Jan. 25, 2013/For Immediate Release, high res photo available
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A PASSION FOR PERCUSSION:
UNCSA faculty-artist follows his father in leading international music organization
WINSTON-SALEM – Nearly 40 years ago, a high school sophomore named John R. Beck attended a percussion workshop at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. It was the first international conference of the Percussive Arts Society (PAS), and it was hosted by his father, John H. Beck, who taught percussion at Eastman.
This year, the younger Beck, a faculty-artist at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) School of Music, will host the 37th annual Percussive Arts Society International Conference (PASIC) in Indianapolis, as the new president of world’s largest professional organization for percussionists.
“I knew that I enjoyed percussion, but I hadn’t discovered my passion for it,” says the UNCSA musician about that first convention. “That did it, that first PASIC.”
A member of the UNCSA faculty since 1998, Beck spent two years as president-elect of the 7,000-member PAS before taking over as president this month. PAS has 50 chapters in the United States and additional chapters around the world. In addition to its annual international convention, it hosts state conventions and “Days of Percussion” throughout the year.
John R. Beck
Beck grew up in a musical household, with his father a percussionist and his mother a violinist and piano teacher. John and his sister both had to learn to play the piano before they could choose another instrument. The sister chose flute. He followed in his father’s footsteps and picked percussion. It was a choice that served him well, but it took many years before he could actually study under this father.
“I had a few lessons with my dad early on, but that didn’t work. I ended up in tears,” Beck says. He took lessons with other teachers, and went on to study percussion at Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio. Then he returned to Eastman as a graduate student. “It was much better then. The dynamic was much different,” he says.
Beck’s passion for percussion led him down a path that is similar to his father’s. Both became teachers of percussion, both have active careers as performers, and both became president of the instrument group’s largest professional organization. John H. Beck, the father, was president of PAS from 1987-1990, and was inducted into its hall of fame in 1990. In 2002, he received the organization’s outstanding service award. He taught at Eastman from 1959-2008, and performed with the Rochester Philharmonic from 1959 to 2002.
John R. Beck, the son, has served as president of the North Carolina chapter of PAS, has hosted PAS Days of Percussion at UNCSA and Wake Forest University, has served on the organization’s board of directors, and been a clinician at PAS events. He credits PAS with keeping him up-to-date and passionate about his art.
“It is absolutely the best professional development,” Beck says. “I have met people – professional musicians – that I never would have met otherwise. The simplest way to describe us is that we’re a drum club and we get together once a year for the biggest percussion party on the planet. On the business side we are a $1.5 million nonprofit arts organization with a full-time staff of seven people.”
With its concerts, clinics, master classes, labs, workshops, panels and presentations, PASIC is the world’s largest percussion convention. “It’s hard to describe the energy of 5,000 percussionists in one place. That energy carries you through the year,” he says.
Beck’s involvement with PAS benefits UNCSA as well, for recruiting new students and networking with colleagues. School of Music Dean Wade Weast said he encourages faculty involvement with professional organizations such as PAS.
“It is crucial that our faculty maintain vibrant careers as performers, remain up-to-date with trends in their instrument fields, and build professional relationships with colleagues,” Weast said. “We are very proud of John Beck for having attained the highest level of leadership in a prominent international organization.”
In addition to teaching and serving PAS, Beck performs with the Winston-Salem and Greensboro symphony orchestras, Brass Band of Battle Creek, and the Philidor Percussion Group. Before coming to UNCSA, he taught at the University of Utah, the University of Colorado, the University of Nevada, and Shenandoah University. He has authored articles for The Instrumentalist, North Carolina Music Educator, Percussive Notes, Yamaha Education Series CD-Rom, and The Zildjian Educator.
A former member of the United States Marine Band, Beck performed regularly with the National and Baltimore symphonies, Washington and Baltimore operas, and the Theater Chamber Players of the Kennedy Center. He has toured the United States as a xylophone soloist with the Marine Band, Jack Daniel's Silver Cornet Band, Brass Band of Battle Creek, and the New Sousa Band. While living in Washington, D.C., he recorded and performed commercial music on drum set and percussion with touring Broadway shows, jazz and Top 40 bands.
He presents clinics representing Innovative Mallets, Yamaha Percussion and Zildjian Cymbals. His CD “Shared Spaces” is on the Equilibrium label, and his compositions, arrangements and instructional video are published by HoneyRock.
Percussive Arts Society, headquartered in Indianapolis, was founded in 1961 to promote percussion education, research, performance and appreciation throughout the world. The nonprofit organization’s Rhythm! Discovery Center, which contains rare and unusual percussion instruments and scores, was recognized as "one of the top 10 places for hands-on music making" by USA Today in 2012. See www.pas.org for additional information.
As America’s first state-supported arts school, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is a unique stand-alone public university of arts conservatories. With a high school component, UNCSA is a degree-granting institution that trains young people of talent in music, dance, drama, filmmaking, and design and production. Established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, the School of the Arts opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.