Dr. Alexander Casimiro is the Associate Director of Bands and a lecturer at the University of New Haven, where he teaches the Chargers Marching Band, Brazilian Drumming Ensemble, and courses in World Music. He has performed with Aretha Franklin, Ben Folds, Yale School of Drama, the Austin Symphony, Omaha Symphony, Round Rock Symphony, Norwalk Symphony, Joffrey Ballet, Maracatu New York, Menuhin Violin Competition, the 2005 New England Patriots Super Bowl Ring Ceremony, Inaugural Parades for Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and the Noble Snare Festival organized by Sylvia and Stuart Saunders Smith, to name a few. Alex has also served previously as the Assistant Director of Athletic Bands at Duke University and as the percussion teacher at Creighton University.
Alex has taught a variety of marching ensembles including the University of New Haven, Duke University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Omaha Central High School, and the Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corps. At UT Austin, he directed and arranged music for the Longhorn Band drumline’s performance with Aloe Blacc on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Alex is the writer and instructor for the Trashtones percussion group at Six Flags New England and was an original cast member. Casimiro completed his doctoral degree studying the composer Stuart Saunders Smith and performed the world premier of Smith’s Drum Set Suite, which Smith considers to be “the most difficult drum set solos ever written.” In addition, Alex has taught numerous percussion clinics throughout the United States and in Portugal.
At UMass, Alex performed in the Minuteman Marching Band under the direction of George Parks, Thom Hannum, and Colin McNutt. He served as the section leader of the UMass drumline from the spring of his freshman year through senior year. Casimiro has also been a member of numerous competitive marching ensembles including the Cadets, Madison Scouts, Spartans, Targets, Silver Knights, and the Boston University Winter Percussion Ensemble.
Alex has studied with Dr. Thomas Burritt, Dr. Tomm Roland, Ayano Kataoka, Thomas P. Hannum, Tony Edwards, Ken Yoshida, Dana Murray, and Wayne Salzmann II. He holds a DMA in Music Performance from the University of Texas at Austin, a MM in Music Performance from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and a BA in Music from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Alex is a member of the Percussive Arts Society Marching Percussion Committee and endorses Pearl Drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, and Remo Drumheads.
What is your background in music- Do you have roots in Connecticut? Feel free to also tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am from Massachusetts originally, and I am happy to be back close to home and family. My father played some drums as a child and there was always a drum set at the house while I was growing up. Both sides of my family are Portuguese and there was often a family friend playing Portuguese songs on accordion at holiday parties. Some of my first drumming experiences were playing along at those events, and I still enjoy it when the opportunity arises.
School band started in 5th grade in my hometown Ludlow, Massachusetts. That was my first formal training. I was lucky that there was a drum and bugle corps in town called the Silver Knights. I joined when I was 13 years old, and played bass drum for two years (2001-2002). The instructors were from UMass Amherst and Colin Mcnutt wrote most of the battery music. Having a group in town with quality instruction and arranging, and traveling to DCI finals at such a young age was an invaluable experience. Once that group folded after the 2002 season, I was fortunate that the Targets Drum and Bugle Corps was only one town away. I played snare drum in a drumline for the first time with the Targets and served as the drumline section leader (2003). I performed at the DCI Individual and Ensemble competition that year at only 15 years old, and I surprisingly beat a few players from world class drum corps’! I also met my current colleague Jason Degroff at the Targets because he wrote our drill that year. Around that time, I started attending the drumline “tech class” at UMass Amherst and continued to participate sophomore through senior year of high school. I spent junior and senior year of high school playing snare drum with the Spartans Drum and Bugle Corps (2004-2005). During my senior year, I was also a member of the Boston University Winter Percussion Ensemble (2005). I began studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2005 and performed in the drumline for four years. I began serving as the section leader of the UMass drumline during the spring tech class of my freshman year, and I held that role through senior year. During that time, I also marched one year with the Madison Scouts and two years with the Cadets. I spent a 5th year at UMass and helped teach the drumline. The following summer, I taught the Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle corps and began grad school at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where I taught the drumline as a teaching assistant. One of my teachers there was Ken Yoshida, and I am continually grateful that he allowed me to play with the Omaha Symphony a number of times. While in Omaha, I began playing musical theater shows for the first time at Creighton University, and they later hired me as an adjunct to teach percussion there. I then pursued a doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin, where I also taught the drumline as my assistantship. There were so many musical opportunities in Austin, and I owe the most to my time playing timpani with the Austin Symphony and subbing for my teacher Tony Edwards. I was terrified of playing timpani with a professional orchestra, and he gave me the opportunity anyway. I owe a lot to those guys believing in me and giving me those experiences. I finalized my studies at UT Austin by researching the composer Stuart Saunders Smith. Stuart was generous enough to fly himself to Austin for my final DMA recital and world premier of his Drum Set Suite, consisting of the pieces Blue Too, Two Lights, and Brush. He stayed at my apartment for four days, along with my parents, and I took him to all my favorite Austin music venues. Those are some great memories!
