On 21st August, we had the opportunity to speak with Ken Turner from ErgoSonic Percussion. In this interview, Ken shares how he was introduced to the marching arts, his early experiences as a music educator and the benefit of playing multiple instruments!
The second half of this blog will be posted on 18th September. Make sure to keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!
It’s lovely to meet you, and thank you so much for your time, Ken. Would you mind briefly introducing yourself to our BBICO News readers?
Well, I’m Ken Turner and I’m currently the President of ErgoSonic Percussion. I started in music and the marching arts when I was 11 years old. I’ve been involved in bands and drum corps ever since, and have also had a very rewarding 37 year career in music education. Music and the Marching Arts have been a significant part of my life. I’ve had a lot of experience as a marching band and drum corps member, instructor, arranger, program coordinator and consultant. I have also attended various events around the world as an adjudicator. I’ve been fortunate to have had a very enjoyable and meaningful career. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like had I not gone down this path. I would have done something, but what that something would have been, I have no idea!
Fantastic. Well, we’re very glad that you’ve gone down the path you have, Ken, and that you’re so positive about it! You mentioned that you’d started playing at the age of 11. How did you get into music initially?
Well, the elementary school I attended had a music program for beginning instrument lessons. For some reason, the trombone caught my eye – I loved the sound of it! I thought I’d like to start taking lessons. It just so happened that the High School Band Director, Roger Keagle would come down to the elementary school to teach lessons, and he himself was a trombone player. Right from the very beginning I had this exemplary person who not only taught trombone, but was also an excellent player. So, I started trombone lessons when I was 11 years old. I continued all the way through high school, until I went to university.
That’s wonderful, so how did you get into the marching arts then, Ken?
About a year after I started trombone lessons, a gentleman by the name of Bud Bailey, who lived three houses up the street from us, told my father that the local VFW (Veterans of the Foreign Wars), the American Legion, the local fire department, and several other civic groups in the community, were starting a Drum and Bugle Corps. Bud knew that I had started playing trombone and he wondered if I would be interested in becoming a member of the corps. So I joined the Grenadiers Junior Drum and Bugle Corps as a baritone horn player.
At the same time I joined, my best friend, Craig Ferguson, also joined. He also started taking drum lessons in school. His grandparents happened to live next door to me, so we would practice together during the school summer break. We were too young to get jobs, so we often spent a significant amount of time at Fergie’s grandparents, who were wonderful people. Particularly his grandmother, who was a terrific lady. By the way, her name was Hannah Williams!
No way?! What are the chances?
[Note to reader: Hannah Williams (our Export Sales & Operations Coordinator, conducts these interviews!]
I know! Anyway, that name has a revered place in our family history. So, here we are – two 11 year olds – he’s a drummer, and I’m a baritone player – with nothing to do other than wait for our twice weekly rehearsals. So invariably, I would pass the horn back and forth to him and teach him a little bit. But that was sort of cumbersome because we only had one horn. At that time, a pair of drumsticks was about a buck and a half. I bought a pair and Fergie would teach me any new rudiments or music he had learned. The whole time I was in the Grenadiers playing baritone, I actually knew all the snare drum parts too.
That’s so interesting, did you ever get the opportunity to play snare drum in the Grenadiers?
Yes. When I got to high school I was playing trombone in the concert band, and the band director, Roger Keagle, said to me; “Ken, I know you play snare drum too, and we graduated all of our good drummers last spring. Would you mind playing snare drum in the marching band, and you can play trombone in the concert band?”. So, that’s what I did. My second year in high school, the drum set player for the Jazz Band had graduated, and they didn’t have anyone to play the drum set. So, Roger says; “Ken, how ‘bout if you play trombone in the Concert Band, snare drum in the Marching Band, and drum set in the Jazz Band?”. So that’s what I did. And all this time, I was still playing baritone in the summertime with the Drum Corps.
For some reason, the drum bug sort of got me in high school. So, when it was time for me to go to university, I decided that I wanted to study music, and I was going to study percussion. I played snare in the Grenadiers my last 2 years in the corps.
Did you continue to play with the Grenadiers throughout your University studies?
I did. At that time most of the people who had joined the corps when I did, when the Grenadiers first started, had aged out (at age 21) and had gone off to university or on to other things. There was an entirely new group of kids who were starting from scratch. The brass teacher with the Drum Corps had moved away, and when I came back from university that summer, the corps administration said; “Ken, how would you feel about teaching the brass line?”. Well, I hadn’t really ever thought about that, but I started teaching the brass section that summer and I really enjoyed it.
