Kevin Thompson is an accomplished percussionist and educator that excels in the marching arts. A native of Connecticut, he began his percussion education as a member of the Col. John Chester Fife and Drum Corps. As a member of this group for nearly 10 years, Kevin had the privilege to study the art of rudimental drumming with Brendan D. Mason. As a student of David Smith at Western Connecticut State University, Kevin was able to apply his background in rudimental drumming to the greater world of percussion music. Kevin holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Percussion Performance from Western Connecticut State University, as well as a Master’s Degree in Percussion Performance from The Hartt School.
Kevin is an active performer and clinician, having appeared in numerous events held by the Percussive Arts Society. Kevin has also performed with many of the world’s leading percussion performers including Joe McCarthy, Dave Samuels, Ted Piltzecker, Benjamin Toth, and Grammy Award winner Shane Shanahan. Kevin is currently a Doctoral Candidate at The Hartt School, studying percussion performance and pedagogy with Benjamin Toth, as well as African percussion traditions with Joe Galeota. Kevin is also a member of the prestigious Performance 20/20 program, Hartt’s honors chamber music ensemble.
Kevin got his introduction to the marching arts when he joined the 7th Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps in 2010. He marched with 7th Regiment for two seasons, acting as battery section leader in his second year. Kevin then went on to march with the Madison Scouts in 2012 and 2014, and aged out with the Cadets in 2015, where he earned the Percussion Rookie-of-the-Year award. Since aging out, Kevin has set his eyes on the world of education. He has worked with numerous high school programs around the state of Connecticut, and is currently serving as the Percussion Caption Head/Arranger for Newtown High School. Kevin worked briefly with the Spartans Drum and Bugle Corps before returning home to 7th Regiment, where he served as the Battery Coordinator for the 2017 season. Kevin is incredibly excited to be stepping into the role of Battery Caption Head/Arranger for the 2018 season, and looks forward to the future success of the program.
Check out the below videos of Kevin!
Check out the below interview with Kevin!
How do you keep active in the Connecticut Percussion scene?
Well, for starters, I am a DMA candidate at The Hartt School in West Hartford. This is my third year at Hartt, and I'll be here for a few more as I complete my residency. I spent the past two years here getting my Master's degree. On top of that I am very active in the marching percussion community. I just started working at Newtown High School where I oversee the percussion caption. My main focus there is teaching the battery, but I also write/arrange for the whole percussion section. I also work with 7th Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps, based out of New London. This year I am taking over as the Battery Caption Head/Arranger, and I have the privilege of working alongside some of the finest educators in this area.
In your bio, you said you started playing drums in the Col. John Chester Fife and Drum Corps. Would you recommend this path for younger drummers who are interested in the instrument?
Yes! I absolutely credit much of what I do today to my foundation in fife and drum. I was lucky to have been taught for many years by some really fantastic drummers, most notably Brendan Mason. Honestly I would recommend fife and drum to anyone! I had a great experience as a young kid learning to play, but I think there is so much there that even the most serious pro could really get a lot out of diving into that style of playing. To me, it really is the "world music" of the New England area. There is so much nuance, tradition, and in some cases breathtaking virtuosity that I find really exciting. In many ways I appreciate that style of playing and my background in it more and more as I continue my studies.
Were there any specific moments that stood out more then others while in this drum corps?
There really are too many to even say. For about 10 years this was my only experience with percussion, so it's safe to say a lot of the lessons and values I've learned have come from this group. If I had to pick one thing that sticks out, it would be the idea that "if you look good, you sound good." Maybe that's an unpopular opinion amongst some musicians, as sound is always the focus, but I think there's something there. Presentation is so important. Of course you have to listen to yourself play and be honest and strive for the best quality of sound possible, but I really do believe that visual presentation is often overlooked in the concert realm. If you walk out on stage looking like a slob, and haven't put any thought into how you are presenting yourself, people can form an impression of you as a player, before you even play a single note!
You also attended Southington high school and marched in their percussion line. How did being a part of a dominate section impact your playing at a younger age? Do you feel students who are somewhat serious about pursuing percussion at a collegiate level could utilize what they learn in a drum line at a higher playing level?
Well, joining the marching band in high school really was the first step in my transition from being just some kid playing in a fife and drum corps, to ultimately choosing a career path in music. I credit this less to my specific experiences with the group, but rather to the simple fact that high school marching band exposed me to the world of DCI, which is where my first really big inspiration came from. I absolutely do not mean to discredit my experience in the high school drum line, but honestly it wasn't all that serious. The exposure to DCI however had a major impact on my playing.
I absolutely think that students can, and SHOULD take their experiences in higher level drum lines and translate them to everything else percussion. The important thing for me, is that you make the distinction between different styles. You wouldn't play a xylophone the same way as a steel pan, and likewise you shouldn't play a concert snare drum the same way you would play a marching snare drum. Just like anything else though, there are concepts you can apply across any number of instruments and I think marching percussion is just one more ingredient in being a well rounded percussionist.
