The Happy Percussionist: Another Approach to Retirement

The Happy Percussionist

Another Approach to Retirement


By NAfME Member John Beck


“If you are doing something that you enjoy doing, why stop doing it?”

I retired from playing timpani in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra after 43 years. I retired from teaching at the Eastman School of Music after 49 years.

percussionist | 2windspa


However, something was always on my mind during these years—the history of percussion. I always wanted to teach it, but a full eight service week playing in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and 26 hours of teaching per week at the Eastman School of Music did not allow me much time to pursue that interest. However, once I retired from both playing and teaching, I now had time to pursue this interest.

Since my retirement in 2008 from the Eastman School of Music, as Professor Emeritus of Percussion I have been teaching my History of Percussion class for two hours a week in the first semester. I am really enjoying it and look forward to my two hours with my students each week. We cover percussion from the early days when it was simply foot stomping, beating wood together and scraping things together to communicate with each other. This knowledge proceeds to the Ottoman Empire and their Janissary Music, its influences on Beethoven and Mozart and the Classical Period, to Contemporary Music, Jazz, and Rock. This two-hour class discusses percussion and its influence on music from all periods.

retirement | skynesher


So, retirement for me meant freeing up my life to continue to pursue my interest in percussion. It did not mean freeing up my life to watch TV, play golf, hang out at the beach, or sleep late. It provided me with a new lease on life. Oh, I still watch TV, play golf, go to the beach, and sleep late now and then, but my preparation for my class and my time with my students gives me a focus on life that I enjoy.

My preparation for my class and my time with my students gives me a focus on life that I enjoy.

Another thing that I now have time to do is present master classes, workshops, adjudicating at percussion competitions, and some solo playing around the world.

Retirement, for me, opened up new avenues that I enjoy. My philosophy is: “If you are doing something that you enjoy doing, why stop doing it?” I am a happy percussionist.

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About the author:

professorJohn H. Beck is a name that is held in highest regard by many musicians, for he is unsurpassed for his contributions into the percussion community. A NAfME member, Mr. Beck received his B.M. (1955) and M.M. (1962) from the Eastman School of Music. He retired from the Eastman School of Music in 2008 after 49 years of teaching. He is now Professor Emeritus of Percussion at Eastman. He is also the retired timpanist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. As a performer he has made many solo appearances with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Eastman Wind Ensemble, and has soloed with and conducted many percussion ensembles both in the United States and abroad. His clinics are a feature at many percussion festivals around the world. He is from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

Mr. Beck is a Past President of the Percussive Arts Society, having served as New York State Chapter President and Second and First Vice President of this international organization. He is a composer, having had his works published by leading publishing companies and has recorded for CRI, Turnabout, Mark Records, and Heritage Records. Mr. Beck has written many articles on percussion for leading music journals. He is the editor of Encyclopedia of Percussion and has written several instruction books for snare drum, drum set, and timpani. His most recent publication is Percussion Matters: Life at the Eastman School of Music (2011). He was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1999. The John Beck Composition Prize established by Percussion Rochester, a biennial percussion festival, has been awarded as a highlight of the 2012 festival and every following year of the festival. On May 12, 2016, he received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the College of Performing Arts, Rowan University, New Jersey. On April 22, 2018, he was inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame, Rochester, New York.


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