KENNESAW, Ga. | Dec 13, 2022
Bailey School of Music’s percussion students in demand across U.S. and Europe
Percussion students in the Bailey School of Music (BSOM) at Kennesaw State University, led by John Lawless, are hitting it hard. These percussionists often have a vision early in their academic careers, and by the time they graduate, many have fully carved out—and realized—their career paths.
Alumna Katelyn Rose King is a good example. As an undergraduate percussion major at KSU, “Katelyn laid out exactly what she wanted to do. She knew she had to get additional degrees and do her type of music in Europe. Now, she is pursuing her doctorate degree and lives in Vienna, Austria, doing contemporary music in one of the world’s best concert halls. She often goes to Germany—and beyond—to play her music,” explains Lawless, Director of Percussion Studies and Senior Lecturer.
King is not the only success story to come out of the percussion program. In Austria, she recently attended a concert featuring fellow KSU alumnus Robert Boone, a student of both Lawless and Justin Chesarek, Artist-in-Residence in Jazz Percussion at BSOM. Boone was there as the drummer for The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra’s European tour.
King and Boone are not rare exceptions, either, because most of the percussion students “are already working. They are in high demand with drumlines, teaching at high schools, and [freelance] gigging, too, before they leave KSU,” says Lawless. Student success is happening before they leave KSU, he explains.
The secret behind their success may lie in never being bored. Percussion students may expand their knowledge by exploring the vast array of percussion instruments available worldwide, making it continually exciting and enjoyable.
Lawless says, “When I play, I enjoy it, and my students have the same experience. I also perform for young audiences, and when you see their eyes light up when you hit a drum, it’s infectious. If students choose that path, there’s always a next step, and they are all good ones. [Percussion] chose us from the beginning.” (Lawless took up drums at the age of two and began subbing for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at the age of 17, something he still does to this day.)
He doesn’t want to take much credit, but when he put out a call to Percussion alumni for a reunion concert, over 20 alumni agreed to participate. Percussionists from different generations played together on stage in Morgan Hall, including the song Feeling of Coming Home, also the concert’s title. The alumni all still play and are either teaching or playing professionally. Boone, based in Atlanta, was still on tour in Europe and couldn’t make it, but many others did. King came back to KSU from Vienna’s Burgtheater, and Levi Cull made it home from the U.S. Air Force.
The musician with the most seniority to join the group was Steven Walker, an alumnus who still plays professionally. He now teaches Applied Percussion Studies and conducts the Percussion Ensembles at University of North Georgia (UNG). Previously, Walker was an assistant band director in Cobb and Fulton Counties in metro Atlanta.
He was the first student for Lawless, the “number one—in fact, my only student when I arrived [in 1998]. I thought, here we go!” Walker was impressed by the Dr. Bobbie Bailey & Family Performance Center; it had not yet been built when he was a student at KSU.
What’s next for this group of percussion visionaries? Lawless has a vision of his own: to create a new piece as vast and unique as both KSU campuses.
“Everything is an instrument; if you hit, scrape, or ding something, they all sound great. I have a vision of individual students playing everything on campus. Then, for the ensemble concert, to have all those segments individually playing at the same time, then also playing live! It would be like ‘how does KSU sound?’”
His goal is to turn common things into music, including the poles between the Bailey Performance Center and the Wilson Annex, or even the handrail going down the steps. Graduating seniors have told Lawless they don’t want to miss it, so he has reassured them that if it happens, he will invite them back for a cameo.
“Let’s play KSU! I want to turn this campus into music,” he says.