Percussion summer camp a hit

Courtney Cook

The chatter and patter of drumsticks on practice pads fell silent as the lights dimmed and five college students in solid-colored button-down shirts took the stage on July 21 White Concert Hall.

Eight mallets scaled the lengths of two of the five-octave marimbas, and sticks took off on the snare, concert bass and timpani. The audience sat perfectly still as the Washburn University Percussion Collective lit up the room.  All were still, that is, except the first three rows, which were packed with students ranging grades 7 through 12 from across Northeast Kansas. The students were attending the first night of an annual week-long percussion camp sponsored by Yamaha, The Drum Days of Summer.  Heads nodded and feet tapped to the beats as the young students absorbed the stage of elaborate, high-end instruments and the talented musicians who played them.

“The concert really geared me up for this week,” said Alex Voorhees, an eighth-grade camper from Seaman Middle school. He said he was excited to play with and learn from the performers.

Five WUPC students organized nearly the entire concert: Jason Degenhardt, Joshua Benteman, David Liston, David Wingerson and Theodore Musick. The students designed the program to highlight a variety of percussion instruments, showing off the impressive range that makes up the orchestral section, from top-of-the-line mallet instruments, to a song that consisted solely of four men clapping in rhythm. The students also served as volunteer teachers at the summer camp that recently concluded its fifth year.

The concert turned out to be an educational event for more than just the students. After the concert, WUPC founding member Jason Degenhardt guided Topeka resident Dick Gorman around the stage to point out and name several of the exotic instruments that were a part of the night’s entertainment.

“I had never seen or heard anything like this,” said Gorman. “I was really blown away.”

Degenhardt graduated from Washburn in May 2009, and he was featured on xylophone for an up-tempo ragtime classic “Steppin’ Round,” by Cort McClaren. It was his last official performance as a member of the group.

“But I am sure I will be back as an alumnus,” said Degenhardt.

The concert also featured Tom Morgan, professor of music at Washburn, as well as Jeffrey M. Monroe from the University of Central Florida; Lisa Rogers from Texas Tech University, and Von Hansen, a Washburn graduate and founding member of WUPC.

Since graduating, Hansen spent his past year at the University of Central Michigan pursuing graduate degrees in composition and percussion performance. Halfway through the night’s line up, Hansen joined current WUPC members onstage to perform one of his original compositions, “Ad Astra.” The young men slid the keyboard instruments around the stage to carefully choreographed positions before humming through the intricate mallet arrangement on four marimbas and two vibraphones. Hansen originally debuted the piece in May at Washburn, but this was the first time he was a part of its performance. He arrived in Topeka a day prior to the performance, and he was only able to run through the piece with the group a few times before the show. Fortunately, however, the live event was seamless.

“It felt really good to play with the guys again,” said Hansen. “They did an awesome job tonight.”

The night came to a close with an arrangement called “Woodstock,” during which WUPC member David Liston played the vibraphone using a bass bow as the other four members crept to separate wind chimes located in every corner of the room. The surround-sound effect paired with the eerie bellow of the vibraphone was chilling, and it left the audience hanging in silence for a moment before rising for a standing ovation. Afterward, audience members trickled out the doors, discussing their favorite parts of the night’s show. Finally, the young campers came bouncing out of the auditorium toward the dorms, ready for a week of parent-free percussion.

The campers’ performance was Saturday, July 25 in White Concert Hall. The weekend came to an end with a flair as students showed their friends and family skills they had acquired during their stay at Washburn.

For more details about the camp, to become a fan of the Washburn Percussion Collective on Facebook or to join the blog, visit