You have had success throughout New England as a percussionist and educator. Tell us a little bit about what you feel has brought you success networking and making a career as a percussionist.
Even though I am from New England originally, I am still fairly new in the music scene. I had been away in other states for six years and wasn’t very experienced before I left. I owe a lot of my initial performing activity here to my friendship with current and former members of the Yale Percussion Group. They get called for a lot of performances, and they have been generous to recommend me when they aren’t available. I also enjoy playing at open mics and jam sessions, and they especially useful for meeting musicians when you move to a new place. Sometimes you simply have to be a “squeaky wheel” and as the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Has your involvement in the Drum Corps activity sparked connections for you in the world of “Classical” percussion?
Absolutely. Marching percussion continues to allow me to do all the other things I want to do in life. My graduate assistantships at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Texas at Austin were both to teach the drumlines, and they allowed me to study “classical” percussion with great teachers. I was not the most experienced percussionist before auditioning for both grad schools, but they needed someone to teach the drumline and accepted me based on that. I was lucky! Even now, I teach a variety of different things at the University of New Haven, but it was my marching percussion background that got me in the door.
Currently, what is taking up the majority of your time as a performing musician?
It seems like that is constantly changing for me. I was happy to play Nutcracker with two different groups this past winter, one on timpani and one on percussion. I have been getting called for a lot of musical theater shows as well. In the past year, I played two musicals at Yale, one at Sheehan High School, one at the Exit 7 Theater in my hometown, and I music directed “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” at the University of New Haven. Someone once told me that “you never lose a scene.” Last year, I performed at least once in every place I’ve lived. I flew to Nebraska a few times to play with the Omaha Symphony, one of those times being with Ben Folds, and once to judge a winter percussion competition. I played a few gigs with my friends in Durham, NC, including the full “Stop Making Sense” album by the Talking Heads. Last spring, I performed with the Urban Achievers Brass Band in Austin, TX, and I had the honor of playing with Aretha Franklin at Mohegan Sun here in Connecticut.
Currently, what is taking up the majority of your time as an educator?
Serving as a faculty member at the University of New Haven is a full-time commitment. I currently teach the Chargers Marching Band, Brazilian Drumming Ensemble, Marching Percussion Techniques, Intro to World Music, and a “common course” called Identity: Life on Earth. My other yearly teaching activities include the Trashtones at Six Flags New England and Thom Hannum’s Mobile Percussion Seminar. I also try to teach percussion clinics at various colleges and high schools throughout the year, especially when I travel. While I was in New Orleans last spring, I had the honor of teaching a workshop with the Roots of Music program, organized by the Rebirth Brass Band.
While handling a full-time University level teaching schedule, how do you find yourself so successful keeping track of your commitments and events?
I am a Google Calendar junkie. It takes up half of the home screen on my phone so I can edit and access it constantly. I can also update and view it from my computer. Long-term commitments and simple reminders all end up on my Google Calendar.
Have you found the music scene in Connecticut to have a decent amount of opportunity for percussionists and musicians?
I definitely have. For me, it always takes about a year in a new place to start getting thoroughly involved in the music scene. I am thankful that a little over a year has passed and that is again proving to be true. Some of the gigs I was initially recommended for are starting to call me back, and I am gaining a little bit of traction in that way.
What advice do you have for percussionists who are trying to become successful in a dwindling job market?
I feel like the music job market has always been dwindling. You read about 18th century music history with Mozart and Haydn, and it was already dwindling back then. There are still lots of opportunities. I will say this; many music schools discourage students from being involved in marching percussion and drum corps. My own experience is that I owe my whole life to it. To this day, it continues to be my “bread and butter,” and it provides me the opportunity to do many other things. There is simply a market for athletic bands, and schools often need competent music teachers that also have a marching background. Many people have other paths to success, but that has been mine. The other thing that has served me well is that I have become a diverse musician. I can at least do a little bit of a lot of things. There are other obvious truths like that you have to play well, be on time, and be courteous.
How can we connect with you to keep up with your life as a percussionist?
Social media has become a great resource for musicians. I am currently most active on facebook, and I am just getting going on Instagram. Feel free to find me on either one! In addition, feel free to reach out via e-mail at email@example.com.
Let us know if there is anything else we should know about you!
Another big part of my life right now is that I have been exploring plant-based eating. I will warn you ahead of time that there is probably more food than music on my Instagram at the moment!