Passion for percussion

A School of Music professor’s sabbatical yields an album featuring Indiana State students and faculty and arrangements by accomplished Chicago composer Regina Harris Baiocchi.

Between work and life, Indiana State music Professor Jimmy Finnie never quite finds enough time for personal percussion practice and sneaks in an hour or so when he can.

But the sabbatical he was awarded last fall allowed him four to five hours a day to hone his craft, rehearse with colleagues, arrange music and work with a composer. It turned into a unique opportunity for his Indiana State percussion students and colleagues who accompanied him in weeks of rehearsals and nearly 15 hours of recording music for a CD.

Jimmy Finnie

“One of the nice things about this job is that we may apply for sabbatical every 12 semesters, but the challenge is that you are required to publish something,” said Finnie, who serves as director of the university’s Student Percussion Ensemble. “For performing musicians on our campus, that means recording music.”

He decided to record select percussion-related compositions and reached out to Regina Harris Baiocchi, an accomplished composer in Chicago who has had compositions performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and U.S. Army Band.

“I was already familiar with Regina’s music and knew she already had works written for percussion. I felt there were others who may be transcribed or arranged for the ISU Percussion Ensemble,” said Finnie, who met Baiocchi in 1999 when he invited her to serve as a visiting minority scholar at Indiana State. “I ended up spending quite a bit of time going through her music, deciding if any would work as percussion ensemble transcriptions. I found two that worked well.”

His decision to produce a recording was easy, but deciding what music to record and how to fund it was the challenge. “A major part of the work after being awarded the sabbatical involved my continued efforts to find money to pay for pre- and post-production costs,” he said.

Finnie applied for and received financial support from Indiana State’s School of Music, Arts Endowment Grant, Experiential Learning and Community Engagement Grant and the Indiana Arts Commission Individual Artist Program.

Jimmy Finnie, right, and a few of his percussion students perform at Turkey Run Elementary School for Fine Arts Day.

He tapped 12 Indiana State students from the Hoosier State to participate in the recording, including: Tyler Blaisdell, Jaxson Schuessler and Blake Roach, all of Greenwood; Byron Boler of Indianapolis; Kirk Moore of Ghana; Jordan Heiskell of Kokomo; Taylor Moga of East Noble; Isaiah Owen of Greenfield; Matthew Parker and Samuel Roten, both of Martinsville; Stephen Sholey of Demotte; and Brandon Stewart of Spencer.

The project’s goal was to familiarize listeners with the work of Finnie, Indiana State faculty and Baiocchi, but it also provided State percussion students an opportunity to have their names included in the credits of a professional recording. Three, student-centered selections are included on the CD with the remaining music performed by Finnie and Indiana State faculty.

“A major part of what music students do at ISU involves one-on-one lessons and performing in ensembles as an attempt to simulate professional performance activity,” Finnie said. “These students getting to participate in the high-stakes and high-stress activities created during recording is a rare experience.”

Along with hours of rehearsal leading up to the recording, the students participated in four on-campus performances, including a concert in celebration of “The Dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Center for Global Engagement awards reception, the Center for Student Research and Creativity Exposium, a special child-friendly concert in the School of Music and six performances at the Turkey Run Elementary School Fine Arts Day.

Indiana State students perform on two piano pieces transcribed for marimba ensemble on the recording. One was transcribed by Finnie and his students, the other by the composer. They also are featured on another work originally composed for a vocalist and a jazz combo that was completely revamped for a percussion ensemble and vocalist.

“I was assigned a part for a piece not to be recorded, but then Dr. Finnie asked if I wanted to participate in the recording he was doing, because he saw potential in me and created a part for me,” said Heiskell, a freshman music education major. “It was a really structured process, and it’s helped me understand the process musicians go through during a recording, and what I need to do if I ever want to do it myself.”

All percussion students who study with Finnie were offered the opportunity to participate in the project and made aware of the increased performance expectation that accompanied the commitment. Four freshman jumped at the opportunity.

“I think the project was a success because it helped us all develop as musicians, which was the most important part,” said Roten, a freshman music business major. “We all put a lot of effort in because it wasn’t just memorization. It was expressing emotion and communicating with the people around you through the music.”

The recording, which took place at Indiana State in late April and early May with the help of local recording engineer Don Arney, also highlights Indiana State’s Faculty String Quartet, Erik Rohde and Jessica Wiersma on violin, Donna Clark on viola, Kurt Fowler on cello, Beverley Simms and Martha Krasnican on piano, Eddie Ludema on trumpet and Marquese Carter on vocals.

Following the CD’s release (scheduled for fall 2019), the music will be available for purchase online, and live performances are planned in Chicago and Indianapolis. Finnie also applied for a faculty-led travel grant to take the students on tour in Taiwan, China and Thailand during next summer to perform music from the recording and other works.

One Comment

  1. The Paris center of fine arts is really looking forward to hosting Dr. Finnie and the isu percussion ensemble on october 27, 2018!
    It was suggested to us to include an instrument petting zoo at some point that evening and if you would like to share those logistics, we will work on that.
    We would also like to invite your president to perhaps introduce your ensemble since we have a connection to her in paris and a strong ISU alumni group here.
    Thank you very much, Kristin Chittick

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