Rock, Bach and percussion with radio host AD Rowntree

The San Diego Symphony sat down with Rock 105.3 radio host and all-around cool guy, AD Rowntree, to talk about the similarities between rock and classical music and why he loves the Symphony.

SDSO: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

ADR: I'm originally from New York, but I was raised in London. My parents were ALL about music. My mom is a cellist and she actually plays in the Spokane Symphony. My father grew up playing the drums. So when I saw Animal drumming on The Muppet Show as a kid and said I wanted to be like him, they did the exact opposite of what most parents would do: They got me a drum kit!

That was when I was 4, and I bashed away on them for the next 13 years until I got accepted into the double degree program at Tufts and New England Conservatory of Music. My classical percussion studies were disrupted when an obnoxious punk rock band I was singing in got a record deal. Faced with a decision between a tour bus and a dorm room, I did what most teenagers would do... and I hit the road.

After that was over I wound up in radio, but I always wondered what would have happened if I'd gone to the conservatory. In a full circle moment, when I met the incredible percussion section for the San Diego Symphony, I found out that many of them were N.E.C. grads – so I sort of got a chance to see what life might have been like if I'd taken that path. It was a REALLY cool moment.

SDSO: How did you first become interested in classical music – and music in general?

ADR: Again, it was my parents. When I was 2 my mom started bringing me to Orchestra rehearsals where we were living at the time in Brussels, but she also took me to see David Bowie that year, so it was inescapable.

The first classical music I remember really connecting with was Bach. My mom had that Walter Carlos "Switched on Bach" album, and I about wore it out. Hearing Bach played on a cheesey 1970s moog synthesizer was a great gateway into classical music for a kid.

My dad is a lawyer, but for fun, he played drums in a couple of bands when I was growing up. Between that, my parents massive record collection, and the fact that there always seemed to be a rehearsal of some kind happening at our house, music was something that was just part of daily life. I consider myself VERY lucky.

SDSO: What is it that drew you to the It’s About Time Festival?

ADR: Well I have LOVED the San Diego Symphony ever since I arrived in San Diego several years ago. Whether it's the summer pops or the regular season at Copley, I'll take ANY chance I can get to be around the Symphony. They really do play SO beautifully. It's almost unreal sometimes. Seeing the San Diego Symphony is a chance to get lost in music for a couple of hours. It always takes you to another place – a better place, and I always walk out feeling better about the world than when I walked in. I'd worked with the Symphony in the past, and I was always looking for more opportunities to do so. When the It's About Time Festival came up, it wasn't just a chance to work with the Symphony, it was a festival of percussion, of drums, of hitting stuff! I grew up doing this so it's been fantastic!

SDSO: Do you have a particular piece of music you’re looking forward to seeing in the festival?

ADR: All the performances have been so different, they all have their merits. I especially enjoyed "Percussion: A Listener's Guide." As well as being a world renowned percussionist, Steven Schick is such a fantastic storyteller and educator. Getting a chance to see the performance and hear him speak as well was something I loved. It was part music, part education, and part spoken word comedy. GREAT stuff!

SDSO: As someone who is obviously also passionate about rock music, what are some similarities between rock and classical?

ADR: Well to the uninitiated ear, the two might not seem to have much in common, but rock fans are like classical music fans in that they're very intelligent, curious music listeners with broad palates and a desire to lose themselves in music. Rock music fans are willing to go on a journey with their favorite bands the same way regular symphony goers are looking to be transported away by their favorite composers. Someone who is into the power and the drama of 9 minute-long Tool or Metallica song, will be in to the power and the drama of a Paganini or a Shostakovich. In fact, you'll find that a lot of the shred head guitarist types kind of worship Paganini as the great grandfather of metal.

Ultimately, classical and rock fans both connect DEEPLY with the music they love. Listening isn't a passive thing to them. Rock and classical fans want to become involved with the music they're listening to. They want their music to take them away and bring them back a more enriched person – which the San Diego Symphony does. Every. Single. Time.


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

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