My university program was a Bachelor of Music degree track, which led to a performance degree in percussion. But during that summer, I found that I really enjoyed teaching. I found it very rewarding to start with a group of kids who were very inexperienced and didn’t know very much, but by the time the summer came to a close, I felt like I had really made a difference and they had accomplished some very positive things. I wanted to get my performance degree but wondered what courses I would need to take to be certified to teach as well. Fortunately, I was able to augment my elective courses so that I was able to do so. As I mentioned, during my last 2 years in the Grenadiers, I taught and arranged for the brass section while I marched and played in the snare drum line. An unbelievably valuable experience!
Following university graduation, I got an instrumental music teaching job. My early experiences in Band and Drum Corps not only shaped me and generated my interest in music and the marching arts, but the opportunity I had to teach the corps at a very young age greatly influenced my career decisions and the career path I followed. Of course I can also credit my adopted Grandmother, Hannah Williams and my best friend Craig Ferguson, for my background in both brass and percussion, which has been so very helpful in my teaching career and everything else I have been lucky enough to do.
You must have been in quite a unique position to have had experience playing both percussion and brass, Ken. The ability to apply knowledge and experience from both must have been incredibly valuable. That isn’t something that’s particularly common here in the UK.
Sure. Although interestingly, when I met Stuart [click here to read our interview with Stu Warmington], I discovered that the Royal Marine drummers also play bugles! This caught my attention because it’s somewhat like my own background and experience. In addition, as an arranger, adjudicator, program coordinator and consultant, being able to hear, understand and evaluate the entire musical soundscape has been of great benefit. This is a directly result of my musical experiences as a young man.
Such experiences must have been invaluable experience for when you’re adjudicating and sitting on panels. Before we discuss that, could you speak a little about the first teaching job you had after your studies?
I had just graduated from university when I got a phone call from the Tioga Central School District, in upstate New York. They said; “We’ve seen your resume, and we’d like to speak to you about getting our band program going”. After my interview, they offered me the position and I taught there for 10 years, which was fortuitous. It was a very small school, graduating perhaps 80 students a year. I was in charge of the entire band department. I started students in 5th grade and taught them until they graduated from High School (12th grade). All instruments and all grades. A great experience and a challenge.
After that, I took the job as Director of Music for the Johnson City Central School District, where I also served as the High School Band Director. The district went on to receive recognition from the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as a GRAMMY Signature School. It was also recognised by the National School Boards Association and NAMM as one of the 100 Best Communities in America for Music Education. That’s something we are very proud of! We also instituted a fine arts diploma program which provided a framework for students to pursue a prescribed course of study in the arts.
Most of my teaching career reflects back to the range of musical experiences I had as a kid. When I was in the school band, we marched using lyres and learned a different show for every football game at which we performed. Basically, a different show every week. Contrastingly, in the summertime, the Drum and Bugle Corps style involved learning one very complex show from memory, and trying to perfect it. You couldn’t have two more different approaches to the Marching Arts, and looking back, it was tremendously useful for me.
For the benefit of our BBICO News Readers outside of the US, what did your roles a music educator in your first job involve, Ken?
I taught small group woodwind, brass, and percussion lessons, from the very beginning. Starting students from scratch, from how to open the case. I taught the elementary, middle school and high school band programs. It was great seeing the progress students made from the time they started in the 5th grade through graduation at the end of high school. Very rewarding. I also taught the High School Choir for 3 years, conducted the full orchestra and taught music theory. Basically, anything that had to do with music, I was the guy!
It was very challenging, particularly at the start. At times, I felt like I was only about a week or two ahead of the kids I was teaching, but I managed! It was tremendously interesting and enjoyable. I had some great students and I think any teacher will tell you that the feeling you get when you’re working with students who are interested…the light in their eyes when they realise they understand what you’re teaching them, that’s a tremendous experience. As much as things have changed in the years since then, that feeling hasn’t really changed at all.
Most definitely, are you doing any teaching at the moment?
One of the things I’m doing is giving online music lessons to my grandchildren. My granddaughter, Sophia, who is 11 years old and lives in Seattle, is taking Trumpet Lessons from me. I get the same feeling teaching them that I did when I was 22 years old. Although its a much different world today than when I was kid, a lot of things about the human condition are unchanged. The pandemic hasn’t changed the feeling you get working with kids, the experience they have or what they are getting from it. I think that’s what unites all of us who love music, the marching arts, whatever we do in music. Wherever we are on the planet, someone like Hannah Williams can experience it in exactly the same way that Ken Turner experiences it.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much progress can be made with students online…
It’s remarkable. There may be a few things that are a challenge, but that just requires you to think about the best way to communicate. It encourages you to be more intentional about your teaching. It’s a good thing. Recently, Drum Corps International decided to hold their individual and small ensemble competition, which is usually held during their championships, virtually. Performers submitted videos from all over the world, including a few from the UK. I judged the ensemble groups. It was fascinating to see the level of musicality they were able to communicate via their video presentation. Their professionalism and musicianship came shining through! Remarkable!
…this blog will be continued on 18th September – keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!
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