What's Happening at the Symphony

In the Musicians' Lounge: Andrew Watkins, percussionist and assistant principal timpanist

For our next installment of In the Musicians’ Lounge, we sat down with San Diego Symphony percussionist and assistant principal timpanist Andrew Watkins as he prepares to take the center stage this next month with our celebratory percussion festival.

SDSO: What is a typical day like for you? 

AW: One of the perks of being a musician is the variety of work I get to do.  Some days we have symphony rehearsals or concerts.  Other days I am teaching or playing gigs elsewhere.  I mix in my personal practice time around those jobs.  I generally try to take my dog somewhere he enjoys each day like the beach or dog park.  For fun, you'll often find me with my friends hanging out at one of San Diego's fine brew pubs.

SDSO: Do you have any specific rituals you do before a concert?

AW: I like to keep it pretty simple.  I change into my tux, get all my instruments and music organized, then warm up a little. I also keep a shrine to Jobu in my locker.  Before each concert I offer him rum and cigars and ask him to remove the fear from my drumsticks. 

SDSO: Can you describe your rehearsal process for a concert?

AW: The first thing I do is sit down with the part and make sure I know all the logistical details that need to be covered.  With percussion we often have to switch quickly between many different instruments, so I make sure I know what I will be playing, what I need to play next, which mallets I need, how much space I need, how to tune the timpani, etc.  Then I start practicing as far ahead of time as I can.  The more time I have with a piece, the more I start to understand it and be able to put my own personal touch on it.  We often only rehearse a piece once or twice before a concert, so we have to be very prepared as individuals before we ever get into rehearsals. 

 SDSO: How did you get into playing percussion as opposed to other instruments? How did you start pursuing your music career?

AW: I actually started playing saxophone in the 5th grade, but that didn't last very long.  A couple years later I started playing drum set in rock bands with my friends.  I had a teacher who convinced me to join the middle school concert band.  I've always been very passionate about all forms of music, so when I started my college studies I was dabbling in as many different aspects of percussion as I could.  By the time I went to grad school I had decided to focus my attention on orchestral percussion. 

SDSO: How do you describe percussive instruments to someone not familiar with them?

AW: It's any instrument that you hit!  That can be with sticks, mallets, your hands, or even smacking two things together.  It can be non-pitched (like a tom-tom) or pitched (like a xylophone).  We also end up playing whatever weird sound effects a composer happens to write for as well. 

SDSO: What is your opinion on where percussive composition music is going compared to where it's been in the last 50 years?

AW: As always, there are good and bad elements.  Starting in the 20th century, percussion started to be used in orchestral music more and more.  Modern composers tend to use it very heavily and write very complicated parts.  This is a real challenge, but can be fun and rewarding if the composer knows what they are doing.  These days there are also a lot of rock/pop music elements being incorporated, as well as influences from many different cultures.  I really enjoy these newer influences when it is done in a way that doesn't water down the character of the various styles.

SDSO: What kind of music do you listen to outside of your performance obligations?

AW: Mainly rock.  It's what I grew up on and will always be my go-to music next to classical.  I especially enjoy experimental/prog rock and some metal too. The weirder, the better!


Catch Andy around San Diego all month long with our It’s About Time Festival and check back here at the Cultural Omnivore to get to know more musicians and behind-the-scenes bites. No Jobus were sacrificed during this interview.

This post was written by Kelly Hillock, marketing assistant for the San Diego Symphony.

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