The Louisiana Percussion Department offers one of the most diverse world percussion programs in the country, with performance opportunities in the Steel Drum Band, Brazilian Ensemble, Afro-Cuban Ensemble, Indonesian Gamelan Orchestra, Japanese Taiko Ensemble, and the African Drum and Dance Ensemble. Over 2,000 people attend the acclaimed "Big Bang" concert on the UL campus. Recently spoke with Troy Breaux, the man responsible for the program.

Tell us about yourself.

I'm originally from Lafayette, born & raised, went to Comeaux High. I went to LSU when I left high school. The program there is very much orchestral and contemporary music, a conservatory atmosphere. But all the time I was there, I was a drumset player, jazz, rock & roll. And then of course, being a percussionist, I became very interested in Latin Music, particularly Afro-Cuban. So after I graduated, I decided I would do something completely different.

So I went to grad school at the University of Miami, where I was a graduate assistant in percussion and band, under Director of Bands and former UL percussion instructor Mike Mann. I knew Mike because he was at UL when I was at Comeaux, and I stayed in touch with him.

At UM I played tympani in the orchestra. Outside of that, I did nothing but engulf myself in the local music scene, mostly Afro-Cuban & Brazilian. There were also classes at Miami in Afro-Cuban and African music.

From there I moved to Texas where I taught at Seguin High School, and played in the Mid-Texas Symphony as principal percussionist, and also played occasionally with the San Antonio Symphony.

Next I went to UNT, where I had the opportunity to study drumset with Ed Soph, former drummer with Stan Kenton, and also study some marimba with Leigh Howard Stevens. I was also fortunate to perform as a featured artist with the UNT Wind Symphony on a recording of Pulitzer Prize Winner "Deja Vu" by Michael Colgrass, released worldwide on the Klavier label.

How did you end up at UL?

Actually, I passed up a chance at this job 8 years ago. I was at Auburn as Assistant Director of Bands, and Director of Percussion. I guess what kept me there so long was the salary. Two years ago I was the highest paid assistant director of bands in the SEC, and I was miserable.

When I took the job, it seemed it was more percussion, and secondarily band. As time went on, it became more band, less percussion. So basically I was looking for a job that was mainly teaching percussion, where I could spend more time as a teacher and a performer.

Culturally, UL and LSU are very different.

Our percussion studios are very different. We tout more of a comprehensive percussion education, involving first and foremost classical training, but at the same time exposing our students to a multitude of ethnic and world percussion experiences.

Here's one way the schools are different. Two years ago after I had first gotten here, I had gone to Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Music Educators Conference to do a clinic. I came back for a student recital, dressed in a coat and tie and a trench coat, and my students went on and on about how snazzy and spiffy I looked.

So I asked them, "What, did you grow up in the swamp?"

One of my kids said, "Actually, yes I did. My back yard opens up into the swamp."

Tell us about the percussion program here.

We have one of the most extensive percussion world instruments programs anywhere.

What we have here, is unique. We are the only university in the entire southeast United States that has all of the world percussion ensembles that we have. What we have rivals FSU, one of the top 5 graduate music programs in the US according to USN&WR, and UNT, one of the best percussion programs in the world.

We actually have two students right now who qualified to attend the Aspen Summer Music Festival, which is probably the most prestigious orchestral program in the US. People who have attended the Festival are basically a Who's Who of the classical music world.

One of them instead spent the summer in Manhattan studying with Chris Lamb, Principal Percussionist with the New York Philharmonic.

The percussion program here at UL has a long tradition of excellence. The first two years of the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, the marching percussion competition was won by the UL Drumline.

We beat UNT?

Yes we did. The following year John Wooton, a UL graduate, went to UNT as a graduate student to run the drumline there. That's when they became the perennial powerhouse.

At the Convention, there are solo competitions, in which many UL students have done very well. John Wooten won the snare competition for a few years. Bradly Brumfield, currently at UL, has taken 2nd three years in a row. Jeff Prosperie, my predecessor here, won it once. UL alum Hawley Joe Gary III won the PAS, and now teaches part-time with the UL drum line.

It's said that the problem with drummers is that they think in 32nd notes.

Everybody says how drummers are just different. They're a different breed, they're different from everybody else.

If you go to any district band festival or solo & ensemble festival, and hang our for 5 minutes in the band directors' area, you'll hear jokes and complaints about drummers. The reason for this is that most of the kids who are successful at playing percussion are type A, very aggressive personalities. Unfortunately, most directors are wind musicians. They don't teach percussion as well as they teach wind. So you have these very intelligent, very aggressive kids sitting in the back of the band room, not being included in much of the lesson or rehearsal.

So we get into trouble. I could take you back to my band room at Paul Breaux Middle where I was a student, and show you the holes I drilled in the acoustic tile with my drumsticks while I was bored.

So I try to make it a point in my percussive methods class to present percussion to wind and string players in a manner that they understand. Instead of emphasizing the differences between percussion and the other instruments, I try to point out the similarities. Because I have a great duty, not just to the students I'm teaching right now, but to the students they will teach.

Why is percussion important?

To some people it's not. It's important to many music ensembles, it's the engine that drives the ensemble: the drumline in a marching band, the drummer in a jazz or rock band, the percussionist in a salsa band.

Music is a natural human instinct because any culture, no matter how primitive, anywhere on the planet, has some form of music. In many of them, it's some form of drumming. So that's evidence to me that music and rhythm are an innate human experience, an ability. Some choose to develop it and play an instrument, and some don't.

When people tell me that they have no musical talent, I say, "Yes you do, you simply haven't chosen to develop it."

Picture of the UL Drum Line courtesy Catherine Roche-Wallace with the UL School of Music.