportunities, the Contemporary Directions Ensemble is the university's resident new-music ensemble and offers opportunities for graduate students to engage in contemporary mixed-chamber playing. Prof. Freda Herseth teaches a vocal chamber music class that offers percussionists chance to explore and perform a unique body of vocal chamber repertoire. The orchestra and wind conducting programs at SMTD are two of the top programs in the country and attract top-flight students every year. All conducting students in these programs have to give recitals and often are programming chamber repertoire. Often these pieces need percussionists - another opportunity for percussionists to perform mixed chamber music. Lastly, the composition department is also one of the best in the country. Once a month there is a student composers concert where percussionists for new chamber pieces are always needed. In addition to a chamber performance opportunity these concerts also offer a collaborative opportunity with a composer as well.

How many concerts does the percussion ensemble give?

On the average, the ensemble performs 4 concerts per year, with some of those concerts off-campus. Recent venues have included the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art - Detroit. (MoCAD) as well as a live webcast from the headquarters of Black Swamp Percussion.

What is the audition process for the bands and orchestras?

There are two bands (Symphony Band, Concert Band) and two orchestras (University Symphony Orchestra, University Philharmonia.) Each semester, percussion students prepare a list of both percussion and timpani excerpts and participate in a screened audition for the percussion faculty and conductors. The auditions usually takes place in late August for the fall semester and in December for the winter semester. Sections are rotated and re-auditioned each semester.

Do graduate students have a better opportunity for ensemble placement?

Because the audition is behind a screen, identities are concealed, thus creating a level playing field between all players. Placement is solely based on the students' preparation and success at the audition each term. First year undergrads earn their place by virtue of the quality of their work, and are not pre-placed in any ensemble.

How are parts assigned in the Orchestras and Concert Bands?

Parts are assigned by the conductors in wind ensembles in coordination with Professors Gramley, and by Professor Ovalle in coordination with the conductors in orchestras. 

Do undergraduates ever take lessons from graduate students?

NO. Undergraduate percussion majors are always assigned to study with a professor their entire 4-year residency. This is unique to our program as many other programs have undergraduate percussionists studying with graduate students up to 50% of their lesson time. Students are always assigned to one, or a combination, of our five principal percussion faculty. Having talented and experienced Masters and Doctoral level students is, however, another great tool for learning at the U-M. Our undergraduate students can use these graduates as a resource as needed and perform with them in large ensembles and Chamber Music Ensembles.

What teaching opportunities are there for graduate students?

As mentioned above, unlike many other institutions, graduate students are not assigned undergraduate students to teach. We feel this is a tremendous advantage for undergraduates who are always assigned to a major professor throughout their undergraduate residency. However, gaining teaching experience as a graduate student is important and something we value as a program. Some of the teaching opportunities a graduate student can participate in include coaching the U-M percussion ensemble, teaching non-major private lessons and coaching the youth percussion ensemble, iMpact!. There are also a number of schools in the Ann Arbor area and within a 30min drive that can provide contacts for graduate students to find additional private students. For two of the three graduate assistantship positions, teaching is a major component as well. The Music Education Percussion Methods GSI (graduate student instructor) is responsible for teaching the percussion methods class to non-percussionist music education majors, and the World Percussion GSI position is responsible for teaching the world percussion ensemble and assisting with additional semesters of the class under Professors Gramley and Ovalle.

Are there graduate assistantships available?

YES. We have three graduate assistantship positions (GSI's - graduate student instructors) in the percussion studio which can be held by either masters or doctoral students. With these positions tuition is fully funded and students also receive a stipend. One is a percussion equipment/logistics position (called the Percussion Manager") who's responsibility is to manage equipment for the large ensembles and to coordinate equipment moves out of the building for large ensemble concerts. This position may only be held by a second-year graduate student. Another GSI position is the world percussion GSI who's responsibility is to instruct the World Percussion Ensemble and/or Brazilian Ensemble in their area of expertise and assist with other semesters under Professors Gramley and Ovalle. The third GSI position is responsible for managing and instructing the Percussion Methods class to non-percussionist music education majors.

What recitals are students required to complete?

All undergrad percussion majors are required to complete their Senior Recital after playing the repertoire for the percussion faculty in a hearing. Students are also encouraged to play a Junior Recital which can be a full or half-recital. Often, students give non-degree recitals as sophomores or even freshmen.

Master's percussion majors are required one graduation recital. DMA performance majors are required three full recitals.

Do guest artists frequently come to your studio?

YES. The U-M Percussion Program is fortunate to be able to connect students with successful professionals in all areas of the percussion field. The program has a great history of bringing top-tier artists to our campus for masterclasses and performances every semester. We generally host numerous visiting artists every academic year. These guests can be related to a presentation with the University Musical Society (such as New York Philhamonic Principal Percussionist, Christopher Lamb in 2013 and San Francisco Symphony Principal Percussionist, Jack Van Geem in 2012) or as a special guest of the Percussion Program, such as Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Percussionist Chris Deviney in 2008, and Afro-Cuban specialist Michael Spiro, also in 2008. Please see our guest artists page.

Do students take courses in other areas or complete minors/double majors in other areas?

YES. Because the SMTD is housed within a leading academic institution, one of the benefits is that its academic curricular offerings are immense and varied. There are a myriad of options for our students to pursue any number of interests. In any given year, we may have one or two students studying under the BMA degree program. Others might be pursuing a dual degree in one of the many degree offerings of this fine Institution. For more information, see degree requirements, dual degrees, and LSA minors.

Do many students participate in other ensembles such as marching bands, jazz ensembles, etc?

YES. Marching band is an option for the large ensemble curriculum. Additionally, some students participate in both marching band and an orchestra or wind ensemble. Jazz Lab Ensemble conflicts only with Symphony Band, so it may be an option for some students. Many percussion students have participated in jazz combos.

Are percussion majors required to participate in marching band?

NO. There is no requirement for percussionists to participate in marching band. This includes those who are on scholarship as well. Marching band is one of the many ensemble options available to percussion majors, but is not a requirement.

Are Music Education majors given the same opportunities as performance majors?

YES. Music Education majors are given exactly the same opportunities as performance majors. This includes lessons and all performing ensembles.

What sort of scholarship opportunities are there available?

Your financial aid/scholarship award is often a complex package that includes any merit-based award as well as other assistance which can come in the form of an academic scholarship, grants, other other aid. Once you have completed an audition if you are being recommended for a scholarship based on your audition performance, that award can be combined with additional funding that comes from the Office of Financial Aid. In all cases, the best possible package is is put together for each student that takes into consideration merit-based aid and the student's demonstrated financial need.


symphony band in china

main navigation bar - top row

main navigation bar - bottom row

Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower