P for Percussion: profession turned periphery passion

Graduating with a music major
Graduating with a music major

I started my music career by learning to play the piano like a perfect Asian child. Alas, my parents soon discovered that my first grade self didn’t have the patience to practice alone every day. They signed me up instead for U Music, a percussion ensemble program that promised to teach children life skills along with music skills.

I naturally gravitated towards mallet instruments like marimba, vibraphone, and xylophone that featured piano-like keyboards. I also learned how to play snare drum, bass drum, and concert toms, as well as small instruments like tambourine, shaker, and triangle. I learned how to be precise with my rhythms and musical with my melodies.

My percussion world expanded as I grew up. In high school, I joined marching band and orchestra, auditioned for various competitions, and continued rehearsing with U Music on Sunday mornings. My high school band and U Music friends and teachers had become family to me (some of them intersected both groups), and together we braved dorky marching band uniforms and wrestled heavy instruments into position before shows. Percussion performances brought me to different places: Disneyland, New York, China, and Taiwan.

U Music senior recital
U Music senior recital (Photo by Morgan Tang)

Percussion had dominated my childhood and adolescence, but college forced me to make a difficult choice. Should I pursue a career in orchestral performance and composition, or explore a different profession? Despite two peaceful years in the college orchestra and in music major classes, I made the painful choice to relegate music to a side hobby. Ironically, I was working a summer administrative job at U Music, my beloved percussion school, when I found a renewed passion for writing and a new one for web design.

I work in the tech industry now, which is a far cry from the orchestra life I envisioned for myself. During my free time, I attempt to retain my musicianship as much as I can. It’s not hard to find friends who used to play music and are now eager to use it to relieve stress from their day jobs. I’ve played a few times after graduation with my college bandmates from Mozaic Project and my coworkers. For us, music isn’t our main focus, but instead our outlet for mental well-being.

Marching percussion (Photo by Ryan Bui)

Some of my friends have kept themselves immersed in the percussion world through college and beyond. It makes me nostalgic to think that my road has diverged so much from theirs, but I’m proud of them. My music teachers sometimes ask if I’ve continued playing percussion, and I’m always happy to answer “Yes,” even if I only perform a few times a year.

I don’t regret pursuing a profession outside of percussion. Music shaped my childhood and adolescence, but I needed to explore new things in adulthood. Looking back, percussion gave me the life skills I needed to grow up, just as U Music advertised. In spending so much time and energy crafting and fine-tuning my skills, I gained confidence from continually performing in front of audiences and leadership experience from sharing my knowledge with budding musicians.

It’s hard to put aside something I worked so hard to build for more than 15 years. But as one of my music teachers said, no experience is a waste of time. Come to think of it, I don’t know if I’d enjoy percussion as much if I had to do it for a living. I don’t miss the panic of forgetting my music while I’m halfway through a performance. But thanks to percussion, I have some crazy stories about performing on flower pots or falling over while carrying a marching snare. I have the skills to partake in music-making whenever I meet other musicians or composers. Best of all, I have a love for learning that applies to many areas of my life. Percussion might not be my profession, but it will always be my passion.

This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write an article for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.

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