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NIU-linked percussive group drums up kudos

November 12, 2013

Percussive Arts Society logoThe Percussive Arts Society has honored its Illinois state affiliate with the 2013 outstanding chapter award.

Greg Beyer, director of percussion studies in the NIU School of Music, is the current Illinois Percussive Arts Society president.

As soon as Beyer began his role as president in 2010, he was eager to begin planning for overall improvement of the chapter. He began by building a team of chapter colleagues, some of whom are NIU alumni, with whom he could collaborate closely.

“I built the society’s current website from scratch,” Beyer said. “I also thought, given the chapter’s rich history, it would be interesting and relevant to create an online archive of the society’s older newsletters from each decade.”

This prestigious award recognizes chapters that have, through excellent leadership and strong volunteer service, provided outstanding activities and events that serve the chapter membership and the broader percussion community throughout the country.

Greg Beyer

Greg Beyer

ILPAS is dedicated to establishing positive communities through a network of educators, students and professional percussive arts performers in the state. The society participates in outreach activities and events to promote education and growth among those interested in percussive arts.

“PAS, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary this past year, has historical connections to the Midwest Clinic – a world-famous and incredibly well-attended annual music convention in Chicago,” Beyer said. “Therefore, this Chapter Award is significant in that it brings back pride to a state which has played such an important role in the history of the organization.”

Beyer has been a part of PAS since his high school years but in recent years his involvement with the Illinois chapter has increased. Beyer first served in 2006 as the chapter secretary/treasurer for three years. Then he became chapter president in 2009.

Ben Wahlund, an NIU alum who graduated in 2005, is the chapter’s director of publications.

He oversees the creation of the detailed newsletters and event fliers that are responsible for capturing membership attention and creating such a buzz about the society. Membership in ILPAS has grown, making it the second largest chapter in the nation.

“Ben does a great job creating the newsletters, including well-chosen graphics and a modern page layout,” Beyer said. “We looked closely at the historical newsletters from the 1970s as a reference for layout and content and brought the style up-to-date for the 21st century.”

As ILPAS secretary/treasurer, Beyer became aware of cash flow problems for the chapter. When he became president, it was important to take steps for ILPAS to better manage its funds.

Ben Wahlund

Ben Wahlund

Douglass Bratt, an NIU alum who graduated in 2002, is the current ILPAS secretary and treasurer. Bratt puts great effort into this endeavor through a combination of practical banking practices and making smart decisions about event planning and fundraising.

Now that ILPAS has a stable budget, the chapter has initiated an event support program that offers grants to local and regional percussion events to support the percussion community in a wider manner than ever before.

“I’m proud to be able to offer a wider network of support to our membership and their communities, and this has become a possibility due to the great budget we’ve created over the past several years,” Beyer said.

In addition to his dedication and effort in rebuilding the society’s website and budget, Beyer also has taken an interest in advancing the reach of their events.

In 2009, ILPAS hosted a successful Annual Day of Percussion at the NIU School of Music. This event brought in more than 200 spectators. The celebration included clinics and concerts with marimba artists and other percussionists such as Vadim Karpinos, She-e-Wu and Aiyun Huang.

This past January, the ILPAS Annual Day of Percussion was held at Naperville Central High School.

“Hosting the event at a high school was new for us but also great for bringing in new age groups,” Beyer said. “It was a good celebration of community and increased high school awareness of the percussive arts.”

Beyer is proud to have won the PAS outstanding chapter award and admits the recognition feels good. “I think that the momentum we have created in the state for the percussive arts over the past few years is something of which people are increasingly aware.”

drums-drumsThe professor keeps a busy schedule as a performer and often makes opportunities for his students to get involved as well.

On Thursday, Nov. 14, Beyer and four current NIU percussion students will represent the NIU Percussion Program on the international stage.

At the PAS International Convention in Indianapolis, they will be performing Beyer’s own composition, “Five Ponds,” a quintet for antique Karen bronze drums that are owned and maintained by the NIU Burma Art Collection and the Center for Burma Studies.

Last weekend, he took three of his students to play with him at a concert of original music for an Afro-Brazilian instrument called the “berimbau.” It took place Nov. 9 as part of an international gathering of Capoeira Angola practitioners in Chicago as a celebration of the capoeira martial art and its history.

“I believe if you’re going to be a catalyst for goodness you need to bring people together and celebrate community through leadership and hard work,” said Beyer, who felt honored to participate.

At NIU, Beyer plays several roles within the School of Music. He directs the NIU New Music Ensemble and is the artistic director of the New Music Festival, which just concluded this week.

He co-directs the NIU Percussion Ensemble with his colleague, Michael Mixtacki.

percussion-2During a recent Wednesday rehearsal, Beyer could be seen directing and encouraging the group with lots of energy. The ensemble was working on a piece of music called “Signals Intelligence.” He kicked a bass drum and played along as he led the group through the music.

The percussion ensemble meets four times a week. In addition to course work the students put in many hours of practice on campus as well as at their homes.

“From day one Greg has always been intensely energetic about making us better musicians and overall better people,” said Carl Wesa, a senior music major at NIU. “He’s an inspiring professor who brings a good type of intensity that makes you discover a lot about yourself.”

Wesa, in addition to his percussion studies at NIU, has also been a member of ILPAS for four years.

“I’m starting to really like the piece even though it was very challenging pulling all the notes and different elements together,” Wesa said. “I got a good feeling of accomplishment when the ensemble practiced it together and it was like finally making it over a large hill and viewing the landscape from a different vista.”

by Chonce Maddox