You studied with Dave Smith at Western Connecticut State Univeristy (WCSU). How did transitioning into a classical percussion world effect your playing? Were there any technique issues that you had to overcome coming from a marching line?
The transition was made pretty easy, because Mr. Smith was extremely familiar with rudimental drumming. He was really helpful in coaching me in the transition, and the application of what I already knew into everything that was new for me. Of course I had to spend a lot of time, especially early on, working on more sensitive and nuanced playing. I spent at least an hour or two every day for my entire freshman year working on my snare drumming on a very basic level. I focused on developing a more sensitive touch, and during this time I was able to really open up my ears to a more detailed level of listening that I was not previously capable of.
In your opinion, what was one of the most challenging obstacles you had to overcome at an undergraduate level? Any advice for our readers who have just started out their college percussion careers?
For me, the most difficult thing was, and still is, balance. As percussionists we are asked to master so many different instruments, and like any other music student we also have various ensembles that we need to be prepared for. On top of that, I was also marching with the Madison Scouts and later the Cadets, so keeping that in the mix was critical. Trying to balance all of this, along with teaching, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life...it's difficult. I've always been pretty bad with time management, but I've definitely learned some really important lessons. My biggest advice for younger students entering the college world is to force yourself to be organized. Make sure you have a calendar/scheduling system that works for you, whether it's a white board, a notebook, an app on your phone...whatever works. I personally use a combination of things to make sure I always know what needs to be done and when. It will always seem like there is not enough time in the day but if you manage your time properly you can make it happen. Maybe it will mean stepping out of your comfort zone a bit...but that's when the magic happens. Growing pains are natural during this time so just keeping pushing yourself to be better every day.
Moving on from undergrad studies, what made you want deepen your knowledge of percussion by getting your Master's degree in Percussion?
Well, I've always wanted to teach. There was a point in my undergrad when I realized that public school teaching was not for me...I don't really have the patience. I've had my eyes set on teaching at the university level ever since, and to do that I'm going for the DMA. The Master's degree really was just a step along the path.
Can you tell us a little bit about the audition process for a Master's in Percussion? What should prospective students come to expect at these auditions?
Specific repertoire of course various from school to school. Typically you need to have the major cornerstones covered - mallets, snare drum, timpani, excerpts, maybe some drum set. In my experience, the most important thing is how you present yourself. Did you do your research on the teacher/school? Are you really passionate about studying here, or is it just some "good" school someone recommended? You should know what the program offers, and how you would fit into that program. You should also know information about the music you have prepared to play. Nothing is more off putting than someone who comes in and is a slammin player, but knows absolutely nothing about the piece/composer. Do your research! Also, general professionalism is important. Dress well. Everyone is different, but you should put some effort into how you look for an audition. It shows you care. If you are making an audition video, do your best to get high quality video and ESPECIALLY high quality audio. The presentation of a video audition can be the difference between a live call back or not.
You have just started your Doctorate at Hartt School of Music, the same school where you completed your Master's degree. Can you explain the difference between a Master's Degree and a Doctorate, and what's expected of you?
The major difference is the exams/dissertation. For the Master's degree I had to do all the standard stuff - theory and history classes, large ensembles, chamber music, playing in the graduate percussion group, giving a recital each year. There is also a 3 hour written comprehensive exam to determine whether or not you get the degree. The DMA is similar to start, but the end game is a bit more thorough. There is a 6 hour exam, covering not just percussion, but general theory and history knowledge as well. There are also oral exams covering similar topics. You have to prepare a lecture recital, on top of the regular recitals. At the end of all this, you have to write your dissertation.
The expectations are also higher. At this point, you are treated as a professional, because that's what you are. You have to be responsible and make sure everything you are expected to do is done at the highest level. It really is a wonderful opportunity, especially as a percussionist, to be in residency at a university, with access to instruments and other resources, and to really get to dig in to the craft.
Along with all of this, you also a large network around Connecticut where you teach percussion. Do you find that being able to correctly teach the instrument to an individual helps your playing? Do you think more players should become teachers?
I absolutely think teaching helps you improve your own playing. Being able to properly teach a concept, whether it's fundamental technique or the most abstract ideas...it helps you understand it all better yourself. I also found, especially when I was first starting to teach, that it helped me understand as a student, what teachers expected of me. It really simplified everything for me. I think everyone should try teaching! Of course, playing and teaching are different skillsets that need to be refined and mastered in their own way, but I think it is worth doing. Being a better player helps you be a better teacher, and being a better teacher helps you be a better player.
Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank CT PAS for giving me this opportunity to share some thoughts. I sincerely hope that more young percussionists can be inspired to pursue a career path in music. I'd like to think that I am living proof that even if all you've ever done is play snare drum in a drum line, if you want to study percussion, you can! With the right guidance, the right passion and an open mind, anything is possible.